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Marko Orel – Researching The Coworking Universe & RGCS

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Hello guys and gals, you’re here with me in another podcast with my guest Marko Orel. Marko has a PhD in Sociology and now works at the University of Economics in Prague as a postdoctoral scholar.

We’ll be delving on the research world with Marko as he talks about how he came to be a part of the coworking industry to achieving a PhD in Sociology. He also shares about researching the digitization of flexible contemporary workspaces.

How did you go from coworking to academia?

I mean, It just, it just kind of happened. So I was in the, in the Coworking industry or the business and comanaging a workspace. And essentially, like in between, I was doing a PhD. I was doing it for like six years. It’s something that I wouldn’t recommend to anybody else, but it’s a super lengthy process that I don’t know if it makes much sense. But at some point, it started to make sense. 

And essentially, I find it and analyze it. And I was focusing on researching or examining the supportive mechanisms within flexible work environments. So yeah, when when I was done with my own work in January last year, so in 2018, I received two pretty good job offers, like research positions. 

And essentially I took one in Prague at the University of Economics, which is the moment at a business school in Europe. And I said, Yeah, why not? Got married, and a month afterwards, move to the Czech Republic.

What does Marko think about using Taxonomy in the Coworking industry?

Yeah, I mean, like definitely that’s why I was like, pleasantly surprised when I had the lecture and then afterwards for analysis, they had a bit dependent doc. And yeah, it can be definitely used like in the industry, why can be used within the industry, in order like to understand how to develop like more and more, let’s say effective and optimized workplaces, and not just that, if you’re in 10s of thousand square meters, you put fancy chairs and, and then tables and plans on the like whatever and like lights on the ceilings and so on by just like you know, like to understand how you can narrate like the workflow in order to have like an optimal workspace for the individuals or teams of individuals who are using the space. 

And then like secondly, also like for the economic photo for the policy mechanisms we have. So, like, our school is often approached by local municipalities in the Czech Republic and they’re essentially trying to find, trying to find the ways how to adapt the policy mechanism in order like to support the further development of flat solely coworking spaces, generally collaborative spaces that would have and that already have the impact on on on the local micro-economy.

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Bernie J Mitchel   0:06  

Welcome to Coworking Values the podcast of the European coworking assembly. Each week we deep dive into one of the values of accessibility community openness collaboration and sustainability.

Bernie J Mitchel   0:18  

Thank you so much for listening to the Coworking values podcast. I’ll say thank you to Cobot, which is a coworking software company, they help you build really slick, gorgeous bouncy software that helps you organize everything in our space from meeting rooms to renting desks to opening the door, and they’ve been supporting one of these companies that have been around and grown with Coworking they started out by running their own coworking space and built some software to run that coworking space and that’s how they ended up in the Coworking space software industry. I was at a coworking Europe conference. A few years ago, and it was a big panel discussion, and someone said, I don’t know how you can run a space without software. 

So if you’re one of those people with spreadsheets, apps and bits of string all taken up your time, sign up to cobot, go to cobot.me and you’ll get a one month free trial cobot integrates with lots of things you use already like included in slack and MailChimp, and you can do everything in one place. So, thanks to Kobo, and thanks for your time spent listening to our podcast here today, boys and girls, we’re here for another coworking Europe, podcast live from Warsaw we’re not so live because it was business afterwards, and I’m here with Marko, who’s one of the most well researched people in Eastern Europe. So, so, Marco What are you known for, and what would you like to be known for.

Marko  Orel 1:40  

Hey man. I’m not actually known. I don’t know if I would like to be known, but essentially, I’m completely in academia at the moment and completely into researching the privatization of flexible contemporary workspaces. And yeah, I had two talks, during the conference, and I was honestly surprised of the feedback and of reactions that I was receiving within these three days. 

Bernie J Mitchel   2:11  

So you’re another one of the people that have been coming to the cowork assembly call, and eventually we meet in real life. So, yeah, this is, this is the first conference we’ve been together.

Marko Orel 2:20  

Yeah, exactly, but we had like numerous talks via Skype calls on Friday.

Bernie J Mitchel   2:25  

So how did you move from a coworking space into academia because not many people like to study and then go to work and you did it the other way around.

Marko Orel  2:35  

I mean it just kind of happened so. I was in the in the coworking industry or the business, and  co-managing a workspace, and essentially like in between. I was doing a PhD. I was doing it for like six years. It’s something that I wouldn’t recommend to anybody else but it’s a super lengthy process that I don’t know if it makes it makes much sense. But at some point, it started to make sense. And eventually, I finalized it, and I was focusing on researching or examining the supportive mechanisms between flexible work environments. So, yeah, when I was done with my work in January last year, sorry, in 2018. I received two pretty good job offers like research positions, and essentially, I took one which is university economics, which at the moment is at a business school in Europe, and I said, Yeah, why not? Got married, and a month afterwards, I moved to Czech Republic. 

