5 Questions for Pauline Roussel

I started as a coworking manager in Berlin over five years ago. Everything I knew about coworking I learned on an eight-week trip across Europe the summer before. So I started visiting other coworking spaces, talking to more experienced people, and that’s how I met Pauline Roussel, who was working in Berlin’s »Rainmaking Loft« at the time.

Today, as the founder and CEO of »Coworkies« and after her journey around the world that brought her to more than 400 coworking spaces, it’s not surprising that Pauline knows everything about coworking. However, I can assure you that was the case even then. Although she won’t admit it out of modesty, Pauline is the coworking expert.

Her latest project is a coffee table book about coworking spaces from around the world. I asked her a few questions about it, which she graciously answered, but please read what she has to say about it for yourself.

Pauline Roussel and Dimitar Inchev, the Coworkies founders.
If someone goes on a journey, she/he can tell something. Like Pauline Roussel and Dimitar Inchev.
Congratulations on the successful crowdfunding campaign. What happens now? When will the book be available?

Thanks to the support of all the early backers on Kickstarter, the book will soon make its way to Alberto, our printer. As per when it will be available, we expect the book to be ready for shipping around April. Due to COVID-19 and the current restrictions in place across Europe, our printer and his team work on reduced shifts, hence the book’s longer timeline to be printed. 

A coffee table book is a rarely chosen medium. How did you come up with the idea to make one about coworking spaces?

The idea didn’t come from us (editor’s comment: she and her co-founder Dimitar Inchev) initially. It came from the people we met. The first time we heard someone telling us to make a book was in New York City, in a coworking space called »Based In.« Its founder, Tomas Janka, an architect, asked us many questions about what we had experienced back then and ended our chat with a sentence ›You should make a book!‹. While we didn’t jump on the idea and started writing, the seed was planted in our heads. 

The idea of making it a coffee table book came later on when more people were projecting themselves into the idea of a book they could dive into to meet other coworking communities. Looking at the online world, which is crowded with content, we understood that offering readers an experience to dive into every story could not happen just with a blog. Hence, we opted for a physical book. 

As per the idea to make it a coffee table book and not just an ordinary book, it came during the design phase. We started to picture the book in coworking spaces, on their shelves, on the table in their community spaces, or in their meeting rooms. And we thought the coffee table book format would fit beautifully in them, so we went with it. 

We spent much time designing the cover. We wanted it to stand out while also integrating to a coworking space’s interior design where it would be available. With a catchy color and an outlook on a few exciting cities, we thought curious minds would grab it and start traveling. 

You visited hundreds of coworking spaces worldwide; a couple of the places made it into the book. Was it difficult for you to choose?

Through the book, we had at heart to emphasize the diversity of coworking. By that, we mean that we wanted to stray away from the common thinking that coworking is for freelancers and startups. Hence, when selecting the spaces we featured, we took a step back to make sure that: 

  • …the book is a global journey, an experience that highlights how coworking and collaborative spaces are more generally started and grown in different regions of the world and other types of cities. We didn’t want »Around The World in 250 Coworking Spaces« to be all about capital cities or big metropolitan cities like New York City. Hence, we spent much time, even when traveling, going beyond the ›big and biggest‹, we also visited the ›small and smallest‹ because there is a lot you can learn from rural coworking or coworking spaces that are 30 sqm big.
  • …people can understand what coworking is all about. Coworking, Creative Hubs, Coliving, Makerspaces, Coffices – there are so many words and categories that describe those different work environments. It is also a constant discussion within the coworking industry – what does coworking indeed mean? For us, we often say that ›Coworking is not just a space. It’s an activity.‹ Hence it can happen anywhere. The book also beautifies this diversity of wordings and terms. 
The accusation persists that coworking spaces around the world are very similar. They are all supposed to look the same. What differences did you notice?

It’s a great question, and as the saying goes, ›allow us to disagree‹ on this. We’ve had the chance to visit over 400 coworking spaces across 47 cities worldwide over the last five years, and we never came across two purely identical spaces. 

Thinking about the why, we believe that coworking spaces are human spaces. They are started by people and for people, which means the founders’ DNA is always evident in the space and its operations. And even in crowded coworking landscapes like London, we never told ourselves, ›Oh look, these spaces are the same!‹. 

The various factors that differentiate a coworking space from another are the following ones: 

  • The building itself influences a coworking space’s overall uniqueness because it gives a vibe, a feeling that you can’t necessarily or easily replicate everywhere. It is like entering two cafes located in the same street. The layout, the overall atmosphere send different messages visually and auditorily.
  • The founder(s) of a coworking space plays a huge role in shaping and cultivating their spaces’ difference/ uniqueness. From the way they intend to start, the business model they opt for, or even the way they position their space to attract a particular community.
  • The (operations) team behind a coworking space creates a unique environment people will look forward to joining. Hence it is essential to nurture your team, grow with your people, help them develop within their roles to continually improve and serve their community better, enabling the space to thrive and have a more significant impact.
  • The overall experience is different at every single coworking space. That’s even true for more prominent brands with more than just one space. Coworking spaces are multi-sensorial experiences, from what it looks like, how loud or quiet it is, or even how it smells. People who come there for the first time will either connect with what they are offered or not. And the same goes for what the space has to offer to its community daily. How do you greet members? How do you answer their need for help? And how fast do you do that? All those elements tend to make people love their space and stick to it if the space reflects what they are looking for to experience.
  • The daily operations have to be mastered efficiently because only this allows you to focus on what matters most: spend more time engaging with your extended community instead of, let’s say, cleaning the kitchen or sorting out the mails. 
You talked to coworking experts all over the world. Did that give you an idea of how the coworking idea is evolving?

Coworking is going multi-directional, even more than before – in three words: diversification, everywhere, and a wider audience. COVID-19 has accelerated a shift in the way we work and the places where we work. All over the world, people are rethinking where they want to live. 

They ask themselves if they need to be in a big city or if they can enjoy a better life in a quieter and smaller town in the countryside. While those employees or professionals owning individual skills or doing a specific job, mainly online, now know they can work from anywhere, nothing retains them to the big cities and the daily commuting or the daily 9 to 5. 

Moving to other parts of their country means looking for a place to work that is not their home. And this is where coworking will diversify and start happening more and more everywhere in crowded metropolitan areas and residential neighborhoods or villages. 

And due to their shared nature, coworking spaces have the power to attract a new and larger audience, who will encounter the concept for the first time and want to experience it.