Cowo’s 5 questions to Coworking Europe. Antoine van den Broek’s 5 answers.

mutinerie coworking: antoine van den broekAntoine van den Broek is involved – with his brother Eric among the others – in the Mutinerie coworking initiative, in Paris, France. 

Mutinerie only had a space for a short time, they are actually a nomadic community, travelling at each others’ places. The space opening is planned for early 2012.

We are twice as glad to host his views because we had the chance to meet Antoine one year ago: he managed to stop visit Cowo’s founder for a good chat, while travelling in Italy.

It will be a pleasure to meet him again at the Berlin Coworking Conference 2011, the event planned to start in about 36 hours… on november 3rd.

Thank you Antoine for sharing your thoughts on Cowo’s 5 questions, and best of luck to the Mutinerie team!

COWO:

Has your own life changed since you practice coworking?

ANTOINE VAN DEN BROEK:

Ever since we were kids we’ve always been surrounded by lots of people and lived in a collaborative and sharing environment.

When we entered the corporate world, we missed that energy and those real relationships. We decided to launch a coworking space so we could chose who we want to work with in an attempt to unify our lives and to promote this way of being and working together.
Since then we’ve been talking with many inspiring people from all over the world. In fact we rarely travel anywhere without visiting the local coworking space, and we’ve learned a lot about community dynamics and collaborative organizations.

So yes our lives have changed since we started coworking.
And the ‘funny’ thing is that we only had a space for a short period; most of the time we’ve been working at each other’s places, in bars, parks, or in others’ coworking spaces.

We will likely open our new space in early 2012 and I am sure it’s going to be another interesting change for us.

COWO:

Is coworking a commodity (i.e. the chance to share an office with little money) or a strategic option (i.e. a platform for all kind of sinergies)?

A.V.D.B:

It is, above all, a strategic option.

It is a bet on the power of free and authentic relationships and it is a stance of openness to new encounters—even if not everyone sees it this way before experiencing it.
So, some people come for the commodity aspect, as there may be no real alternative to such cheap and flexible workplaces.

However, our duty as coworking managers is not only to fulfill our members’ needs by providing all the amenities of an efficient work environment, but also to go beyond this pragmatic level.
In an extreme sense, coworking can be seen as the inverse of a typical firm: Whereas a firm hires people to perform a precise and preordained task, a coworking space starts by bringing people together around common values, and from that, new projects begin to take shape.

In coworking, people are at the center of creativity and productivity.

COWO:

After all these years of discussing, I think we should know by now if business rhymes with coworking. Does it?
A.V.D.B:

Yes there is room for coworking as a business, whether it be spaces management, associated services, or some kind of expertise you can bring to others’ organizations.

Some initiatives will remain close to the initial values of the coworking movement, others less; people will be able to choose.

What’s most interesting is the unknown part of the business model: the unexpected is to be expected.

Coworking creates trust and there is no business without trust. It is a crucial asset. People are losing trust in many institutions these days.

If you are able to generate enough trust between people, if people really trust you, you may well be in a good position to do good business.
This implies being consistent with the values you claim and being able to understand profit not only in financial terms.

COWO:

Considering the media craze, the flourishing of spaces, the many online tools coworking-related and… why not,this conference itself, do you envision the risk of tranforming coworking in a sort of bubble, where a minority just trying to make money spoils the beauty of the idea, ultimately depriving the word coworking of its true meaning?

A.V.D.B:

A new term is coined when we need to express a new reality.

Then its meaning gets diluted as more and more people start adopting it to suit their own needs and understandings.
Eventually people may spend time trying to reclaim the ‘original’ sense of the term, but this can easily turn into a blind debate; semantic evolution is part of the term’s life.

Today we use “coworking” because we need a common flag to unify hundreds of local initiatives. Essentially it’s an accessible concept that’s big enough to unite likeminded people who might have the same intuition, and clear enough to attract newcomers.
In the future, the word “coworking” might be overused or misused in an opportunistic attempt to divert some of the juice that this word can bring, and some of its caché might fade away for that reason. But this is not such a big issue.

When the word “coworking” dies, it will most likely because this type of organization has become the norm.

In that case we would no longer talk about coworking spaces in general but more often about particular coworking spaces and their specific communities and achievements.
Each of us will then be able to choose the space that best fits our needs and expectations, without having to wonder whether it is or isn’t a true coworking space. And pioneers will need to move to a new frontier.

COWO:

What are your feelings about coworking as a public service, just like schooling or health services?

A.V.D.B:

Regarding the numerous benefits of coworking for a local community, and the growing numbers of nomadic workers, it makes sense to expect public institutions to be involved at some level in the sponsoring of coworking. In our current tough economic climate, it is crucial to unify and thus empower the energy of creative people willing to take risks.

In any case we have no choice: the way we work has changed, and the state would do well to take this under consideration.
We could then expect the crucial task of creating coworking spaces to be supported by government. But the establishment of hundreds of state-run spaces would contradict the essential idea, which is let each community decide how and where it wants to work.

One of the great things about a coworking space is that it’s a genuinely bottom-up organization and a unique, community-driven entity.

Thus, government would ideally provide subsidies to bootstrap various coworking projects and to sponsor some social initiatives associated with coworking spaces.
We recently had a chance to meet some officials in our region and we were glad to hear that this is exactly how they see their role.


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