Bernie J Mitchel   3:41  

So you finished your PhD got married and moved country, all in the same year and changed jobs.

Marko Orel 3:45  

Yeah, essentially, yeah it was like a super hectic year man.

Bernie J Mitchel 3:49  

So that’s a lot.

Marko Orel 3:50  

It’s a lot of processing. Yeah, it’s like super intense man.

Bernie J Mitchel   3:55  

So what was what was the exact outcome you were looking for from your PhD because, because when I first got into coworking around 2010. I was so surprised that people wanted to research it and then, do you know the Research Group for Collaborative Spaces?

Marko Orel  4:08  

Yeah for some I know they have the conference in Ireland. 

Bernie J Mitchel   4:16  

Yeah. We’ll put a link to their show then  because they’re a real favourite group of people. I met them and I just thought that these are my people. The mix of people at university, listening to people’s research, and I know, Stefan and Adele in London and  would often they get invited to their, What is it called when you’re at a point in your PhD and you share it with your peers?

Marko Orel  4:45  

Getting the academic fame.

Bernie J Mitchel  4:46  

At first it was a real surprise that people wanted to research coworking and stuff and workspaces at such an integral level. And so what were you looking for from your PhD?

Marko Orel 4:56  

Essentially in like 2012, I was working as a community manager in one of the coworking spaces in Prague, Czech Republic. So, I already lived in Prague, which say the fun fact otherwise I’m from Atlanta from Slovenia. I had a conversation with my future PhD mentor that I met at Faculty of Social Sciences in Ghana, and he said that maybe  let’s take a bite into that and let’s try to understand like few parameters and  what’s happening and what’s going on. And I think it was the right thing to do, essentially because back then I or at least, we had no idea how the whole phenomena will explode and expand and hybridize and so on.

Bernie J Mitchel   5:43  

Because that was one of the things that interests me is that in the time period you were studying. That was when coworking kind of started off was getting quite bigger than it seems to be like exploded around 2014 or 2015 and I feel disagree for like, because you’ve researched it more than me. I feel like it’s stabilized a bit now, but there was this kind of napalm kind of,  like in London where I’m from. In 2010 there might have been 50 coworking spaces or claiming to be coworking spaces and suddenly there was like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and I read on some website that a new coworking space opens in London every week. Not really sure how true that is but

Marko  Orel 6:24  

I mean same thing is happening in Prague at the moment. And the thing is if you just take a look into gnome at least or if you, take a look into the CBRE report and so on, you can actually predict good numbers of how many coworking spaces you have in a certain geographical area. For example Gnome says we have found 150 coworking spaces, but CBRE report says that we have around 17 coworking spaces, but then it’s always the question -what is a coworking space- and essentially within the industry, every other office or,  camp or like whatever they can say they’re a coworking space and because they use the keywords, and have a digital presence, they will be picked and recognized as coworking spaces, and if we can have a really fruitful debate on what’s a coworking space, and what’s not a coworking space, but makes more sense like to talk about some of the models within the coworking space industry.

Bernie J Mitchel   7:25  

So this all came up on the concept of  taxonomy

Bernie J Mitchel   7:30  

What came up in that session because of what you presented? Please say what sort of questions do you remember people asking

Marko  Orel 7:37  

The main thing was just confusion. There is confusion in the mark, and the market will evolve to some point and then it will evolve further. But at the moment it’s complete confusion in academia. It’s not only about  using coworking as a word with a hyphen- that I absolutely hate – and I’m super  disgusted by it. It’s irritating

I’m super irritated man and  yesterday I just had like a super long talk with Alex Gilman, and I showed him this page. That’s coworking  -with a hyphen- .com and he said this is the best page I have ever seen in my life and the person who did that should get a Nobel Prize for Peace or like whatever, and then the guy said, “I did that” and then we drank a beer and I had the happiest night of my life. Not really, it was after my marriage.

 What I’m trying to say is, especially in academia at the moment, because academia, of course started to pick up the whole model and so on after things started to evolve you have so many confusing accounts and you have research being made on hackerspaces where they were observing and surveying participants within naked spaces and where the models are the same. And today you have all these corporate working environments where they have mainly teams of individuals who are using the spaces, but they still are using the quantitative parameters when they’re researching, or they’re trying to measure a particular impact of horizontal or vertical interactions on the level of wellbeing satisfaction within the workspace or whatever. And you have  a lot of accounts, which are just, they don’t make sense when they’re put together, so one plus one is 69.

