Coworking is already a deep-seated trend in the work environment of bigger cities (even though not everyone knows about it) and so the next challenge is going to be the countryside.
Cities like Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco and New York already have more coworking spaces as anyone interested could quietly explore in a year. There is a steady opening of new coworking spaces and even though most people haven’t heard of it, this subject has arrived in the urban work environment. Since last year it could be observed that coworking spaces advanced to the countryside and that could change the living and working conditions of people living there – much more than those living in the cities.
This summer I travelled with my girlfriend around Europe for two months and visited coworking spaces in ten different countries. Throughout our travels, we mostly stayed in cities, worked in coworking spaces which we portrayed at the same time and enjoyed our evenings among the most beautiful places on this continent. Our work, detached of a fixed location by the internet, and the excellent infrastructure made it possible for us to explore a new city, its sights and coworking spaces every few days.
Coworking as a chance to reverse rural depopulation
In Lyon we met Julie Pouliquen, who founded the French coworking network La Cordée together with her partner Michael Schwartz. It started with a coworking space in Lyon, soon there were four coworking spaces and the members began to wish for new offshoots of La Cordée in other cities. So Julie and Michael opened a coworking space in the countryside in the small French city of Morez. This location, close to the Swiss border and in a slim valley in the Jura, was picked because it tried to get La Cordée and wanted a coworking space for its almost 5,000 inhabitants.
Getting a coworking space to Morez was based on the engagement of various public and private stakeholders in the region, as Olivier Menard explained. He was part of creating La Cordée at the Gare du Lyon in Paris, the first offshoot outside of Lyon. The mayor of Morez, Laurent Petit, played a decisive role. An economic survey of the region pointed out that Morez possessed the requirements needed for so-called teleworking and that coworking spaces might benefit the region since – and this is stressed by Petit – “location-independent teleworkers could be taken out of their isolation and a network could be created”.
But Morez did not only care for the local people. They now have the opportunity to get a job possibly detached from Morez and still be able to stay there. At the same time, a site for connecting the already existing creative scene is being created. A coworking space may also attract a lot of visitors outside the main tourist seasons because it offers location-independent people the possibility to stay in a rural area without any occupational disadvantages.
Renaissance of the region through coworking
Apart from the romantic idea of work, including good WiFi and a view of the Alps, rural areas are important locations, especially for Europe, since the majority of the population is living outside of metropolises and urban sprawls. Even in an industrialized nation like Germany, around 70 percent of the population live in the countryside. As Gerald Swarat argued in an article on Politik-Digital.de, “the renaissance of the region would induce long-term benefits for the German industrial location and the living standards of the people.”
An impression of this can be seen in the Upper Bavarian city of Bad Tölz. There, Marco Tunger opened the coworking space Heimat 2.0 six years ago. The 220 square meters property on the first floor of an old brewery proved to be too big for his advertising agency, so out of purely pragmatic reasons he decided to adopt the trend of coworking, which was only known in bigger cities at that time. “What works in Munich, could work here”, Tunger told me in an interview. He was right after all since there are about 1,300 freelancers in Bad Tölz and around, which now have a spot to get away from their own desks and meet up.
Here, as well as in Morez, the municipality and local economy supported the coworking spaces. As Heimat 2.0 native, 3D designer and filmmaker Clemens Mauksch stresses, a site for networking is also an economic opportunity. He went to Heimat 2.0, hoping to get new assignments in collaboration with other coworkers, which even happened with Tunger’s advertising agency, and primarily stays there because of the creative and productive working conditions. Municipalities profit from them as well since people don’t have to leave the region for better paid jobs or are actually being able to develop such jobs locally and stay as engaged, motivated and – first of all – tax paying economic agents.
Furthermore, living in the countryside often supports a higher standard of living than in the cities. Especially in Bad Tölz, situated between the mountains at the river Isar, you can make an impression of this yourself. Meanwhile, there are new coworking spaces in Switzerland and outside of Paris and Berlin, which consciously moved to the countryside.