Bernie J Mitchell: The Biggest Problem With Coworking

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking values podcast. And we are here with Bernie that will be talking about a few things – like events that are lined up for the Coworking community, getting COVID and being locked down, and everything else going on.

And Bernie will also deep-dive on a topic that has piqued his interest, or is sparked by an offline conversation with several folks – that the biggest issue with coworking is that no one knows what it is.

Some highlights from the podcast:

– Talking about tackling an issue and bridging the gap is that in Hackney, London’s most diverse area, there are a number of fancy pseudo-community workspaces and such. I noticed a lack of racial diversity in the workplace. A coworking space owner in Hackney once told me that all this inclusion stuff is like a storm in a teacup. They said that if that’s the type of person running a shared workspace in Hackney in 2020, I’d love to Name Check it or date check it, but it is probably after George Floyd’s murder. But if they think that inclusion and diversity as they run a workspace in Hackney is a storm in a teacup. I, as you can tell, I’m speechless. (1.08)

– And no one had for years. I’d say I do Coworking and have to explain it to those who don’t know what it is – like basically anyone who doesn’t know you’re a freelancer and doesn’t know what freelancing is. I’m stumped.  In the UK, there are 68 million people who are unemployed and just a million who understand what Coworking means. Then in 2020 and 2021, I heard, Oh, Bernie, I’ve heard of this Coworking thing. Everyone had to go home and work. And they had to learn that they had to find new ways to work. These aren’t new ideas. They’d always commuted, so they just created a new way to work. Whether they drove or used the train, that was how they worked. Now they’d have to think of something else. Because the world was under lockdown. So it is a new way of working for people. (6.18)

Links:

Ashley Proctor

Hector Kolonas

Johanna Voll

Jose Antonio Morales

Coworking Symposium

Coworking Alliance Summit 

European Rural Coworking Project

Coworking IDEA Project

Coworking Library 

London Coworking 

Urban MBA

powered by Sounder

Speaker 1 0:03

This episode is brought to you by the European Coworking Assembly. We are everything  to do with Coworking Europe.If you add to the coworking assembly website, you will be able to connect with our rural Coworking European freelancers; we Coworking, symposium Coworking libraries and Coworking tools.

 

Bernie J Mitchell 0:23

Hello folks and welcome to this week’s edition of the Coworking values podcast. We are going to do a little episode this week. We had a few things lined up, but as a result of  “gang COVID” ( I mean lockdown), as well as everything else going on, I couldn’t get my guests to publish an episode. However,  we can tell you about a few things coming up. There’s one thing in particular, and I want to  get to this really quickly, as it got my attention during an offline conversation with several people. The biggest problem with Coworking is that nobody actually knows what Coworking is and in fact what we do. I definitely contribute to this, so therefore we are in this little “bubble” of Coworking terminology. The best story relating to this for myself happened around  2018-2019, when I first met Kofi from Urban MBA. As part of the London Coworking Assembly, we got together as a group who ran Coworking spaces with other groups of people who were freelancers, micro businesses and startups who worked in Coworking spaces. We got the young folk on Kofi’s Urban MBA course to come and meet people who ran Coworking spaces and who also worked in Coworking spaces. The issue we tackled was that of bridging the gap in Hackney, which is an incredibly diverse area in London. There are lots of posh, pseudo workspaces for the community that rhyme with like **** bone and places like that. Our friend Isabelle had researched all the Coworking spaces,  shared workspaces and whatever they wanted to call themselves in Hackney. I then realised that the ethnic demographic of Hackney wasn’t really represented in the workspaces. As you know, and we can call it a lot of polite things, the sheer gentrification of someone who ran a Coworking space in Hackney said to me,  while we were talking about inclusion, diversity, accessibility and stuff like that actually said to me,  “I think all this inclusion stuff is a bit of a storm in a teacup”.  So, if that’s the type of person that is running a shared workspace, in Hackney, in 2020, they said that to me, and I’m not sure if that was, you know, I’d love to Name Check it or date check it in the time before after George Floyd’s murder. But if they think that inclusion and diversity as they run a workspace in Hackney is a “storm in a teacup”, I, as you can tell, I’m speechless. So back  to the event we were running. So we were sitting around in a circle, and were talking; everyone’s sharing their experiences of how they work and what it is and what they want to do.  People are talking about creativity and video. And maybe there’s like 30-40 people there  and I’m sort of hosting and  getting people up to talk on stage. I then start talking about Coworking and I must have sounded so stupid and posh, it was eight years, “Coworking is a transubstantiation of a pro capitalist, best practice Zeid wine interface of collaboration flexible into… into…” going on like that. And this young white lad says to me “Oi mate!”  he shouts at the back from me and he is like “Oi mate! What’s all that like coworking stuff” and he uses a few swear words. And that’s how I answered  him  “This is an intergalactic Flexi workspace with” and lots of ‘ise’,  “where we work-ise and collaborative-ise” …and phrases, I want to punch myself in the face for using and he goes, “Why don’t you just call it work then”. And especially… I don’t know, I’m really looking for this on LinkedIn at the moment, but there are all these terminologies we used with nice, middle class people on LinkedIn. We talked about reimagining work and using Coworking hyphen and really getting into  reinventing work.Then there are conversations that have been going on  from the last century about working in different spaces and sharing space and things like this. Actually  one of the first Coworking spaces in London was the Impact Hub in Islington. I would  say 2005, but I can’t remember.