Bernie J Mitchel   9:38  

Is this distorted data. So you were going to tell me about Will the researcher.

Marko Orel 9:44  

Yeah, he’s one of the really fascinating scholars I met. He’s a scholar but he’s actually the manager of the longest Czech or the longest running coworking space in Czech Republic. They think they celebrated like 10th or 11th year. This year, and essentially the guy is actually really knowledgeable and he’s a cultural anthropologist, and I’m a sociologist, so we have really cool debates and like one of these debates that we were having like a year and a half. So when I came to Czech Republic, me and Will, we sat down  a couple of times and we just debated how the things are  evolving and we scheduled the meeting for 20 minutes, half an hour, but then we were just talking and talking and one of the results of all these talks was essentially that we need to build the model, or at least a proposal for taxonomy of coworking spaces. 

Yesterday I had a panel talk, and one of the first questions that I asked is, do people know what is taxonomy, and essentially say classification. It’s like when you’re trying to create a model and categorize these models based on several parameters, and you can have like more taxonomy. So essentially what we’re doing now, we’ve done it already based on our year active research study in Prague and Czech Republic it’s that we propose one of these taxonomies.

Bernie J Mitchel   11:19  

So, how do you do that. Are you proposing that for academia, for the industry or, where would that go?

Marko  Orel 11:27  

Yes, definitely.

Bernie J Mitchel   11:28  

I think that this is the kind of work the Coworking Assembly would get really excited about. Where would you have to market it outside of the industry for it to get adopted?

Marko Orel 11:39  

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I had the lecture and then afterwards on LCS they had the banner doc. And, yeah, it can be definitely used like in the industry in order to understand how to develop more and more effective and optimized workspaces. If you’re in 10s of thousand square meters you put fancy chairs and, and then tables, plants and lights on the ceilings and so on.  In order to understand how you can narrate the workflow in order to have an optimal workspace within the individuals producing the space.

Secondly, for the policy mechanisms, our school is often approached by local municipalities in Czech Republic, and they’re trying to find ways in how to adapt the policy mechanisms in order to support the further development of not solely coworking spaces, but generally collaborative spaces that would have and that already have the impact on the local micro economy.

Bernie J Mitchel   12:58  

Can you tell me about that because that statement comes up a lot is how a coworking space, impacts the local environment as a guy forecasted about 100 years ago? I actually went up to an event, and I was really keen to talk to Bruce, Indy Jr. and I said, I’m really interested in mapping out how many coworking spaces there are in London. This is a long  time ago since like 2013. And he said, If another if another person comes up to me and says, shall we map the Coworking spaces in London, I’m going to punish him because mapping the Coworking spaces in London has been done 100 times and what we should think about is how a coworking space impacts a local economic environment, and builds community like right around it. My question is which one is a purposeful thing to go for?

Marko Orel 13:43  

It’s a tough question that doesn’t have a simple answer. In order to answer your question, what’s the impact on local economies, we would need to have a super comprehensive talk about it because we don’t have straightforward results, but maybe we can talk about a few examples, like, on the conference I’m sure you’ve heard that we will have a podcast in the super near future, our development of coworking environments in rural areas. For them I know that you’re a big fan of coconut, in Berlin, and then you have several others in, I know like in Switzerland and the central part of Europe.

Bernie J Mitchel   14:25  

And drinking is a melting pot, while I was working with them, Clio wrote a whole social impact report about how people come to their coworking space, how those people in the Coworking space and their projects actually effected Edinburgh, as a thing.

Marko Orel  14:48  

So you just your own question, and essentially why what these spaces are doing and they’re establishing, well not really establishing, they’re offering the physical space for the community development in certain local environments and for example what’s happening on rural sites, is that if you have the spaces, which are basically keeping, attracting and retaining the local talent, which doesn’t move to larger urban areas  to seek  jobs, or like to find the more optimal work environment where they can develop their ideas processes or like processes or whatever they are doing. But they can stay in their local environments. This is A and B; these spaces are essentially like attracting the talent. And it sounds like one of the projects that I’m working on. It’s like my first international research project that I got to the funding for. And essentially what we did. We assembled the team of researchers from all Michigan countries, because you’re from the Western European countries. So Poland to Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary. But yeah geographically speaking for like in the central North now, or at least central, eastern Europe. But again, it doesn’t really matter, but what matters is that at the moment, especially in Washington, here you have like unemployment rate of 1.4%, like backing track we have unemployment rate of 1.7%, and you have these larger companies which already came or they’re like still coming because the labour force is, it’s more or less still affordable. 

