Observations from coworking in Portugal, Croatia, and Greece
I've been traveling and working throughout Portugal, Croatia, and Greece this fall.
This gave me the opportunity to check in with coworking spaces through the Mediterranean and prepare material for future Wayviator Guides.
In 2022, we planned to launch Wayviator Guides to Croatia, Portugal, and Costa Rica.
We shifted focus and launched an ultimate guide to taking a workation, first:
How To Be A Digital Nomad and Work Wherever You Want
You can pick up a copy today at the link above.
Here's a picture of the Old Town in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
A brief history of coworking
In 2014, I wandered into an open-plan office up a staircase in Gastown, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Launch Academy was a "startup hub" where I was going to pursue networking, opportunities, desk space, and a potential upgrade to working out of a few makeshift office spaces.
What is normal to many now—but struck me then—was the simple concept that people at unrelated companies were sitting side by side, typing away on their laptops (some with full monitor setups).
The idea that an office needed to exist in order to house workers who do work provided benefits (security, privacy, camaraderie, concentration, focus, and control). But it wasn't essential.
If you weren't working for the Department of Defense, maybe you didn't need security.
If you weren't working for an insanely technical automobile manufacturer, maybe you didn't need tons of room.
And if a communal space provided water, coffee, and a social environment — maybe you could get work done in a 'third place' that wasn't the home or the office.
Starbucks already understood the concept of a 'third place'—it's the reason they've been able to build a big public company around mediocre coffee for decades.
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, coworking spaces got very popular in the startup-leaning, tech-leaning Silicon Valley world, in part because of the contrarian nature of Silicon Valley thinking ("what we rethought why we need an office from 'first principles'" — as someone in that subculture might say).
The Starbucks-ification of coworking
In late 2015, I landed in Manhattan to grow a health tech startup, and also time-traveled a few years into the future of coworking.
Until I entered a building on one edge of Bryant Park near 40th and 6th, I had thought of coworking spaces as entities run by local proprietors — often by a local founder who wanted to create a small business or had a community-driven motive other than profit.
WeWork was big, corporate, fancy — and definitely driven by profit.
As I would learn, WeWork was taking the hyper-growth path in scaling up coworking — raising hundreds of millions in venture capital, signing extremely long leases, renovating hundreds of floors and bending them into its hipster aesthetic, hooking up all-you-can-drink coffee machines and beer kegs.
The tech + business + startup bull market of the 2010s was driven by the WeWork aesthetic — literally and in spirit.
By the 2010s, many younger growth companies had decidedly left behind the suburban office parks and were building out hip, trendy offices in the middle of cities.
Working at WeWork was fun.
And the people around the water cooler and the beer keg weren't your dumb coworkers or annoying boss. They were myriad other people doing interesting things — podcasters, clothing brand manufacturers, robotics companies, online magazines, people trying to produce Broadway musicals, marketing agencies, etc.
Fundamentally, the WeWork decade was a transitional aberration where work was still done at a centralized office. Commercial real estate loved WeWork and the focus on high-value square footage it provided—it was still just high-occupancy traditional office space, not a revolutionary technological idea—even with the fun coat of paint on everything.
Commercial real estate stakeholders don't love the "work from anywhere" movement so much.
The waves of gentrification in the decade-before-covid included this massive influx of people working in glass boxes.
WeWork's business model was tenuous. The messianic CEO got fired by the board. An IPO at $40 billion stalled, was postponed, and eventually moved forward at a much lower valuation with new management.
Covid and "WFH"
Covid changed everything, and I am not going to rehash that.
One thing it did in popular culture was create the memetic idea that "remote work" equals "working from home".
Many never experienced the transitional step of going from "the office" to a local coworking space or WeWork.
One day they were fobbing into the office with a dress shirt on; then, all of a sudden they were working from their bedroom in their sweatpants.
There are still millions who see the dichotomy of "office vs. remote" through this incomplete lens.
The state of coworking now
After spending time in many, many coworking spaces over the last six weeks, here's what I think still needs to be solved.
What coworking spaces are good at:
- They usually have fast WiFi.
- They usually have comfortable chairs.
- They are usually quiet.
- They all have coffee.
What coworking spaces aren't good at, but could be:
- People without a permanent setup still hunch over laptops, lacking monitors, external keyboards, and mice.
- Day passes can be more prohibitive than you think. Like gyms, coworking spaces would rather have monthly subscriptions. Some day pass prices were 20-40 Euro, discouraging for someone who wants to pop in for 4 hours.
- Coworking spaces can still be strangely hard to find.
- Coworking spaces aren't always set up well for people who need to be on calls at any time during the day (managing sound and privacy).
- Coworking spaces may be too enamored with comfortable furniture like couches and lounge chairs and not thoughtful enough about chairs for productive work. A brilliant interior designer could likely redesign most coworking spaces to make better use of space. What looks good isn't always what's best for working for eight hours.
My experience with coworking spaces in 2022 has given several business ideas that I might develop.
But for now, I will be working on updating WorkationList.co and building out our content plan for 2023.