The next event is coming up on April 26 in Valencia and I'm personally looking forward to it. But before we all go, what do you actually know about this conference that's causing so much excitement in the coworking niche… How did they start out, what goals they pursue, and what is so special about Coworking Spain 2022?
I sent all of these questions toMarc Navarro, a well-known coworking and organization consultant who helps companies create work environments that improve people's lives and professional performance. Marc is also a content director of the CoworkingSpain Conference. He responded with in-depth answers that you can read right here!Helga:How did it come that you fell in love with coworking so much that you made it your career? What impacted your choice?
Marc: Most people don't know I have a background in product and service design. I worked as a designer and in engineering departments developing lighting or machinery and I have always been committed to solving problems and that required working closely with the people actually building what we had drawn. If you don't listen and help them when in trouble you won't be able to ask them to trust or help you when you need that (and you are going to need that at some point). I also had bad bosses who taught me what not to do, but even from those, you can learn positive things. In those years before coworking, I renovated two of the offices I was working in.
Coworking for me is the meeting point of people, technology, and design (physical and service design). So it's an industry in which I can mix some of my passions. In the beginning, it was an industry where you can explore a lot of fields, everything was less organized or structured and it gave me the opportunity to investigate a lot of fields and I guess that was a huge bonus for me and hooked me up to the niche.
Helga: What is the story of the CWSC? How it all started?
Marc: Manuel Zea is the one that can talk about that better than me as he's the founder of both Coworking Spain and the CWSC (Coworking Spain Conference). But as a fast summary back in early 2012 Manuel launched a proposal to create a coworking conference in Spain on Facebook. There was nothing: he just wanted to see if there was interest in the subject after he attended the Coworking Europe Conference. The response was so good that he organized the conference from the US (he was coming back to Spain just one month before the conference).
After the first conference in 2012 in Madrid, the CWSC moved to other cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, and Alicante. My first conference was in 2013 and in 2016 CREC was the host of the conference (I was working for them at that moment). 2017 was my first edition as the content manager of the event. A lot has changed from those early days, and the event evolved in the same way the industry did. In every edition, Manuel tried to improve the conference and that was what made me become in love with the conference and wanted to be involved in the organization.
Helga: What are the main goals of the conference?
Marc: We always try to provide a full snapshot of the flexible space industry: we do love coworking but we understand since 2015 the "coworking industry" is a hot topic in the conference, or in other words, the business model, operations, and financial schemes of coworking spaces are every time more important in the flexible workspace industry.
We understand that a good conference must show the full picture of what's going on and what's next to come to the market. Our second goal will be to help move the operators forward: we use our platform to push for the necessary changes in the industry and make operators see things they might ignore, or are tempted to ignore because they are too focussed on the day-to-day operations.
On the other hand, there's something else: a conference must become a meeting point for operators. The two days of the CWSC and the day of the FlexWork Academy is the only moment during the whole year when the managers and staff are surrounded by people who share their worries, pains, and scope. The CWSC is where they find their peers and meet their community. To achieve this you have to create an environment to make everyone feel welcomed, veterans and newcomers alike.
Back in 2019, we started a new path to make the conference more accessible to an international audience. We had simultaneous translation in the main stage. In this edition, we also do that and we can say that 80% of the content will be in English in order to make the conference accessible to everyone. The challenges coworking and operators face are global, so everything discussed in CWSC can be applied to Holland, the UK, Serbia, France, Germany, or any other European country. Our goal is to achieve 100% of the content in English in the future while we keep our authentic feeling by doing that with simultaneous translation. Currently, 25% of our attendees are international but we would like to see that figure increasing in the following years as we know the content and the experience works for them because they keep coming back.
Helga: What topics do you usually discuss?
Marc: We cover coworking and coliving (we introduced coliving back in 2017). Being more specific, what we do is create a meaningful content mix: we have big and huge operators talking as well as small players. We mix speakers from big cities with speakers from smaller cities too as we understand the contexts and markets are really different.
The content for this year focuses on data, operations, brokers, sustainability, rural coworking... Besides the topics, we do have different formats and we mostly got rid of panels. They tend to be sluggish and provide little value to the attendees. We have Keynotes that are similar to TED talks. They are short and introduce one concept or topic which we think everyone must listen to. Then we have the regular talks which are always set up in two tracks so the audience can choose the best content for them. They are a bit longer and allow to go more in-depth. Finally, we have the Ágoras which are the longest ones and they are designed to replace the, in my opinion, decaying unconference. The Ágora provides interesting curated topics in which a neutral moderator drives the conversation among all the participants but guarantees the quality of the topic and the information which is being discussed.
