Cowo’s 5 questions to Coworking Europe. Anni Roolf’s 5 answers.

 anni roolf from coworking wuppertalAnni Roolf (MBA / project manager, innovation consultant, designer) organised the first european Jelly Week in January 2011, and the first Coworking Germany Barcamp in July 2011. 

Already in 2005 she experimented with a coworking space prototype in Wuppertal and wrote the coLabor-Manifesto.

Since 2010 she’s pushing the coworking initiative in Wuppertal / Germany, which is coming off with an exciting coworking space at the moment.

Right now she’s organizing the 1. Worldwide Jellyweek, which will take place in January 2012. She’s convinced that the coworking movement is still in its primary stage.

Anni – whom we thank very much for taking the time to answer Cowo’s 5 questions – will be among the speakers at the Berlin Conference, later this week.


Has your own life changed since you practice coworking?


Since I’ve started to think about coworking in 2005 many things changed in my life.

My existance as a freelancer was from now on embedded in a bigger picture, discourse and identity. As an also artistic person I knew mostly ego-centered behaviour from my professional entourage before. 

Then I wrote my MBA thesis about cooperative and game-based organisations. These deep thoughts on how cooperation as a principle could really work, didn’t leave me in my thinking and acting anymore since that time.


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)?


My clear answer is, that it’s first of all a strategic option, which is able to create value in terms of a commodity as one possibility.

Coworking can be shaped and lived in many different ways; coworking Spaces are only one in a big variety of (undiscovered) options. Coworking is a style of interaction, which will lead to a range of new products and services and also to new non-profit models of working, acting, living and transforming in the domain of public welfare.

If we don’t restrict the coworking discourse on coworking (spaces) as a commodity, we can really exploit the full potential of coworking.

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

Yes, it does.
Coworking is at least a new sector. Appropriate business models for spaces and other products and services are still in development.
It’s normal, that the participants (competitors) of a sector haven’t found the philosopher’s stone in its early stage.
I’m convinced, that coworking will also be big business, but it’s crucial, that coworking products or services never loose their philosophy of openness and collaboration.

Otherwise it won’t be coworking and will loose its USP. On the contrary it must be the aim of coworking entrepreneurs and coworking movement as a whole to influence and transform classical corporate cultures.

On the other hand coworking can be developed much more in the direction of non-profit aims and public welfare. These different circumstances and mindsets will lead to other powerful forms beyond business.


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?


Yes, this fear is justified, but it’s also a kind of normal, if an insiders’ tip is coming to success.

I would suggest as a medicine to talk also about competition and how it can be compatible with the values and acting patterns of cooperation. A taboo on competition could be destructive in the core of coworking, the community.

The worst case for the movement would be, if coworkers would feel, that the coworking values are not true and only a marketing slogan. On the other hand it could be fruitful to deal with the concept of coopetition.
Developing and living the coworking values will decide the credibility of the coworking movement in the future, and this under the pressure of success and competition. I’m sure, that we will talk later not for nothing about the “art of coworking”.


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


I think this part will be huge in the future.

Because it depends on public decision makers, the process in this direction is slow. Coworking could be integrated in coming public infrastructure of all kinds. There are no borders. Everything is possible. And as a mental influence it will lead to organisational change in public administrations in terms of Customer Integration, Open Innovation, Open Government and Civic Particiaption.

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