The 3rd Annual Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) was held March 5th and 6th in Austin, Texas.
Reflecting the strong growth of the coworking industry, there were well over 300 attendees this year - more than triple the number attending two years ago.
My major takeaways were:
1. The Mix of Attendees: GCUC attracted a wide range of folks this year. In addition to owners of traditional coworking facilities there were attendees from large corporations, state and local governments, real estate developes (see 2 below) and a surprising number of vendors looking to sell goods and services to coworking spaces.
The office business center industry was also well represented this year. A number of OBC owners/managers were in attendance as well as Richard Myers, the Executive Director of the Global Workspace Association (GWA).
The GWA is a trade association focused on the workspace-as-a-service industry. GWA members used to be almost exclusively business center and executive suite owners/managers. But over the last couple of years they've expanded their mission and many coworking facilities have joined. We see this as very healthy for the coworking industry. Both groups have much to learn and share from/with each another.
2. The Real Estate Industry has Discovered Coworking: About 1/3rd of the attendees self-described as being in the real estate industry. Looking back at the first coworking conference 2 years ago, my guess is only 1-2 attendees were from the real estate industry.
Discussions with attendees affiliated with the real estate industry described a two-fold interest in coworking: first coworking can fill empty buildings. But more importantly, the real estate industry increasingly believes that coworking serves as a catalyst for social and economic development.
Coworking facilities not only bring independents, microbusinesses and startups into the building, but the presence and activities of those social influencers increase the value of the building and/or the broader neighborhood.
It's exciting to see the real estate industry diving into coworking. It's a clear signal that the coworking is moving towards becoming a mainstream industry.
3. A Focus on Economic Sustainability: This year was the most business oriented coworking conference yet. A lot of the panels and unconference sessions focused on space profitability, how to run a more efficient facility and other issues related to financial success. I also heard a lot more informal discussions on business topics.
Don't get me wrong: coworking as a social movement is alive and well. There was a lot of discussion on the social aspects of coworking and the social good coworking provides. In fact, the values of the coworking movement - collaboration, openness, community, accessibility and sustainability - were brought up and dicsussed quite often.
But the industry is recognizing that economic sustainability is required for growth and for the industry to achieve its broader social goals.
4. Space Diversity: Coworking continues to expand, evolve and mutate into a wide variety of forms, space types and business models. This was made very clear at the conference where we heard about hotels, libraries, book stores, large corporate office buildings, banks, universities, local governments and others opening coworking spaces.
We also learned about industrial coworking and maker spaces, coworking kitchens, shared bioscience labs and other coworking verticals.
This year's GCUC made it clear coworking has become a diverse and vibrant industry. We expect to see even more space diversity in the coming years.
Kudos to show producer Liz Elam and her team from Link Coworking. This was the best coworking conference yet and no doubt took an enormous amount of work to make happen. We're already excited about next year's conference and look forward to another year of continued growth and success for the coworking industry.