 

Bernie J Mitchell 5:08

Then just getting groups of people to work together and now we’re the other part that I really noticed during lockdown, was that there was… for years… I discovered if you like co working in 2008 on meetup, when I  just joined meet up over just looking around the platform nonstop. That’s where I found London bloggers meetup. Arguably, that’s where I discovered coworking at the time. I ran a networking group. We kept on sitting in the cafe we were having our networking breakfast in afterwards, with our laptops and working. So, we’re not going to say I am in a coworking in London, but we were doing something, which only later did we realise was coworking. We even had a conversation about … there’s a chartered surveyor in our group and said, “Well, I could just rent you this space, I have it near Kings Cross, it’s a ship basement but you could, we could all sit around there and do our work together”. I didn’t take it because I’d know, I can’t even organise my Google workplace contract, let alone rent a building. 

 

 

 

Bernie J Mitchell   6:12 

But then on meetup, I found totally magical, loopy and new work cities. It was like, “Oh my goodness, that sounds great!” A couple of years later, I started working in the innovation warehouse, which is what would have been about 2010. Helping them get people into the building. And that was the kind of coworking evolution.



Bernie J Mitchell 6:39

And for years, no one I’d say I do cowork and always had to explain it to people outside, like basically anyone. All the people that don’t know you’re a freelancer, don’t know what freelancing is, don’t understand why you don’t have a job, and don’t understand what coworking is, which is the 68 million people in the UK, and maybe like a million people understand a little bit of what those words mean. Then I noticed in 2020 and 2021, people started saying, “Oh, Bernie, you know, I’ve heard about this coworking thing!”.  It’s because everyone had to go and work at home and he had to find that they were forced to look for new ways to work and that’s not new ways. As in I’ve just invented a new way to work is in their world, they always commuted. Whether they drove into town or got a train into town, that was how they did their work and now they’d been forced to find an alternative, because the whole world had gone into lockdown. That is why it is a new way of work to people. But there’s people in the real estate industry and even in our coworking industry, running around like they’ve just invented a new way to work. So maybe you, I am a hardcore marketer and would love to spend anything … so maybe we just need to explain it as a new way to work, even though  it’s a very old thing. But this as you can feel, is coming through these people laying claim to have reimagined shared workspace, in the last 18 months is a little bit… I won’t say it is even annoying, it’s not transparent, it’s not honest. It’s trying to spin something. It’s like the people who in around 2008 were still selling networking group memberships to people, and they were selling to people who hadn’t yet discovered the internet. So the reason to join a networking group was to meet other people and connect and grow your business.  We  could do all that on LinkedIn. It’s almost like they didn’t want you to find out about the internet. Because then you’d stop buying   the membership to the networking group. Actually, the people that really run good networking groups have this amazing skill of curating and connecting people and hosting things. That’s where their skill is. Their skill is not just getting people in the room and having to swap business cards. So it’s a very fine line there. You can either put people together and make the magic happen or you can’t. There’s plenty of networking groups even these days in London, where the person who runs a networking group makes all their money, just off getting people in a room and pretending that they couldn’t have met online. So I hope that makes sense. So this kid says to me, “why don’t just call it work?” and that’s kind of my main thing here as well. As you know, the biggest problem of co working is that no one knows about co working,  because when we’ve kind of dressed something up we were taken away from the amazing opportunity for everybody. And that’s why I’m a big fan of EMEA. This is a sponsored post by a big fan of Gareth and Mandy and the folks at Town Square,  because they open a space which they’ve been doing for years. They open a space  in Bogner readers, Wrexham and do not send city centre things. They deliberately opened a space in a smaller town and they deliberately don’t call it co working. Because as you would have heard me say on this podcast before, most people think that coworking is where people … young white men who hope to be the next might “Mark Zuckerberg” go to do their tech things.  Actually, as a lot of you listening to those who run co working spaces will know, there’s not that many jumped up startup people running around your co-working spaces. The average age of you has to ask them from a desk mag exactly what this says. But I’ve made and read enough research papers to know that the average age of a person starting a startup is around the 40-45 year old mark, the age mark. The average age of most co-working spaces I’ve been in, including the one I’m here now, is going to be that of the upper side of 35. So people deliberately don’t go to co-working spaces, because they didn’t want to be bumping into “hyped up” Instagramers with any new flash, new tech startup. They just want to go somewhere and have their  work done.  That’s why we need to work harder on educating people in our cities and our countries about how amazing having a … I’m going to call it a “shared workspace” just for the future of this podcast. How having a shared workspace in the way the Townsquare do in the setup, I’ll link in the show notes to some of the podcasts we’ve done with the folks there

