“The coworking model plays a huge role in facilitating what people call the “future of work””- Steve Munroe, co-founder Hubud

Steve Munroe has been living overseas since 1989. In 2009, after leaving the United Nations, where he was working in the crisis prevention and recovery field, Steve and his family decided to change things up and move to Bali.

While still working as a consultant for the UN and toying with the idea of starting a shared workspace, Steve met his future co-founders Peter and John. All three were freelancers, unhappy with working in isolation, and decided to launch Bali’s first official coworking space, Hubud.

This year, Steve will be speaking at Coworking Europe in Milan, discussing the growing population of nomadic workers and what role this community will play in the transitioning workplace.

Hi, Steve. Was it difficult to introduce the concept of coworking to the community in Bali? What were some of the specific challenges you faced?

Yes, it was quite difficult in the beginning. There was only one coworking space in the whole country, which was in Jakarta at the time, and that might as well be on a different planet from Bali.

At first, we really struggled to answer the question: “Why should I pay for something that I can get for free when working in a café”. People just didn’t understand the value proposition of being a part of a community, so we really had to get them in so they could experience coworking, and educate them along the way.

How did you spread coworking knowledge in order to overcome these challenges?

We launched a 2-week long pop-up coworking space in May of 2012, with a budget of just 500 USD. We borrowed books to create a library and had some designers showcase furniture to give the place a nice ambiance. During that time, we held events, which brought in around 300 people.

Over the next 6 to 7 months, while we were working on setting up our permanent space we hosted events, like Pecha Kucha, once a month. We did this as a way to keep people excited, to spread knowledge and build up momentum. During this process, people from coworking spaces from abroad, like Singapore and Australia, would speak at these events when they came through Bali.

Ubud is a major player in the “coworcation” movement and sees a lot of remote workers, how does this affect the coworking scene in general?

Steve Munroe

Steve Munroe

The coworking scene in Ubud is very different from typical markets. If you compare it to cities like London and Barcelona, where people are typically stationary, it sees a much bigger turnover.

In bigger cities, there is movement, but most members are living there more long-term, where as in Ubud we attract a much more fluid and mobile group of people. For example, we sit around 275 to 300 members at any given month.

What types of members does your space typically attract?

Overall Hubud is quite a global community. Typically we attract digital nomads. 70 to 80 percent of our members identify themselves as entrepreneurs who are working on their own businesses, or for remotely distributed teams.

We have over 2,500 members from over 60 countries, and we usually sign up around 100 new members every month. The majority of out tenants tend to be in their late 20s to their mid-40s.

What are some specific needs of your members? How does Hubud address these needs?

I think one of the biggest things is community even if our members don’t realize it at first. Our space provides all the basics and has a stable internet connection, which can be hard to find in Ubud, and that is definitely attractive to members. But, overall, it’s the community that’s the biggest attractor.

We host about 30 free events each month, which offers lots of peer to peer interaction and networking. Our space is here to help facilitate deep connections, because we believe that is how people grow faster, personally and professionally.

Do you think that the open workspace/coworking model play an important role in regenerating communities? 

I do think that the coworking model plays a huge role in facilitating what people call the “future of work”. Ours is different from those spaces established in urban centers mostly because of location. People think about workcations, and imagine a paradise that involves working on their laptop at the beach while drinking Pina Coladas, but truthfully people quickly get board of that scenario. People start to feel lonely, and as we are naturally social creatures, we really do need people around us. At Ubud, we provide a platform where people can come and immediately plug into a community of global entrepreneurs.

Have you been to the Coworking Europe Conference before?  If so, what was your impression and what did you gain from the conference from the perspective of a space manager.

I went last year for the first time, in Lisbon. I had a great time and the overwhelming value for me was connecting to others who are doing similar things. Although our context is different, it was great to hear how people get inspired and stay motivated.

I also had the chance to meet space owners of places I had visited and admired. The experience wasn’t so much about business, but about understanding how people are working towards their personal and professional goals.

 What will you be speaking about at this year’s conference?

I will be talking about the growing community of workers who are very mobile, such as transnational knowledge traders, and digital nomads who are difficult to pin down. For example, A Dutch citizen who is working for a Brazilian company in Bali, where do individuals like these fit? I am interested in exploring the personal and professional identity of this growing community of digital nomads and finding out what this movement means on a personal level and also what does it mean legally for governments as more and more people are becoming mobile.

In Ubud, we are lucky to be very much at the center of this movement, so I will be sharing some experiences and insights that we’ve gathered over the years.