Bringing the Global Coworking Movement to Local Communities

Coworking is an up-and-coming phenomenon, but what can it do for local communities? Cleo Goodman, Business Development and Impact at The Melting Pot, writes about the positive impacts it can have.

A recent Global Coworking Survey suggests that by the end of 2019 more than 2.2 million people will be working in 22,000 coworking spaces worldwide. 2018 saw the number of coworking spaces grow by a fifth and an increasing number opened in small and medium cities. 60% of members worldwide indicate that they are sticking with their coworking space and it seems the “trend” is here to stay.

The Melting Pot, the first coworking space to open its doors in Scotland, is Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation and we have started to look at the social impact of coworking. The Melting Pot’s full 2018 Social Impact Report can be found here, and shows that coworking can promote equality, improve well-being and increase the impact made by members.

Coworking can be a powerful tool for towns and cities, as local people create and support resilient, entrepreneurial communities. Coworking generates social capital most clearly seen through the collaborations formed. Around 71% of coworking members around the world have collaborated with someone they work alongside, most often on small tasks. The Melting Pot found that 42% of Members had collaborated on more significant projects – everything from co-designing events to prototyping an app delivering mindfulness and meditation to pre-schoolers. Everyone who had formed a collaboration at The Melting Pot was satisfied with the results and the work generated jobs, revenue and opportunities. Significantly coworkers in the UK spend an average of £10.50 per day in local businesses, so while coworking spaces generate social value they also provide an injection of money into the local economy.

The trend of the gig economy appears to continue and in a changing world of work we must ensure that the well-being of workers is supported. Isolation could become a significant issue as we move away from the traditional workplace and see more people working remotely. Coworking is a timely solution to this problem, which is exactly why more employers are positioning their workers in coworking spaces. The Melting Pot found that 95% of Members felt part of their community. Almost 80% of members gained confidence professionally as a result of membership at The Melting Pot and 75% have been supported by other Members. Poppy Isaacs works remotely for DMA Global she said, “Joining The Melting Pot helped me personally and professionally. I realised working from home was not good for my mental health, coming into TMP every week gave me a sense of purpose.”

There are supports in place for creating successful coworking businesses. The Coworking Accelerator was founded to share the proven coworking model of The Melting Pot with coworking practitioners around the world. In 2019 the Coworking Accelerator worked with the Scottish Coworking Network who are hoping to bring coworking to the 500+ libraries in Scotland. The Scottish Coworking Network is a Scottish Government funded project ensuring local assets are moving with the times. They’re aiming to provide coworking spaces across Scotland for the 11,000 enterprises that start each year. In the long term they hope to develop a framework that can be used by other library services to expand the network.  Spaces have been established in libraries in Edinburgh, Inverness, Dunfermline, Troon and Dundee.

Some communities are already sold on the coworking concept and are looking for support finding a space to run. For example Sustaining Dunbar is a community development trust working to bring coworking to Dunbar. Currently a significant portion of the population in Dunbar commute to nearby Edinburgh for work. A coworking space would allow more people to work closer to home increasing their ability to participate in their local community, socially and economically.

The Melting Pot found that they had double the number of female founders in comparison to the UK average. Supporting female entrepreneurs is crucial to creating a more equal economy and coworking can be a tool that helps make this happen. The 2019 Global Coworking survey included a section on member’s perceptions of how a financial crisis would impact them. In comparison to other groups, women and people on low wages were most concerned about the negative impact a financial crisis would have on their their job security. This suggests that people foresee existing inequalities being exacerbated by a financial crisis, which hardly comes as a surprise.

The global coworking movement began growing in earnest around 2006, with TMP joining the pack in 2007, and it continued on its trajectory throughout the financial crisis of 2007/8. In uncertain economic circumstances it is crucial to ensure we have grassroots resources in place to enhance the resilience of our communities. Local government can play a significant role in supporting these resources through investing in coworking businesses, providing spaces to local community groups and signposting the resources that will help make a coworking business thrive.