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Jeannine Van Der Linden: What is the Coworking Assembly?

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Hey folks! It has been awhile since we have invited Jeannine Van Der Linden, the Senior Vice President of the European Coworking Assembly. 

This episode, we will be deep diving on the Coworking Assembly. What it is all about, what are the goals and the current projects that we have and how the assembly can be the voice of the Coworking Industry in Europe and how it can help make the coworking community better than before. 

What is the Coworking Assembly all about?

The European Coworking Assembly is this moment founded in the shared conviction by everybody who is actively involved in the core team that independent Coworking ‚ÄĒ specifically independent coworking — has got the largest and most powerful network in Europe. And is on every single core of the matrix that you can measure.¬†

Independent Coworking is far and away the dominant player in Coworking and everybody reels back in their chair every time I say that, but we absolutely are. 

We are bigger than even before the pandemic, we were bigger than WeWork. We were bigger than IBM, one smart workplace, something like that. We are bigger than Regus. We are big, huge. We are without question,¬† whether you look at square meters, whether you look at the number of coworkers, when you look at the amount of revenue with it, it doesn’t matter what you look at, we are the largest by far and the biggest.¬†

Nobody knows it, including people who are part of that group. And the reason for that is we don’t speak with one voice. We don’t communicate with each other. We run around telling all of our coworkers that they need to collaborate and get together for the new economy. And then we don’t do it ourselves.¬†

And so essentially, the assembly is organized around this idea that the network, the entrepreneurial network, around Coworking ‚ÄĒ Independent Coworking specifically, needs to be leveraged. It needs to be leveraged to make the world better. So in order to do that, we have to talk to each other internally, and we have to speak with one voice, externally.¬† And so we are basically working on a peer to peer network.

Links:

Jeannine on Twitter

Jeannine on LinkedIn

Rural Coworking Project

Coworking Library

Coworking Symposium

Freelancers Week

Cowork Tools

London Coworking Assembly

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Bernie J Mitchel  0:02  

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this week’s Coworking Values podcast. And with me is the Senior Vice President and all-seeing oracle. Jeannine, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for?

Jeannine van der Linden  0:15  

Gosh, I guess I am known for being the all-seeing oracle of the European Coworking Assembly. I think I would like to be known for making the best ice-cream and the Netherlands.

Bernie J Mitchel  0:28  

That’s something to aspire to. So, people are always asking like what’s the European Coworking Assembly and what what’s it about. Talk to our group of people that turn up every Friday at 12h30 Central European Time and talk about the projects and stuff. We know what it is, but what is it? I am asking on behalf of a friend, what is the European Coworking Assembly?

Jeannine van der Linden  0:59  

European Coworking Assembly was originally founded in July of 2013. It was founded as a Belgian non-profit organization, it was intended to basically lobby European governments, seek EU grants, lobby both the EU government and local governments in various nations for regulations and rules that work for coworking as a sector. In 2013, coworking was just emerging into consciousness and quite a lot of the rules and regulations that various nations apply to real estate businesses don’t exactly work with coworking. And so, that was its fundamental purpose. It was founded by a number of people who are still running around Europe in coworking. It was a membership organization, you paid X amount a year, and the projects were carried out. They had¬† shareholder meetings and it was a fairly formal process because that’s how they do it in Belgium. And that organization, I think, its purpose petered out a little, I think towards the end there was a very concentrated push to get a specific EU grant, it was a very large grant, and a lot of time and energy was devoted to it by that group, and that grant went to somebody else. After that, there was this sort of the wind went out of our sails kind of a feeling. And that, I think, had a lot of impact on that organization losing its momentum. And at that point, I was a member of it.

I was also a director in Open Coworking, which is a global coworking organization, when they decided to close the European Coworking Assembly. I actually was opposed to that because it is my opinion that there is a European face of coworking which is definable and is different from coworking in other places in the world. And that having that entity to serve as that face was valuable. And the problem with opening your mouth and saying things like that, is that the immediate answer is, good, you run it. I had a lot of support from the German Coworking Federation, which was extremely active in that group. And Christian Cordish in particular was extremely supportive. There were a number of other people who were supportive of taking it off in a different direction. I essentially tried to take it over in 2016. We had a board meeting, and everybody voted, and we had two important matters to vote upon. One of them was whether to transfer the Coworking Assembly, the leadership of it, and the other was with until that moment, the only people who could be part of the European Coworking Assembly were people who were in EU countries. And that was another thing that I had been opposed to from the beginning because I think Europe is Europe and Europe is not the EU. So, we had a second form of the entity now, the European Coworking Assembly at that moment became open to non-EU countries. So, it’s worked out really well in terms of Brexit. Then we encountered the amazing level of bureaucracy which is possible in Belgium. And I thought I was pretty good with bureaucracy. I am a lawyer by training, I live in the Netherlands where they have raised bureaucracy to a fine art. But the Belgians beat me. And so, ultimately, we never managed to successfully get it transferred to me.

