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Jose Antonio Morales: The Future of Rural Coworking

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Welcome to another Coworking Values Podcast where we aim to give you the news about our community.

For this episode, we are back with Alex Ahom. He will be chatting with Jose Antonio Morales, Co-Founder of Aurora Coworking Network in Slovenia. He is also a member of the European Rural Coworking Project Management team. 

They will be talking all about rural coworking, its developmental goals, events and how rural coworking will look in the future.

Some points in the podcast:

– I honestly couldn’t see such a huge difference in terms of culture or infrastructure. Of course, in a big city, there are many more things to do, amazing restaurants, et cetera. But I never thought that there is a difference between the vibe of the people in one city and in one rural area.

Now that confusion comes because I think that rural areas in Europe are like small cities in terms of infrastructure. So you have a good connection to the Internet, you have all the stores, you have good roads, etc. (4.46)

– Something that we want to achieve is to spread the word about what coworking means. So these big coworking spaces and networks that you mentioned kind of damage, in my opinion, the idea of what coworking can be.

So as soon as we start presenting our initiatives as rural coworking, it starts making more sense. And amazingly, I’m starting to find more cooperation possible because of that. 

So just imagine how many local government municipalities are looking to set up their own coworking spaces, thinking about copying or imitating the models that exist in bigger cities. (9.12)

– It’s a fantastic future. I’ve talked to authorities, politicians, and many independent individuals who find comfort in the idea of revitalizing rural villages.

I was more astonished to see local entrepreneurs actively engaging and quickly taking ownership of projects like a modest coworking space. Not only do we hear that everyone from the cities wants to return to the countryside.

It is more crucial that those who chose to remain in their villages or small towns find a place to belong.

There is a specific problem that rural coworking spaces solve and it is loneliness.

I know that doesn’t help sell anything. It sounds romantic, but not really. It’s true. So in small towns, we are a bunch of people working from home, surrounded by lonely and misunderstood people. But when we go to coworking spaces and find others who understand our issues, concerns, and desires, things change.

It’s like a support group or even a family. The future, I believe.

It is possible to construct functional communities, not just groupings of people who share a place. (10:51)

Links:

Alex Ahom

Alex on Twitter

Jose on Instagram

Rural Design Days 2022

Silicon Vilstal

powered by Sounder

Kristen 0:03

Hi, it’s Kristin from Salto. We are very happy to be bearing with the co-working assembly for this podcast episode. Salto opens the doors to 1000s of coworking, coliving and workplaces in the world. We believe community is the key. And by taking part in this podcast, you’ll be able to connect more with like minded people around the world, and to help build the coworking and coliving community globally. Take a look at the link in the show notes to find out more, and we hope to meet you in person soon. Enjoy the episode.

 

Alex Ahom 0:35

Hi, everyone, I’m Alex Ahom. And we are back with the European coworking assembly Podcast. Today we’re talking about rural coworking development goals, events, and much more. Now, I am from a big city, London is huge. And I’ve moved to a much smaller city now, which is Hamburg in northern Germany, which has under 2 million people. But today, we’re focusing on rural spaces, areas with less than 50,000 people. I’m joined by Jose, who runs the rural co working projects. And I’m delighted to have you on the pot podcast Jose, how are you? And can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jose Antonio 1:17

Hi, thank you so much for having me. Well, there’s not too much to say about me, basically, I’m a geek of coworking lately. I started with a coworking space in a small town in Slovenia. I think this is like six years ago. And against all the predictions, this coworking space is a success, but I was not very satisfied with this stuff because we have around 10 members. And that didn’t sound like an achievement. And not only that I could not get more partners or I could not get engagement from the local government, the municipality etc. So it’s pretty tough. Everybody would think of this as a crazy person trying to do something and not knowing how to do it. 

 

Alex Ahom 2:21

You mentioned it was a success. So what about the project? What about the business made you feel it was a success?

Jose Antonio 2:29

So it is an amazing success, because it’s one of the few co working spaces that survived in the past six years. So basically, our coworking is today, one of the oldest co working spaces in Slovenia. Right, and so that’s one way of defining that success. The other is that our members are a community. And the way we achieve that, I think, became very important to me. And actually, the rural coworking project comes out of the effort of trying to give relevance to such a small project like my coworking space. So I went to the ECA. And I asked them what can we do here? I think that I have something. So I have a model of a micro coworking space that is resilient and self-sufficient. And they said to me, “why don’t you start the European rural coworking project?” And it started and we have less than a year, around a year with this project. And it looks like it’s starting to give some interesting perspectives and possibilities. 

