Coworking is no Cantal Cheese

As organizers of the Coworking Europe conference, we started in 2010 our journey into the the coworking world. Back then, the coworking scene in many countries was animated by just a handful of very motivated small space managers who did a fantastic job spreading the word and the coworking culture.

Coworking europe 2010

Fast forward 7 years later, coworking is in everybody’s mouth. New locations are opening up everywhere. Brands have emerged. Real Estate companies look at the model with a growing appetite.

Coworking inspires the workplace industry as a whole. Although the coworking and flexible office industries cover together less than 2% of the office demand in most European countries, some major players are confident that coworking could swallow 10 to 20% of the overall workspace market within the coming 5 years.

Still, the polemic regarding the definition of what the word “coworking” means or what it should refer to keeps glowing.

These last days, we had discussions with a bunch of coworking friends from the first years who feel robbed of the “coworking” word by newcomers or bigger office operators who call coworking what they see to only be the provision of flexible workspace facilities.

They shouldn’t be using the word coworking because what they do is not coworking, some of them claim.

“They shouldn’t be using the word coworking because what they do is not coworking”

Coworking is no Cantal cheese 

We know the concern. However, to us, coworking has not to be treated like Cantal cheese.

As many food products or culinary traditions within the European Union, the Cantal cheese “Appellation” (AOC) is protected by the law. To be allowed to name a cheese “Cantal”, producers have to comply to a strict list of rules, which determines, for instance, the type of cow milk used, the area of production, the number of days of maturation, things such as the hydrometry level, etc. 

Coworking is no Cantal.

To us, “Coworking” should be considered as a generic word. Such as the “cheese” word is.

Within the generic category, any one can make his/her own choice of what is good, right, bad or wrong.

Tap into the immense variety of products, flavours, qualities rather than limit the offering to a narrow understaning of the concept

Everyone can shape his/her personal opinion of what a cheese is or should be.

It’s great to have the choice. There is “packed” industrial cheese and there is Cantal cheese. I personally love Cantal cheese. However, good for those who prefer branded cottage cheese that they can find easily in the grocery store next door. As soon as they will taste other products, maybe, they might turn themselves to a more interesting cheese experience.

This is up to them, though. Customers are not stupid. Call a cheese something which looks and tastes like plastic, they won’t buy your stuff anymore again !

Educate the market to teach people about the existence of richer and more subtle offerings, instead.

Educate your market to experience better tasting

You think your coworking space is better than the one next door ? It has more flavour ? It has more soul ? It’s less industrial and it cares more and sincerely about the “community” ?

Great. People looking for that experience will come to you rather than to them.

Know your members personallypay attention to the quality of the space (taking into account things such as noise management, cleanless, access, etc.), have streamlined processes (booking, subscription management, etc.), feed people with interesting actions and content and, most of all, build a strong identity,…

At the end of the day, the only judges of the quality of what is offered will be your members and the ecosystem you operate from.

Do this right, and the more word of mouth will get. The more positive reviews. And, ultimately, the more members you will have.

It’s important to say that your community doesn’t belong to you.

Your community is an outcome of how good you are in caring about the people you accommodate, in knowing all personal stories and expectations, in creating a convenient and meaningful work environment where people feel good, where it’s possible to have easy connections with peers while being productive, in the first place. Then they will stay. They will feel connected with those surrounding them. Only then will be able to call it a community.

You are not a coworking space because you comply to an A.O.C. ! 

Coworking : a cultural revolution of the workplace

Now, to take a step back, the opposition between artisans and industrial players is almost as old as modern economy. Family like and independent coworking spaces have a role to play. It doesn’t mean bigger players are not able to deliver a genuine sense of belonging, human value and well-being. If they don’t, independent will offer the more enjoyable alternative.

A few years ago, a portion of the historical coworking scene kept seing the provision of private offices as a blaspheme to the “pure” historical coworking model of the origins. Fortunately, those days are mainly over.

Coworking evolves. And the fact that new players are coming in is a sign of success of the model we cherish, not a distortion. 

To us, the biggest impact of coworking is cultural. Coworking brings a cultural revolution in the workplace world in general. This is an on going transformation which is part of a bigger shift to a more horizontal and sustainable society.

This is the philosophy of the Coworking Europe conference. We are a place where the discussions can take place. Our mission is to make coworking a generic word.


Jean-Yves Huwart

Founder Coworking Europe conference