22 April 2014, San Francisco
A new way to work and share is emerging from the San Francisco Bay Area tech culture. It is embodied through co-working spaces, peer-to-peer networks for direct sharing everything from rides to commercial retail space to clothing. It’s been called the sharing economy, collaborative consumption. This past Friday, one of the co-working spaces, NextSpace, hosted a panel discussion on “Activating Co-Spaces”, where some of the pioneers in the Sharing Economy shared their stories. The event took place at a co-working space, the subject was how to activate co-spaces, and the co-working space was palpably activated through the event by discussion, networking, and creative ideas put forward by a group of people all building their own network projects. The layers go on.
I received a tour of San Francisco’s branch of NextSpace from its beautiful host, Lindsay. I was filled in on the developments in co-working culture. “Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity.” (1) NextSpace seeks to combine a creative work environment with a community-building experience. I learned that any member has the option of producing events in the space, and that there are a variety of events happening all the time. I learned that many social entrepreneurs meet future team members as well as future roommates through co-working. I learned that the space is always open to members and so you are free to choose your own work hours at any time of day or night, but you can’t live there - naps are acceptable. We talked about the challenges and rewards of curating and facilitating a community spaces.
Most of the panelists had start-up companies or projects that are less than one year old, and growing quickly. There was a spectrum of panelists and viewpoints, from proponents of the gift-based economy to proponents of major corporations being integrated into the sharing economy. Morgan Fitzgibbons, founder of Freespace, a free and open space for community, creativity, and civic innovation, believes that the sharing economy is only interesting insofar as it moves us to the gift-based economy. Ben Provan represented Open Door, a project centered around “creating urban projects designed to advance open, shared, collaborative lifestyles”. It blends the coworking culture into a “co-living” (read: cooperative) culture, with a sprinkle of international youth hostel. It is paired with a virtual network component, the Embassy Network, a network of “open, collaborative living spaces around the world”. Project Nuevo Mundo is very excited to watch Open Door and the Embassy Network grow. The panel was moderated by Sharing Economy writer Chelsea Rustrum.
Much of the discussion was centered around trends in the sharing economy. One of the most interesting things I heard was that major corporations are looking to enter the sharing economy, but don’t quite know how. One audience member questioned whether the spirit of sharing would remain prevalent in the culture if large companies were to become major players. Another trend was “subscription”, or “membership” (such as access to a co-working space, or a machine shop, or access to a retail workspace like a hair salon chair). Desk Near Me helps people find desks in their area, and advertises that you will meet the right people through their network. These peer-to-peer networks are finding that the “peers” or users of the networks prefer the flexibility of renting a desk by the hour, renting a pop-up retail space for a day, an AirBnB room rental for five days. Our restless generation doesn’t like the thought of being committed over the long-term. Near Me, a platform for people to create their own sharing networks, is finding that there’s a high demand to rent beauty salon space, as well as dental and medical space to work from. This means that many hair stylists and beauticians are benefiting from increased access to workspace, without needing to rent an entire salon or own all of the necessary equipment for work.
At one point, there was a very interesting moment where Jeremiah Owyang, the founder of Crowd Companies, a company connecting large corporation to innovative start-ups, stated that the founders of most of the important Sharon Economy networks are in the room right now, and could collectively decide to share profile information to create a shared API aggregating the data collected from the various peer-to-peer sharing networks into an overall trust rating system that everyone would benefit from. 20 minutes later, he commented that interested parties should meet at the back of the room to talk about actually doing it (seriously). The energy in the room shifted; it seemed like more than a mere panel discussion was taking place in here, as if this were a spontaneous sharing economy board room. An interesting question brought up by one of the audience members was where to draw the line between what can be shared with the public, and what should be kept private. It seems that everything is fair game for sharing these days. One audience member replied that she had a start-up peer-to-peer clothing rental company.
Even America’s corporate workplace is starting to bend to the influence of co-working. Technology companies are allowing their employees to work from coworking spaces rather than on the corporate campus, because (surprise!) some employees find themselves more productive (and happier) in a social community workspace. More hospitality and retail spaces, such as hotels, coffee shops, and even one bank in Canada are creating spaces more amenable to working by providing wireless internet, seating, etc.
Dissolving boundaries of work, play, and homespace is the overall trend, accompanied by the realization that we all share this planet, and it is in our interest to seek supportive community and share resources with each other. Jeremiah framed it as “going back from the industrial mindset to the village mindset”. A global village.
It’s incredible to be a part of what’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area (and around the world) right now. One panelist described the feeling as “all of us waking up to the reality that we are all sharing one ongoing experience called the Universe”. There is a revolution taking place in how we live, work, and play, redefining culture and social norms along the spirit of collaboration rather than competition. And it’s spreading.