Alex Ahom 3:59

So how did you get into rural coworking or why the rural coworking and not, as I mentioned before, the coworking in that maybe people are more accustomed to in bigger cities?

Jose Antonio 4:09

So actually, I fell in love with the idea of coworking when I went to Vienna, and I was a member of the Impact Hub Vienna. So my introduction to coworking happened in a bigger city. I was born in Lima, Peru. And that’s a huge city also. So I kind of feel like I am a citizen of a big city. But I live in a rural area. And I honestly couldn’t see such a huge difference in terms of culture or infrastructure. Of course, in a big city, there are many more things to do, amazing restaurants. etc. But I never thought that there is a difference between the vibe of the people in one city than in one rural area. Now that confusion comes because I think that rural areas in Europe are like small cities in terms of infrastructure. So you have a good connection to the internet, you have all the stores, you have good roads, etc, etc. Remember, I’m coming from Peru, so a rural area doesn’t have anything like this. So, I started my coworking space. And I never thought that this is a rural coworking space, because we don’t have cows, or anything like that, we are in a town. And actually, we like to think we’re kind of modern people. So the rural word comes, because the areas where we operate, are rural areas, are considered rural areas by the countries. So the region where I live is a rural region. But then I learned that anything, any city, town, village, with under 50,000 inhabitants is considered rural. Then we said, “that’s the word.” And, it made sense. Because when talking with agencies that support entrepreneurship and business in these kinds of regions, everybody understands the word rural. They talk about rural development. And so that’s the difference. So another thing that I can add here is that the way people operate here, so in a rural area is very, very different than in a city. So making the distinction makes sense. A business model for a coworking space in a city is completely different than the one in a rural area. The members of a coworking space have completely different needs than the ones in a city.

Alex Ahom 7:29

And also maybe expectations as well, the expectations might be different. 

Jose Antonio 7:33

Expectations are completely different. So in a city, they would expect not only space for working, but also content, training, accelerators, investment opportunities, etc. The base is much faster. And in small, rural areas, they want space and community. All the rest, they already manage it for themselves.

Alex Ahom 8:07

I think another important thing… well… the term rural coworking is important, because when you do speak to associations, when you do speak to people outside of our communities, or our bubbles, or our spaces, and you come with, the card carrying kind of coworking owner, or you’re running or manager, unfortunately, many of these people think of the huge multi billion dollar spaces. And it’s important to distinguish ourselves away from that, because we aren’t that we have our values that we hold dear. You’ve mentioned collaboration, you’ve mentioned community. And these values are very important, especially to rural spaces and smaller spaces. It is important to mention that you’re coming from a rural space, so they don’t throw you in the same barrel as a WeWork or a Regus, who aren’t truly coworking. But it’s important to be clear on what we represent.

Jose Antonio 9:11

Absolutely, because something that we want to achieve is to spread the word about what coworking means. So these big coworking spaces and networks that you mentioned, kind of damage, in my opinion, the idea of what coworking can be. So as soon as we start presenting our initiatives as rural coworking, it starts making more sense. And amazingly, I’m starting to find more cooperation possible because of that, so just imagine how many local governments and municipalities are looking to set up their own coworking spaces and they are thinking of copying or imitating the models that exist in bigger cities. So they can make a lot of mistakes, the majority of coworking spaces in Slovenia that are closed from what I know, are initiatives that are connected with municipalities. And they want it to be very much like those big coworking spaces. So as soon as they know that there is something like rural coworking, they might think there are multiple ways of creating a coworking space. And that’s the idea.

Alex Ahom 10:41

Yeah, sure. So what does the future hold for people and spaces outside of those major cities? What does the future look like for rural coworking?

Jose Antonio 10:50

I think it is an amazing future. I’ve talked  with some authorities and politicians, I’ve talked with a lot of independent professionals. And they are finding a kind of relief with the idea of reviving or revitalising communities in rural areas. I was more surprised to see the local intrapreneurs to be actively involved from day one, with projects like a small coworking space, and taking ownership extremely fast. So it is not only what we hear that now everyone from the cities are thinking of going back to the village. I think that is more important than the ones that already decided to stay in their villages or the small towns found a place where they can belong. There’s a specific problem that rural coworking spaces solve and it is loneliness. I know that saying that doesn’t sell anything. It sounds very romantic. But basically, that’s the truth. So it looks like in small towns, we are a bunch of people working from home, surrounded by people that feel lonely and misunderstood. But when we go to coworking spaces and we find people that can understand our problems, or where we are, or our challenges and our desires. It becomes something different, like a support group. Even I could venture to say a kind of family. And I think that’s the future. So there is the opportunity of creating or building communities that are functional, not only groups of people that live in the same place.