Secondly, because you guys are doing this Brexit thing, and stuff. I’m sorry it doesn’t make much sense what you’re doing but you’re still doing it, and you see we actually have you see you can see a lot of movement of many larger companies, but also SMEs, which are moving to this part of Europe and essentially like seeking the  talent. And a lot of these coworking spaces and again a lot of different models are having mechanisms which are attracting and retaining talent in order to create so-called human talent pools that then they can be outsourced by companies and so on. It’s a new, completely unexplored phenomena. And essentially what we’re doing is we’re trying to explore these mechanisms in 17:30 countries.

Bernie J Mitchel   17:34  

And how long will that go for? Is it a year-long or?

Marko Orel  17:36 

Yes, it’s a year-long thing, it’s a bit less than a year. So essentially what we’re doing now we have, we have a team of researchers in every capital city of 17:45 countries, and we identified the most proactive managers of the largest coworking spaces in these four cities, and we have qualitative interviews with them because it’s an exploration or exploratory study, we’re trying  to identify these mechanisms through certain interview guide protocols. It means that we the interview guide which is the same in all four countries, but we have the sample of twenty managers, which are managing the spaces and managing the networks between the spaces, you can also call them communities, but let’s just use networks.

Bernie J Mitchel   18:34  

How do you find those spaces, just like Google or?

Marko Orel  18:39  

No, nothing like that. So like what I’ve done, essentially just before I applied for the funding. I went  first in Warshow and I just approach the spaces directly. And if I would just do cold emailing or whatever, like, generally, I wouldn’t like the response rate. It would be like 1%, maybe more, but not much more, so it’s really important that you get these busy managers and then you get them personally excited about that. So it’s a lot a lot of investment of human power.

Bernie J Mitchel   19:15  

So for you people out there thinking of  emailing in coworking spaces which happens all the time, saying can you fill out my survey, please.

Marko Orel  19:22  

The main problem I mean I have Masters and MBA students and a lot of them want to explore like network select, network development within local coworking spaces and so on. And they all mainly use quantitative approaches when they would like to survey users. And then they always come back and say, but Marko the response rate is super low I only collected six questionnaires. Is this enough, is it not enough? because you cannot generalize the data, and you cannot generalize the findings and just, you know, produce, even if it’s like, only, only in brackets like a master’s degree, because then it will not make up for the science in the future. Yeah. 

Bernie J Mitchel   20:21  

Just before we go, what is top of mind for you in the Coworking industry at the moment. 

Marko Orel  20:39  

I’m kind of annoyed and excited, just like the different  standing of contradictions that are happening in academia, and for example like yesterday for example, there was a talk here, and it was about, are men discriminated in the Coworking industry something like that because we have some movement of women based coworking spaces which is good. But, also in academia every second coworking paper starts with ‘first coworking spaces was created in 2005 by Brett Nyberg’ everybody says it like it’s spiral news or whatever but, there is not even one paper, including mine, that would say, yeah, ‘Brett Nyberg established a coworking space within the feminist collective called the spider news’, it eventually was called the San Francisco coworking space.

Brett Nyberg has a blog about it since the blog about it and he’s doing this  self-interview thing yet there  was not even one  paper that would just say what was happening. And although I’m most often annoyed because everybody’s talking about this coworking  revolution or like whatever. But these things, they are not new. It’s just like the guy who used that for  the concept and you have like the, I will not name now but they  opened the first space in 1989, it was thirty years or so ago and then we gad the sea bass in Berlin, which was 1995 and so on and so forth. And even in Renaissance times. You’ve had several places like community based places 

Bernie J Mitchel   22:30  

The historical Renaissance?

Marko Orel  22:35  

Exactly.  So my colleague Phil, were talking about him just before, he uses a really good expression for that and he uses business of community. We will publish our own paper with a title, where we’re exploring, when we will essentially be talking about that. And yes, I’ll stay. 

Bernie J Mitchel   23:02

I think we’re going to get kicked out of this room, so where can we find you online and what is the best place to hunt you down?

Marko Orel  23:11  

I’m starting, I guess to be active with you guys. Yep, so with the assembly guys I like really love this connection and it also Finally, we met in person. But like, essentially, I have the work published or at least linked at the Faculty of Business Administration at university economics in Prague,

Bernie J Mitchel   23:34  

you can link to that or I come, I plan to now also link all my work to coworking library, which is like an amazing Open Knowledge Access Project by 23:43. Yeah, and then these are also things that like super excite me I want to give you some promotional tokens of gratitude now so. You guys are like really fucking, sorry for that for the fucking important players. 

Bernie J Mitchel   23:58

You’re part of the fucking team. We love it.

Marko Orel 24:01

Thank you so much man.

 

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