Coworking Europe is probably the most famous, most visited, and most loved flexible workspace conference out there. Every workspace manager is looking forward to thenext event. All of us were very upset by the impact COVID-19 made on the annual gathering. It was canceled in 2020 and 2021.
Is it the end of the Coworking Europe in the physical format so valued by the loyal attendees? Or maybe 2022 with its vaccination policies and mass lifting of the pandemic restrictions bring us hope for the new beginning…
We addressed all those questions to the mastermind behind Coworking Europe, Jean-Yves Huwart, the founder of the conference as well as a bunch of other big events in the coworking world, such as Coworking Africa, Coworking India, and Social Workplace. Besides, Jean-Yves runs SocialWorkplaces.com, a consultancy firm focused on open innovation and new working models.
In his interview, Jean-Yves looks back at how Coworking Europe has changed over the years and where he sees it going in the future. Keep reading to learn more!Panel discussion at the Coworking Europe 2019Helga: You are driving the coworking movement for more than 10 years already. Why did you choose this market segment even when it was far from being profitable?
Jean-Yves: I was a business journalist in Belgium. I choose to quit in 2009 and started to work from home. I thought it would be paradise and it actually was hell. At that time, I heard via an acquaintance that a group of people in Brussels was thinking about launching a space to work from for social entrepreneurs. I joined one of the meetings and soon became one of the first members of The Hub Brussels space.
At the time, the word coworking wasn’t in the air. Only after a few months, I figured out that kind of open flexible work environment was named coworking. I thought it was a fantastic model. As we were in Brussels, I suggested to organize a European conference on coworking at The Hub Brussels. We got more than 150 attendees for more than 20 countries, without communication channels else than Twitter and Facebook. The rest is History. The Coworking Europe conference took place each year since then (virtually in 2020 and 2021).
Helga: Was it difficult to educate people on coworking culture? What did you do to spread the word about the trend?
Jean-Yves: We had an industry conference, although, in the beginning, the coworking industry was made out of just a few spaces in Europe. Coworking was long associated with freelancers and startups only. One of our big challenges, in the last years, was to explain that coworking was about much more than that, it was really about changing the workplace model and experience everywhere, in a more human-centric and flexible way.
Helga: Do you remember your first Coworking Europe? How was it? How many people attended? What was their feedback?
Jean-Yves: Brussels, November 2010. What amazed us the most was to have so many nationalities. We even had a few people who flew from the US to Belgium. It was totally unthinkable to us. At the time, we built up the program with only one idea: one testimonial per country. We google a lot and sometimes couldn’t find more than one coworking space in operations in some countries. This was enough. The pioneers of coworking, betahaus from Germany, Coworking Spain, Cowo from Italy, and some more, people from Turin, Latvia… They all made the trip up to Brussels, Deskmag. Some of the delegates of 2010 have attended all the Coworking Europe conferences. The last conference before the Covid crisis gathered more than 650 people.
Helga: What countries were the most positive about coworking? How did the situation change nowadays?
Jean-Yves: At the time, Germany and Spain, were maybe the earliest adopters, although with small numbers if we compare it with today. About 7-8 years ago, coworking started to boom in the UK, also influenced by the rise of coworking in the US. The UK is by far the most mature coworking market in Europe, and maybe in the world.
Coworking space marketing workshop carried out by Igor Dzhebyan, co-founder & CEO of andcards
Helga: How did the global pandemic impact the conference? What formats of Coworking Europe can we expect in the future?
Jean-Yves: Big impact. We had to cancel it twice, as Vienna, where we planned to host the conference, was locked down, both in 2020 and 2021. We moved everything online. The content and the experience were ok, but everybody was very disappointed not to be able to meet physically. In 2022, the Coworking Europe conference is back in Amsterdam. It will take place on November 10 and 11.
Helga: You consult many coworking spaces with different business models. Which of those models are going to be the most profitable in the coming years?
Jean-Yves: I have no crystal ball. I think diversification is key. To have balanced and qualitative relationships with landlords is and will remain key. The most profitable coworking operators will likely be those who manage to develop and to create the highest level of synergies both internally and with partners and outsiders.
Helga: In your opinion, what are the key points of coworking business success?
Jean-Yves: Be right about the positioning, the quality and the perceived value you deliver your members with. It’s a people business. Be right about the market segment you address. Don’t try to be everything, you can’t.
Helga: What kind of innovations are we going to see in the nearest future?
Jean-Yves: I’m very curious to see whether the working metaverse some foresee will really pick up.
Author’s Note: If you are also curious about the phenomenon, read more about it here: What Is the Metaverse and What Does It Mean for Coworking?
Helga: What are the main coworking space trends to follow in 2022 and beyond?
Jean-Yves: More asset-light development model. Are satellite office models for employees really going to take off?
*A satellite office is a branch of a company that’s physically separate from the organization’s main office. Satellite offices exist to solve a number of problems, and lately their usefulness has grown to accommodate trends around flexible working. They can create convenience for a company’s remote employees, help cut down on busy commutes, and reduce the number of workers in the main office at any one time.—WeWork Ideas
Do you want to know other industry experts' opinions about the trends that are going to rule 2022? Get their insight here: Top 13 Coworking Space Trends 2022—Experts’ Predictions on the Future of Flexible Workspace.