I first came across coworking in 2015. I’d sidestepped a career as a chemist and was applying for my first permanent post-university job. I spotted a job advert for an Engagement and Events Coordinator at Scotland’s first coworking space, The Melting Pot. The website talked of community and social innovation, there were smiley faces everywhere and profiles of people with impressive and intimidatingly noble careers. I got an interview and soothed my nerves with the idea that it might just be a good bit of marketing. I arrived at The Melting Pot to convince them to hire me and I was greeted by the friendly person at the front desk who offered me a range of warm and cold beverages. As I sat nervously on the red couch, I saw people all around the room chatting to each other, furiously typing away and generally embodying a thriving community. “Shit, it’s the real deal,” I thought.
Lucky for me, I got the job. I also feel lucky this that was my introduction to coworking. Of course I love gorgeous soft furnishings and light-hearted reminders to ensure I am over-caffeinated AT ALL TIMES. But I don’t think I would have really engaged with the coworking movement if the first space I’d been to was one of the chain giants. Our community, packed onto the fourth floor in central Edinburgh, is an example of coworking in its element.
The Melting Pot is Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation and we opened our doors just before the financial crash in 2007. The third sector (organisations that are not state run or for private profit) is a diverse range of charities, social enterprises and individual activists. It’s a sector carried by people in precarious employment on short term rounds of funding, it’s dependent on freelancers, volunteers and social entrepreneurs who sacrifice stability for impact, in the hopes of facilitating social change. Claire Carpenter, Founder of The Melting Pot, invented coworking (granted just after someone had set up the world’s first coworking space in America) because she realised a communal space to work could be just what this fragmented sector needed to thrive. A place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Since then, coworking has grown into a global industry. In fact, just last year the number of coworking spaces grew by a fifth. By the end of 2019 more than 2.2 million people are expected to be working in 22,000 coworking spaces worldwide. More coworking spaces are opening in small towns and cities – it is diversifying and becoming a resource accessible to even more members of the modern workforce.
Last year I did some research into the social impact of coworking at The Melting Pot. We had launched the Coworking Accelerator, which helps others around the world build successful coworking businesses, so it was time to collect some data on our coworking methodology. We found that coworking has the potential to improve equality, support well-being and increase impact.
The number of female founders at The Melting Pot is double the national average. Supporting female entrepreneurs and businesses led by women is crucial to a more equal economy and it seems coworking can be used to do this.
We found that 95% of our Members feel they belong to the community and 75% have been supported by other Members. These factors are important for our members’ well-being. Poppy works remotely for DMA Global she said, “Joining The Melting Pot helped me personally and professionally. I realised working from home was not good for my mental health, coming into TMP every week gave me a sense of purpose.”
Coworking helps people make an impact. This is most tangibly demonstrated when looking at collaborations formed in coworking spaces, these collaborations are far less likely when working in isolation. Around 71% of coworking members around the world have collaborated with someone they work alongside, most often on small tasks. The Melting Pot found that 42% of our Members had formed a collaboration on more significant projects – everything from co-designing events to prototyping an app delivering mindfulness and meditation to pre-schoolers. Everyone who had formed a collaboration at The Melting Pot was satisfied with the results, and the work generated opportunities, revenue and jobs. Almost all members at The Melting Pot said that membership helped them feel inspired and find motivation.
I decided to delve a bit deeper into the numbers and look at freelancers specifically. Compared to the average, freelancers were significantly more likely to develop professional connections, learn from others and gain the confidence to take bold steps professionally as a result of being a member of The Melting Pot. Freelancers were also more likely to find that coworking helped them do business and get motivated.
Of course, coworking isn’t the single solution to all the challenges faced by the self-employed. Research last year showed that while self-employment has risen by 45% since 2001-2 earnings have fallen by £60 per week over the same period. It’s a diverse and changing form of employment, millennials are driving growth in the sector but nearly half of freelancers fall within the 40 – 59 age bracket. The freedom to work for yourself is widely seen as an upside of self-employment, but many freelancers feel that they are managed by their employers or the apps they use to find work. If we work alongside each other we are able to share tips, knowledge and best practice. If we are surrounded by a community of people in the same position, who know the challenges and perhaps have a bit more experience than we do, we are in a far stronger position. Good coworking spaces provide this community and an opportunity to empower each other.
It’s difficult when you’re starting out. Whether it’s with your career in general, like I was when I joined The Melting Pot, or a new venture into freelancing or starting a business. You still have to work it all out for yourself, but a coworking space is a great place to ask questions and find support. I didn’t think The Melting Pot was for me as a punter when I was applying for my first job there, but now I’ve got the inside knowledge I can see that there are lots of ways to get involved with a coworking community – even without a clear vision or a big budget. You don’t have to dive straight in with a full-time desk, most spaces have hot desking packages that allow you to use a space for a few days a month. Usually they run events that the public are also welcome to attend, this is a one-off investment that will help you make new contacts and learn new skills. Most spaces will let you try them out for free, so you can work in a few places and see if you find what you’re looking for. In fact, Thursday 6 June is National Coworking Day and loads of spaces across the UK are opening their doors and offering a day of coworking for free!
The coworking movement was born out of needs emerging in a changing world of work. It’s now a global industry, but our social impact report demonstrates the importance of coworking led by community. With increasingly disparate forms of employment and isolation on the rise, authentic communities are more important than ever.