And so, what we ended up doing was winding up the affairs of the Belgian entity and pouring the assets of that entity, which consists of the website URL. And I mean,¬† it’s not like there’s a million euros hanging around, its real estate portfolio didn’t make it.¬† And so, we poured that over into a Dutch non-profit, which is the form that it’s in now in 2017. And that’s, in a nutshell how the European Coworking Assembly got to its present state.¬†

Bernie J Mitchel  6:28  

How does it manifest itself on a daily basis?

Jeannine van der Linden  6:42  

Here’s how it works. The European Coworking Assembly is this moment founded in the shared conviction by everybody who is actively involved in the core team. Independent coworking has got the largest and most powerful network in Europe and is on every single pull of the matrix that you can measure. Independent coworking is far and away the dominant player in coworking and everybody reels back in their chair every time I say that, but we absolutely are. We are bigger than even before the pandemic. We were bigger than We Work, we were bigger than what was that IBM one smart workplace something like that. We are bigger than Rageous. We are big, really big. We are without question.¬† Whether you look at square meters, whether you look at number of co-workers, when you look at amount of revenue with it, it doesn’t matter what you look at, we are the largest by far, and the biggest. Nobody knows it, including people who are part of that group. And the reason for that is we don’t speak with one voice, we don’t communicate with each other, we run around telling all of our co-workers that they need to collaborate and get together for the new economy. And then we don’t do it ourselves. And so essentially, the assembly is organized around this idea that the entrepreneurial network, around coworking, independent coworking specifically needs to be leveraged and it needs to be leveraged to make the world better. So, in order to do that, we have to talk to each other internally, and we have to speak with one voice, externally. And so, we are working on a peer-to-peer network basically. And the way we organize that is by proceeding. In terms of projects.

Bernie J Mitchel  8:57  

I say we hunt people down who want to do projects and give them a platform to do what they’re good at.¬†

Jeannine van der Linden  9:04

Well, we have every month, the first Friday call is held every month. And it’s very much an experiment. But the principle of the first Friday call is to find out about all of the projects that are happening in Europe that would align with our values and our purpose. And so, we invite everyone in the universe who is coworking aligned to come and tell us about their projects. We also invite everybody who wants to know how the Coworking Assembly actually works.

Bernie J Mitchel  9:52  

That‚Äôs people who have been doing it a long time and new people because some great things have wandered towards the first Friday call. Like, personally, for me, the biggest kick is even before I was involved in coworking, I would wander around and meet people in different places. And I’m forever meeting people that are doing nearly the same thing, and then putting them together. And of course, sometimes they just don’t want to meet each other because Pepsi wouldn’t really want to meet Coca Cola, but very often other people go, oh, I thought I was the only person who was talking about this.

Jeannine van der Linden  10:33  

It is my considered opinion that coworking, I’m not going to say coworking is the infrastructure of the future of work, but in any event, coworking can be the infrastructure if we are perfectly positioned to be the infrastructure if we will step up. And whether everybody will step up is still an open question. A lot of people are stepping up and that’s good.

Bernie J Mitchel  11:58  

So, the Coworking Library. You say when you run a coworking space, people are always emailing you the feminist survey. And now we just send them to the Coworking Library.

Jeannine van der Linden  12:17  

Well, that’s definitely not the primary purpose of the Coworking Library. But one of the extremely practical advantages of Coworking Library certainly is that there’s a lot of research going into coworking and especially now. There’s a ton of research going on and one of the things that happens if you run a coworking space, or you are a co-worker in a coworking space is that there are a million master’s students and occasional bachelor students and again a PhD student who are doing a survey. They’re all doing a survey, and they need to write these papers and everybody, I think, in general, one would like to help them but there are two problems and one of them is they are often all answering the same question which has already been answered, or worse, they’re asking the wrong question. Most of coworking research that is done by people who are not involved in the coworking movement is based on the notion of rental arbitrage. It is coworking as rental arbitrage.¬†

And I think it is fair to say that for most of the body of independent coworking, it has become clear over the last decade and a half that rental arbitrage was already a dead model. And COVID put a stake in its heart and dropped it in the ground, like rental arbitrage is not where it’s at. However, most people who are doing initial research into coworking think that’s what coworking is. And so that’s what the question is based on. So, when you as a co-worker in a space, that’s not based on rental arbitrage. Get these surveys, mostly you don’t finish them because the questions don’t make any sense. They don’t have anything to do with what you’re doing, what your face is doing. They don’t have anything to do with it. So, one of the other services that Coworking Library does offer is when people are at the initial stage of their research and formulating their questions, they can help you formulate your question in such a way that more people will answer them, which is very helpful.