Alex Ahom 13:16

We spend so much time at work or doing our work. It’s important that we invest in the relationships there. And we feel good about what we do, where we do it, how we do it. For so long, people have just been doing their work because they have bills to pay. And sometimes that’s at the expense of our mental health. I think the future is also a place where our work doesn’t give us a breakdown. And we actually can get some sense of belonging and purpose from what we’re doing and maybe where and how we’re doing it. So yeah, thank you for that. For giving us a snapshot of the future. But again, going back to the past. I think that the future of work is very different to the past, and I hope so as well. And you’ve said that you were from Peru, and you’re now in Slovenia. How different are the two areas? Are there any things that the two regions or the two different continents can learn from each other?

Jose Antonio 14:25

So, in general, I have experienced living in a city right. I can tell you that. In general, we are very similar. So superficially, the culture is basically the same. So we all go to school, we all want to go to the university and get a good job. We all believe that we have to have a family, a house and get money to pay the bills. Try to be a good citizen. And etc, etc, are basically the same guidelines. The difference is that in Peru, I see the people in the city more anxious about achieving success. And success is kind of the number one goal. And here in Europe, although achieving success is an important goal for almost everybody, there is more care for quality of life. So in Peru, I see quality of life as a result of your success. I’m going to walk, even if it is raining. So I would say that, at least from my perception in Europe, we value quality of life number one, and but in parallel to that goes, this idea of achieving success or economical safety or something like this.

Alex Ahom 16:23

So following from that, when you’re talking about economic safety, and social mobility, things like that, it’s all tied into development, which I think you’re also very passionate about. So we were talking before about developmental goals and ways that our lives can improve through these projects. What are your thoughts on that?

Jose Antonio 16:47

Yeah. So I think that if I ask you, what an ideal day looks like for you, maybe you can venture and try to answer it.

 

Alex Ahom 17:00

An ideal day… An ideal day, did you say? Or, my – 

Jose Antonio 17:04

Yes, what’s your ideal day?

Alex Ahom 17:08

Tough question. I don’t know. I mean, I have three kids. So spending time with them, being able to spend time with them in the morning, before they have to go to school, before I have to go to work, or do work. Because that’s usually not the case. So being able to eat properly and not walking or running down the street trying to catch the bus while I’m eating my breakfast… have… I don’t know, it’s very hypothetical, but have a fulfilling and meaningful tasks at work, speaking to people, doing interesting projects. And then I guess, being able to tie in my personal life a bit better, rather than it just being a kind of an afterthought, after I finish my work, but so an ideal day would be being able to spend time with friends and family, enjoying my work, feeling a sense of purpose, and belonging and acceptance from the people around me in my more work sphere, then having time for the family as well, before I sleep.

 

Jose Antonio 18:11

So that’s exactly what everybody would answer. And it is nothing so complicated. We’re not asking for something magical here. So if you see, an ideal day for every human being is very simple.  If you meet your neighbour, and your neighbour invites you, for a cake and a coffee, that sounds like an ideal moment. So we’re not really talking about Lambos, expensive stuff, and yachts, it is just enjoying a bit more. Now, the problem is that even if it is so simple, why are we complicating our life so much? And why the whole system of work and the economy and the international relationships become so complicated. And I think that we don’t have an understanding of what we are really looking for. We are more concerned with achieving a future that looks like it will never come. So whenever we talk about improving the quality of life of people, and increasing equality, etc, etc, we get into a religious conversation of beliefs and doctrines and what I know and what you don’t know and we get into deep complicated situations. So there are some alternatives that are coming lately. Frameworks I would say that facilitate communication. One of these frameworks is called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). And the objective of them is to identify which are the areas of problems that exist in our world, and which are the common problems that we are sharing as a civilization. And therefore, they divide them so the framework divides all these problems in 17 areas, therefore, creating a communication system, so we can say, if we want to have a positive impact in one of them or in multiple of them, etc. So, it focuses the conversation in a productive way, instead of philosophising on how we are going to deal with complexity. And, if I connect the topic of the SDGs, with what we were talking about before, that is coworking, you’ll find out that the problems that are presented by the SDGs are problems of rural coworking projects, rural coworking spaces, and coworkings of many different kinds, we are trying to solve. So I don’t know if I’m going too deep into this. But I would love to present the idea of the sustainable development goals or SDGs, as a framework, to talk about the achievements of coworking spaces in general. And also to communicate with local authorities, potential partners, so that everybody understands what we’re talking about,  in order to facilitate good results, and bring some kind of simplicity to the complexity. So that at the end, we will find out that what we really want to do on this planet, everywhere, is to have the time to go to see the kids go into the school, to return home, the office or the coworking space, and enjoy what you’re doing and have meaningful relationships. And then return home, meet again with the family and have the opportunity of enjoying that. Very simple.