 

Bernie J Mitchell    11:45

It replaces the role of places of worship in England, we all used to go to the pub, the cafes, until you know up until 2010. There were a lot of community centres in London. I was with Tom Kane, who’s part of community co working and he was telling me that a lot of the there was an organisation in the UK, which still exists. And I can’t remember the name of it, that in the 1930s basically made an open source blueprint for plans to build a village hall. So in the 1930s, in the UK, there was this explosion of or big spreads or is paralanguage a big spread of village halls built in smaller towns and villages. But, because he’s this company made open source blueprints and said this is how you get the funding, they say you raise the money, this is how you can get people to help build it This is the order you should build it in, these are the best places to get the materials, this is the type of wood. So all those little community halls opened across the UK, in the gap between the first and second world war , and that was a huge part of the community. And I mean, where I live in the east or outer east side of London, you can still see those buildings, but they’re not community places anymore. And in how people, the places for local people to gather has completely changed. So there is this and I know you know, a lot of these side conversations, have happened to conferences we’ve met over the years, is reinstalling the sense of community and making a place where people can gather is really important so that

 

Bernie J Mitchell    13:33

I’m sensitive about posting this vision too much because as I’m speaking, I can pitch different cities and different villages and different circumstances for those of you that I know across Europe, but you know workspace can be somewhere where people come and do their work in the daytime. It could be a nursery there, if you ask her Shazia has. She’s seen Mustafa who’s based in the UK was one of the first people, I’m going to say one of the first people on the planet to successfully open a co-working space with a fully legally qualified certified nursery. Not just a room where you hang with the children, why do you work but like there’s a co-worker in a nursery next door to each other.

 

Bernie J Mitchell    14:18

And you can go and do your work, there’s childcare there. People can come and run youth groups, run hobby clubs, and meet there for local political meetings. Anything that gets people together and I can’t remember what it’s called in France, but there’s a sort of sharing economy company called the food assembly which brings farmers markets. Farmers bring their food into delivery and deliver food into a base, which is a co working space is great for that, so they people order exactly what they want on line and the farmers bring it into town. So they make one trip and meet their customers rather than standing in a market all day hoping someone will buy something. So there’s all these different things we can do. So

 