Bernie J Mitchel  14:21  

The only surveys you need to fill in, folks, are the ones we send around just for future reference. Everyone else send to the Coworking Library. And then we have the Rural Coworking Project which has been a long-time conversation. 

Jeannine van der Linden  14:38  

The Rural Coworking project has just started up, thank goodness and it’s a fairly good illustration of how we do business. Because one of the things in order to take on a project where it’s not like you make a formal presentation and a pitch deck, and we have a board of directors and stuff like that. There are a lot of projects that sort of coalesce and are presented by a person who has a vision for that, and that person owns that project. And then the people to support them on that project are found or volunteer, and that’s how that works. There are a number of projects which have a huge attractiveness of a large public that we’d like to see them happen, but we don’t have anyone to lead to them. And the Rural Coworking Project was like that, for my gosh, six years? We¬† have been sort of sponsoring things and supporting things around rural coworking. And because it is important in terms of the full entrepreneurial ecosystem. And finally, we are in the leadership emerged, as it should. And so, we’ve just started that project in a formal way.

Bernie J Mitchel  16:00  

I’m wildly interested in that. It’s been very interesting seeing how many people have joined in so fast as that’s gone. So, the other things we’re involved in, we’ll go through this list, and we’ll put links in the show notes to all of these. So, there’s the Coworking Library, there’s Rural Coworking, there‚Äôs the Coworking Symposium, which is a collaboration with Marco from the University of Prague.¬†

There’s the coworking various podcasts, which you’re listening to, which Zeljko keeps that going. If it weren‚Äôt for him, we would not be. We’re like 75 episodes in. It’s like working with one of the most efficient people on the planet. And he is the backbone of this project. There’s the Inclusion and Diversity Handbook, which we’re working on at the moment. And tell us a bit about that.¬†

Jeannine van der Linden  17:09  

Well, the inclusion project has been sort of going on for some years. And I think that was also your baby for some years. We went around here and had little meetings just to talk to people about inclusion and diversity. And that and accessibility, and that was the thing that happened when we did our talking tour. It became very clear that the part about why you should do this was a very short part of the presentation, because almost everyone that we talked to in independent coworking was definitely for that, that that was easy to establish. The problem is that the question they had was not why, it was how, like, how do we go about this? How? How to do it from an initial start-up stage when you’re first setting up your coworking space? And the thornier question is, how do you do it when you already have a coworking space? And you have a community that is interacting in its own sort of organic ways. And then to impose a change, how do you do that? Top down is not a thing that works that well in coworking in a lot of situations. And so ultimately, what we decided was that we need to develop a handbook, an instructions manual which covers these topics with a paper because a lot of people like paper, and an electronic one for the online crowd, and that had lost its leadership, probably four times over the last years. And at this moment, we now have a stable group doing that, and that is also a wonderful thing.

Bernie J Mitchel  19:15  

That leads seamlessly into the Coworking Idea project, which is not our project, but we’re definitely a big part of it, which is about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility. And it was it was kick started by Ashley Proctor from Coworking Canada. And a lot of people that have been keen or championing this subject for probably 10 years in coworking, put that out there and it’s turned into like a monthly challenge which is a practical thing you can do in your coworking space. So, here in London, and we’re not the only people that do this around the globe, but here in London, we have a short half hour call every month about whichever topic it is, so people who run coworking spaces can come for half an hour and see how to implement these practices in their space. So, there’s a link in the show notes to that. And that’s every month. And rather than the amount of stuff you have to read to get your head around things like books and articles and online courses, and that’s a one tiny little thing you can do every month that makes sense. And then the last few are, there’s Cowork Tools, and that’s a lot of technology to help you and your coworking space better. Is that an accurate history?

