GCUC founder, Liz Elam addresses how coworking has prevailed, what the future holds for the industry, and GCUC’s upcoming NYC event.
Just as most offices around the world did, the coworking world almost completely went dark in 2020. Their physical spaces did anyway. The pandemic saw many fledgling providers close their doors permanently while others found ways to pivot and support their communities in a virtual format. Combining new offerings with strong financial planning, government programs, and gracious landlords allowed most strong coworking communities to survive.
I sat down with Liz Elam, founder of the GCUC community, and the global coworking conference. Before launching GCUC Liz was the Founder and CEO of Link Coworking in Austin. GGUC has entered its ninth year and has produced over 32 events around the globe. Like most events, last year saw the group pivot to an online format. But later this month, the GCUC conference is back, live and via a new virtual tool introduced by Convene.
Liz, how did coworking survive?
Blood, sweat, and tears, and then more tears. Why it is surviving…. the passion of the founders and of the members. There’s a real love for the spaces folks belong to, they were really supportive and understanding that this was beyond anyone’s control. Many invented new business models, relying on their offerings beyond just the physical space. Many operators found new and inventive ways to keep their members engaged with the community. We saw drive up printing and wifi access to massive online communities form on the fly.
Are we going to see a comeback, I hope?
100%. No, 200%. Not overnight. But coworking is going to be bigger than ever. I’m not just being all rah rah, it’s coming. We all just went through the biggest work from home social experiment imaginable. It showed us yes we can be productive not being tied to the office. And that working only at home has just as many challenges. So workers have no intention of going back to the office. At the same time, working from home just isn’t working for everyone. A home office is a privilege and one not everyone has.
You think they’ll turn to coworking?
I know they’ll turn to coworking. It’s happening. The growth is coming from large companies reaching out finding new places for their employees. They’re looking for safe environments to keep their employees engaged, motivated and safe. This is leading to some interesting hybrid models. Employees can come into the corporate office one day, work from home the next, then maybe a couple days at their favorite coworking space. May they use coworking just for meetings and still work at home. Or the corporate office for meeting and coworking for individual work. The dream of activity based work is quickly taking hold, spread between different space. Employees have a voice and they’re voting with their feet. If you don’t give them options, they will leave. They don’t want to commute so rural and suburban are already on wait lists. This is leading to hub and spoke business models, where a coworking space may have a large downtown space and several smaller localized spaces around a given city. We’ll see even more when the newly appointed GSA contract hits.
I saw recently that the government is embracing coworking now?
Yes, even the government, the largest employer in the country, recently awarded a GSA contract to open coworking to federal workers all over the country. After they get approval, a government employee can work at WeWork, The Yard, and Expansive, or book a space via Liquidspace or Deskpass. Because, the government roll out will take a while but over time, this could easily end up being the biggest flood of new coworkers we’ve ever seen.
So this is going to be a big year at GCUC!
Yes, we’ve been talking about the comeback for months. It’s here. We are excited to be the ONLY coworking event in North America this year. We’ve got so much to talk about and a very exciting lineup of speakers, Antonly Slumbers is our keynote, we’re offering masterclasses and some amazing panelists. We have the experts who really dive in on the issues we’re facing. We also have the trendsetters and operators on the frontlines sharing what they’re seeing and how they are responding. Companies like JLL, HOK, Netflix, Convene and Deskpass will all be there.
Who comes to GCUC?
When GCUC started almost everyone attending was already a coworking space operator. Then we saw those who were about to start their own space attend to learn before they launched. Many of those folks return year after year, and have become the experts, the OGs of the industry. We also see a growing number of real estate professionals. Some are looking to add coworking to their portfolios, either as operators or through management agreements or they are there to help their customers understand coworking. Lastly, we see trusted partners, suppliers, designers, and others who specialize in the built environment and flexible workspace.
All those brands in the same room, does everyone play nice?
The magic of the GCUC community, we work together to help each other succeed. It’s amazing the folks who come to share with us. It’s not a competitive environment, it’s a place where we can all support one another to succeed. The partnerships and relationships that form at GCUC last years.
What are the challenges coworking operators are going to face?
The pandemic isn’t behind us yet. Most operators are still getting back to full capacity. So there is of course that level of safety today and tomorrow to be concerned with. After that, it’s almost like a return to day one. It’s sometimes easy for me to forget Coworking isn’t a household name to everyone yet. So all of these new often reluctant nomad workers may not even be aware there is an option that isn’t the home or the office. We’re back to introducing folks about the “third place” to work, coworking.
What is this Flexible Workspace we keep hearing about?
Yes, the commercial real estate world has taken notice as well. This happened well before the pandemic too of course. But the last 20 months have opened the door for more traditional buildings to consider more creative options. Vacant commercial buildings, restaurants that sadly had to shutter, changing retail environments. We are seeing mergers, and operating agreements all over the country. Some will be coworking in name only without much to offer, and others are investing real resources in making incredible environments and really appealing offerings. These large players could reshape the face of coworking once again as the large companies they already have relationships with look to them for help navigating the ‘flexible’ frontier.
How did GCUC change this year?
The most noticeable change will be our new blended virtual and in person format. Nothing will ever replace face-to-face, that’s the nature of coworking afterall. We’re excited though about the convene hybrid platform, it’s set to make virtual meetings a lot closer to the real thing. Other exciting changes that regular GCUC attendees will notice morphed “Camp GCUC” to “Fundamentals of Flex” We’ve added some masterclasses during camp for seasoned operators. In addition to coworking tours, we are also offering some popup/drop in coworking options around the city.
Why should someone attend GCUC?
With the changes this year, GCUC is reaching a larger audience than ever. The Masterclasses support more seasoned operators. The Fundamentals of Flex help explain coworking to not just soon to be operators but any leaders interested in adding flexible space to their portfolio or offering for their employees to work. Of course with our key notes and panelists, GCUC will still appeal to the bulk of coworking space owners, operators, and community managers. There’s just so much happening in the world of flexible offices right now, GCUC is relevant to so many people.
Liz, Thank you so much for your time, just one more question…the one I know you’ve been waiting for…it’s not too late for folks to still attend GCUC is it?
[LOL] You know me too well! Of course not! Especially with the online option by the way, the tool Convene built is amazing, it’s not another Zoom. The event is September 27-29 in New York City. We’d love to see y’all there. Click here for a discount for WDM readers!