Bernie J Mitchell    15:09

the idea of working space or a shared workspace in your local area, and people are allowed to go to it. They don’t have to be superduper Dragon’s Den business people. And as I actively seek out these conversations, I have friends that work for banks and insurance companies and car leasing companies. They’re now allowed not to go into the office every day and they don’t want to sit at home because their mental health is going downhill. They can do work at home, but they’d like to find somewhere, not every day of the week, but like now and then to go out of work. They can’t work in a cafe because you know, it’s not that they have sensitive, legal personal data on their computer. So they can’t risk someone seeing a screen or that the Wi-Fi’s being hacked. So that you know  it’s there  and we need to educate these people, not with free beer and indoor slides and terrific light plants and stuff like that … We need to start conversations around not new reimagining ways of work and all this flashy, manipulative language that people use. It’s just like, why you come here, when you sit down here, have a chat with people in your local area. Something that’s happened to me in the last two years is I spent so much time in my local area. I see smaller, more people on the bus. Smaller more people go through the park. I walked through on the way to work, and became more connected with the local restaurants. Have you seen me on Instagram, just me and my son are always in this cafe having amazing coffee and doing our homework and finishing our newsletters after school there. It’s this, we live in London and it’s this cute little existence. I just didn’t think it was available because I used to rush into town and then watch the clock and then rush back out and everything was rushing. Now we’re more connected to our local community and we save a ton of money because we’re not getting on the train every day. But, that’s my little rant for today ladies and gentlemen.

 

Bernie J Mitchell    17:30

I would also like to massively bring to your attention …I think by the time you’re listening to this, it might have happened, but also go look up the Coworking Alliance Summit that’s run by my good friends Ashley Proctor and Hector Alice. This is the second year that they did this and this is if you’re thinking of which – I hope you are if you live in a city, and you’re looking for a way to get people together, there’s a group of people that have already been doing it for years and years and years, a lot of the people that come to this summit. I have just learnt so much off for the last 10 years and they’ve now, despite what I just said, kind of people have an idea of what shared workspace and coworking is and what it can do. I’ve been following a lot of these people since 2010, when I was trying to work out how to do it and there’s a lot of conversations that have been happening at things like coworking Europe and co working Spain and the German co working Federation and things we’ve done in London over the years.  But to get all these people in one room and it’s not who, who, wow, want to take your signature, it’s a group of very down to earth people with a very diverse range of experiences. And they’ve seen the evolution of what’s happened. So if you’re

 

Bernie J Mitchell  18:46

 

I think one of the best things we can do in our cities is get people who run the shared workspaces together from every economic level. Big, shiny spaces and small little amounts of space, to have a conversation about what works and what doesn’t work. Because people might outgrow the smaller space and want to move to the bigger space and instead of trying to be in competition with each other is actually working out how together you can grow the local community, grow the local economic development or the place and how to approach your local authority. We’ve done it for five years, but we don’t have all this kind of stuff in London by just making connections and starting conversations with people. It’s just there’s still loads to do, but it’s such a rewarding atmosphere, like the last coworking assembly breakfast I couldn’t go to here in London. You know, in the sunlight 30 or 40 people showed up and there were loads of people from the local authority. There’s load relationships within the local community and some of those people are constantly supporting  what’s going on in our work in the co working assembly and the coworking idea projects, and they’re coming to the coworking alliance Summit. So that’s it. Thank you very much for listening, folks. Please rush over or jog over, don’t rush, jog over to the co-working assembly. eu . Sign up for our email that comes up every week. It’s about stories of people like you who are building co working spaces, building projects around coworking coming up with you. I have my friend Sonya Thompson, who is running the February coworking idea project. I’ve learned so much from this lady over the years, and her main project is inclusive marketing. That’s on the coworking idea project at the moment. Or, if you go to Sonia thompson.com, everything she does is there. Also, Jose Morales, who is running the ever growing. Basically, we Jose stepped up and is interested in the possibilities around rural co working. He’s on this mission and has an ever growing team of connecting all the rural coworking conversations that are happening in Europe and that’s academic people, local authorities people starting their own spaces. So I urge you to go and join in, then at some point I’m going to try and get Joe from the coworking library to come and join me, because she’s incredibly busy at the moment… single handedly changing the economy of Germany with her work. We’re always looking for interesting stories. This is a very English speaking podcast. But one of our ambitions is to start it in Spanish in the monitor coworking Spain in April,  so always get in touch if you have an idea for a story. I’m gonna knock it on the head there and go home and eat my homemade curry pizza lamb curry, and thank you very much for listening. There’s been a load of support from you folks, particularly in 2020. I think everyone’s got the energy back in 2020. So thanks for paying attention. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next week.

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