Can Coworking change your life?

In October 2019, when there were still events, I was a guest at the Coworking Coliving Conference South East Europe (CCCSEE) in Belgrade. As part of a panel, I was allowed to give a little impulse on how coworking has changed my life.

Unfortunately, I thought that the question was how coworking has saved my life. So I said that coworking did not save my life, but changed it. You see, I am a very attentive panelist.

There is a recording of this panel that has just been released. I embed the video here and publish the transcript that I wrote in advance to organize and formulate my thoughts.

Belgrade Speech

I am pleased to be here today in Belgrade at this great conference. It is inspiring what Mija has organized here with his team. I love such events when we all get together and talk about Coworking.

Mija already asked me last year if I didn’t want to participate, and I’ve been wondering what I can talk about with such an audience, so you don’t get bored. What should I be able to tell you about Coworking?

Then I learned that I should answer the question of how Coworking saved my life. It may not seem that way to you here in the hall, but that question is harder than explaining what Coworking is and why WeWork is different.

I don’t think Coworking saved my life. Coworking changed my life entirely, and even though I don’t know how my life would have developed without Coworking, I hope I would have been alive at least.

Coworking has had an impact on my life, like probably no other thing. I must say “so far” because my wife is pregnant and we are expecting our first child. I can only guess that Coworking can’t keep up with that.

When I moved from Munich to Berlin after my studies, I worked as a freelancer for various companies that put me in coworking spaces or shared offices. This was a completely new experience for me.

Until then, I worked in very classic offices and can’t say that I felt anything wrong about it. They were all open-plan offices, and nobody had a fixed workplace. Every day you sat somewhere else. That’s how I got to know a lot of colleagues.

Coworking didn’t interest me very much for a long time either. I appreciated the well-known advantages of Coworking, but saw it as an underlying infrastructure for my way of working, regardless of location, and that interested me much more.

After a holiday in Bruges in the summer of 2014, when I had to work because my substitute fell ill on my first day, I discovered that I could really do my job from anywhere and that it was fun.

I then redirected all the processes in the editorial department, which I was managing as editor-in-chief at the time so that I no longer had to be present. It took a few months, and in the spring of 2015, I had the impression that I was done with it and could leave for a road trip.

My wife and I then traveled across Europe, from Barcelona to Stockholm, in two months, and then back to Berlin. Every day we worked in a different coworking space. Every two to three days, we moved on to a different city.

We wanted to find out how location-independent we could really work. I can tell you it worked without any problems. I hadn’t even told my bosses I was doing it. They didn’t even notice for seven weeks that I was gone because I was doing my job.

On this trip, I visited a lot of coworking spaces and got to know the people who founded these coworking spaces or who worked in them. It was a lovely experience to be welcomed so warmly by a community.

These were all different people, but they were all united by the idea of openness. They were all self-determined people who shaped their lives in a different way than I had known before. After the trip, I quit my job as editor-in-chief.

I wrote Ansgar Oberholz an email. He is the founder of St. Oberholz in Berlin, one of the first coworking places in the world, even 50 days older than Brad Neuberg’s Coworking Space. In this email, I explained what I had done and what I think about Coworking.

Then Ansgar hired me as a coworking manager. For four years now, I have been running our coworking spaces. From a single Space to four now and now we grow with a new Space every six to nine months.

Through Coworking, I learned what is really, really important to me in life. Freedom to work freely, to make independent decisions, and to talk to people who are open-minded and who also shaped their lives in a self-determined way.

I didn’t know I wanted that. I wasn’t feeling bad before, I was happy and content. But my experience with Coworking gave me an insight into myself that showed me who I am and what I want to be. Free and self-determined.

Knowing this, being surrounded by similarly thinking people can be addictive. One longs for it and cannot give it up anymore. This longing can be so intense that you throw yourself headlong into the coworking world.

Where there’s light, there’s also shadow. I don’t know if Coworking saved my life. It enriched my life, it changed it, but it also made me sick. I almost collapsed from exhaustion this summer because I couldn’t stop.

I love what I do. But I forgot that I also have limits. I forgot to say no. I forgot to stop when I couldn’t anymore. That’s the problem when you’re addicted to something. You no longer act rationally, and that can be dangerous.

I feel better again, and I only had signs of exhaustion. In the last few years, I have seen other people in the coworking world who have really been damaged in their health. They had a burnout, and that was also due to Coworking.

I know that Coworking makes us all happy. I have experienced for myself how beautiful this coworking world can be, how it helps members to realize themselves and above all, to work in a psychologically healthier way because there is so much beauty in the coworking world.

But we also have to talk about the downsides. Coworking has saved people’s lives, it has changed people, but Coworking has also destroyed people. We should pay more attention to our coworking friends and ourselves.

I learned through Coworking how I want to work. Also, what is important to me in life. But it has also shown me what I need, not just what I want. I love networking with people like you, I also love being alone for myself. Alone, not lonely.

Coworking is the best thing that has happened to me in life. So far, you know what awaits me. It has given me joy and sorrow, but in both cases, it has shown me who I am, and for this experience, I am very grateful to the coworking world.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Tobias Kremkau

Header Image: CCCSEE, Belgrade 2019