Jeannine van der Linden  20:45  

I think so. Cowork Tools is actually probably worthy of its own podcast. The Cowork Tools is essentially the vision, it started with a vision, which was there are a lot of short of compliance kinds of things that coworking spaces needed to be dealing with. There are regulations that are rolling out across Europe right now. They are not being enforced in all countries equally, but they are rolling out and so, this ball is coming. There’s GDPR, which we all have, there are anti-money laundering regulations, which, as I say, are currently in rollout. And all of those things require expertise. They require people who are actually trained. It is not safe for your community, or for yourself to go read an article about GDPR and go, yep, I’m compliant.¬†

So, there are people who have diplomas in this stuff. So, the vision for Cowork Tools fundamentally was, why can we not as a coworking community, because I don’t have either the money nor really the work to hire a person with a diploma to do my compliance for GDPR or do my compliance for the anti-money laundering regs. I don’t have enough work for them. And I also don’t have enough money to pay them. And however, honestly, my original question, which was childishly simple for this was, can’t we just share one? Can’t we just hire one and share it among the coworking spaces, because all of us together can definitely keep a compliance officer visit. So, that was where it started. Unfortunately, I asked the simple question of one of my co-workers, who was, as it happened working in a FinTech. And that’s how Cowork Tools was born.

Bernie J Mitchel  22:49  

I’ve spoken to a lot of people and 99% of them are shocked that you have to run a background check on your members every year. And I didn’t even know that was a thing until I got involved in this.¬†

Jeannine van der Linden  23:11  

And most of them are finding out when the enforcement arm of their government shows up and knocks on their door, which is a really abrupt and unfortunate way of finding out.

Bernie J Mitchel  23:22  

And so, we the last three things are the European Freelancers‚Äô Week which we adopted a few years ago, and we’ve handed that over to our friends because we felt that a coworking organization running a freelancing event is a bit topsy turvy. What’s the history of that journey?

Jeannine van der Linden  24:19  

That’s right. The European Freelancers‚Äô Week was started essentially by three people who are very active in Europe in freelancing organizations, and two of them are also actively involved in coworking. And so ultimately, we were a partner from the beginning of the EF Week. The EF Week is about events right across Europe and coworking spaces provided the locations for the events that was, in a nutshell, how it worked. And then the freelance organization that ran the EF Week had some internal issues in 2019 and if they were not going to be able to do the EF work, and at that point, we had a meeting and said we can’t just let it die, because the EF week is important to us. And so, at that point we took it over. And we ran it in 2019. And we ran it in 2020. And during that time, we were looking for a freelance organization that covered the whole of Europe, as the Coworking Assembly covers all of Europe, and we didn’t find one, and I’m not sure there is one. And so instead, we started looking for freelance organizations that were nation based, but that were interested in connecting with other freelance organizations. And so, this year that handoff process is beginning. And I think that ultimately, at this moment, honestly, my goal is to keep it alive so that the freelancers can have it back, and then we can fall back into a partnership role.

Bernie J Mitchel  26:16  

Yep, I didn’t agree with that at first, but now I’ve seen the light, Jeannine. And then we have the London Coworking Assembly and the UK Coworking Assembly which is pretty much like everyone that met a co-worker in Europe in 2014 and has been talking about coworking in the UK since then. Because a lot of those people are strongly connected to the European Coworking Assembly, a lot of people think that it’s actually been said to me in London that the European Union is a big shiny office with 1000s of staff running around talking about coworking and it’s not like us really. And it’s not a head office there, it’s just a lot of things are aligned with that. I think that is the European Coworking Assembly podcast and if you go to coworkingassembly.eu, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter, we interview and we podcast every week and we’re always looking to connect with people talking about independent coworking in Europe. If we can’t help you, we always know someone that can.¬† Where can people find you Jeannine?

Jeannine van der Linden  27:46  

You can find me by filling in a contact form on the European Coworking Assembly website. I run a network of co-living spaces in the Netherlands. And so honestly, I am approachable on almost every social network except Clubhouse because iPhone, but it’s not Android. But in any event, I feel confident the show notes will include enough links that people can get it. I am the easiest person in the universe to get in touch with me. My phone number is all over the internet. So, call me, add me to the WhatsApp, hit me up.

Bernie J Mitchel  28:42  

WhatsApp, Viber, Slack, telegram hybrid.

Jeannine van der Linden  28:47  

You name it. Because I have 440 co-workers, each and every one of whom has a personal preference about how they like to communicate and a good reason for that. And what that means is, since I also believed you talk to people where they are that I am pretty much everywhere.

Bernie J Mitchel  29:04  

Thank you very much for your time today. See you later, folks, be careful out there, it is a jungle.

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