 

Alex Ahom 22:41

Thanks for that. I guess in some ways, these complicated scenarios that we live every day, they do have, at least… There is a pathway to solving these complexities. And we have to set ourselves on the right path, we have to start walking in that right direction. So I guess we can save the world and build a better future through these projects. And it starts with our coworking values, which two of them are collaboration and community. It’s good for us to remember that there is hope. And there is light at the end of the tunnel. So you mentioned events, are there any events that you’re part of that you’re working into? To speak about these topics?

 

Jose Antonio 23:28

Before that, I would like to say that the SDGs as a framework for measuring positive impact is something that we can use today. So the SDGs are not necessarily a way of working on a future outcome. But they can be integrated in our activities as an individual or as an organisation today, and that adds that layer of simplicity. The results are immediate, therefore, our level of satisfaction increases everyday. And I wanted to say that because the majority of us think of implementing new technologies, or knowledge, or wisdom to achieve something in the future. But I think that what I learned from coworking is that it’s not so much about the future, but it’s about what you can do today, to enjoy your life and to increase your quality of life right away. So answering your question about events, I’m very happy to see that the rural coworking project is bringing results.  Somehow it started to make noise in Europe, and I was invited to participate in an important event called the rural design days 2022. And this is organised by a very relevant organisation. And I feel just so proud because a year ago, I would never get in contact with such organisations, they would not know anything about me, I was just a person on the back of a small rural coworking space. But now that the rural coworking project has become public, it looks like the visibility on the topic is increasing. So, I got invited to speak about my experience with setting up the coworking space in Slovenia, and how I made it self-sustaining. So that’s super exciting to me, I would really love that the model that we developed in Slovenia would be replicated everywhere. And I didn’t know, but that qualifies us in designing. So this event is about rural design.  And I didn’t know that what I was doing had something to do with rural design. So yeah, I’m pretty happy.

Alex Ahom 26:34

Great. And when is that design? When is the event?

Jose Antonio 26:39

The event is… Let me see. I’m not 100% Sure. It is on Saturday 12th of March. And there’s a second day on March 13th. The organisation that is running this is Silicon Vilstal.

Alex Ahom 27:00

Great. Well, thank you for joining me today, Jose. It’s been a pleasure. Also a high five to everyone who’s listening, and where can anyone reach you if they want to continue the conversation or ask any questions about development goals events, rural coworking.

Jose Antonio 27:17

So a way to get in contact with me is going to ruralcoworking.org. I’m also available everywhere in social media, Twitter, etc. I used to check my LinkedIn profile all the time. So if someone wants to send me a message or connect, I’m very happy. I’d love to talk about the experience in rural coworking in the rural coworking project. I also started a cooperative in Slovenia for coworking. It is called “Aurora coworking network”. So if anyone is interested to talk about cooperatives, I’m very happy to do so. And everybody that is interested in the event, they can go to  Siliconvilstal.de and there you will get a link to the event so that they can participate and join. So yeah, I think that’s it.

 

Alex Ahom 28:26

And your full name for the people who want to search you on LinkedIn as you said, or Twitter, what is the name they should use?

Jose Antonio 28:34

Yes, my name is Jose Antonio Morales.Well, I gave you my whole name in the session.

Alex Ahom 28:44

So thank you very much, ‘ve been Alex Ahom. This is the European Coworking Assembly podcast. You can reach me at alexahom.com or Alex Ahom on LinkedIn. I’m also on most social media platforms these days. So until we hear each other again, thank you very much everyone and see you soon.

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