Some examples of this year's talks can be how to get rid of one-use plastic, several talks about data (which is every time more and more important for operators), and, of course, the talk Coworking Resilience by Igor Dzhebyan which will talk about how the coworking spaces in Ukraine adapted to COVID-19 and to the current war in Ukraine.
But the best way to discover CWSC is to take a look to the actual program by yourself.
Helga: Who benefits from attending the conference the most?
Marc: The conference is designed to be useful for operators, not only in Spain but all over the world but especially in Europe. We are in our 11th edition and we know one thing or two ;) We create a conference for the people managing coworking spaces. We like how a CEO of a space of more than 40K square meters can help a small operator with his vision and useful advice.
We also like how employees which reached the industry quite late and do not have contact with the traditional operators become impacted when they meet the old guard. I think we help to create an environment in which operators can share thoughts, worries, ideas and keep moving the industry and their spaces forward. We created specific talks for small operators to help them evolve in environments that lack the density to become big operators in the traditional sense.
Our content in the coliving part section also increased so attendees in that sector can benefit from the conference but I have to say the content is more on the side of coworking.
Helga: How did Covid-19 impact Coworking Spain?
Marc: Well I think that almost as everywhere. The impact was huge, most operators didn't know what to do at the beginning of the pandemic and they tried their best to keep their businesses running. Small spaces and the ones with a higher percentage of members on monthly contracts were the first to suffer the blow. Later that year and in early 2021 the spaces with a higher percentage of longer contracts (6-12 months) started to feel a high impact but the good news for them is they had a longer time to get ready for that. Discounts and the fight for every lead have been the new normal for those days. But after the summer of 2021, the discounted prices given during the pandemic started to be a thing of the past.
The industry in Spain adapted to the pandemic recovering rates for more flexible use. These rates, which existed many years ago, are now adapted to a world of apps, and to a client more used to consuming a service world in which they can pay-as-you-go hassle-less transactions. These services saved many spaces which failed to sell memberships until the summer of 2021.
2022 is going quite well and I think the future is bright now that some companies are welcomed in the 21st century and are allowing their employees to work remotely, but in Spain, there's a long path still to be walked in this sense as many companies are reluctant to allow remote work or limit it a lot.
Helga: How is Coworking Spain 2022 different from the previous gatherings?
Marc: The conference will be smaller, as not all small operators are fully recovered, but besides that, I would say it is an evolution of the previous ones. Every year we make small steps to improve this or that but we try to keep the essence the same. In this year's edition, we still have the one-on-one sessions, connecting veterans with newbies, and I think that the most notable difference is that we have 35% more content. We took profit of this increase to have more coliving content too.
On the other hand, we increased the length of the Ágoras and doubled their number because our attendees asked for more interaction so we provided more room for that in all the afternoon sessions.
Helga: Will you discuss the Ukrainian crisis?
Marc: As you know we will have the "Coworking Resilience" by Igor Dzhebyan which will talk about how the coworking spaces in Ukraine adapted to COVID-19 and to the current war in Ukraine. We decided to go for this talk in a Keynote slot as we think that everyone should be aware of what's going on and how the coworking industry is supporting the people of Ukraine now and during the pandemic.
I use to say that the world would be a much better place if it was close to what coworking is. In this case, I hope we can see through the coworking spaces in Ukraine, how coworking spaces are helping to support the population in such hard, unfair and dark times Ukrainian people are going through.
Helga: How do you see the conference in 5 years? What is your most optimistic development plan?
Marc: What I would like to see is the conference to find a place in the heart and minds of more European space managers. The CWSC is NOT a conference for Spaniards: it is the coworking conference that takes place in Spain.
We are fighting this idea that it is a local conference because we know that the people who visit once get in love with it and return every year. But if you ask me to be more specific I would say I would like to have a 350-400 attendees conference in which we can add more content, more one-on-one sessions, and have a wider impact in the industry not only in Spain but all over Europe. I would like that the effort we do to curate content and the work we do together with the speaker is not confined to the Spanish market but to the whole continent.
Our commitment will be the same: offer a snapshot what the industry looks like today, what to expect from tomorrow and creating an environment to gather around an industry we all love. The only difference is that we will do that not only for spaniards and a 25% of attendees from abroad but for people all over Europe.
What I can tell you is that we do not disappoint: just come and judge by yourself!
Have more questions for Marc or need his professional consultation? Check out his website: https://marcnavarro.com/en/home/. Want to get more info about the coming conferences? Check out this article: Top 5 Coworking Conferences to Visit in 2022.