Study: Are Coworkers Poor?


Spoiler: not necessarily. They tend to be under-insured, but they don’t seem to mind.

Christoph Fahle and I conducted a short study on social and financial security among the coworkers at Betahaus Berlin. Betahaus is one of the largest coworking spaces worldwide, and certainly one of the coolest, too.

We did the study simply because so many people are interested in coworking (some recent media coverage: “the future of work“, “digital nomads“). Journalists often try to frame coworkers and other Macbook-hugging knowledge workers like some kind of digital peons. Since both Christoph (as co-founder of Betahaus) and I have a slightly different take on coworking – we both love it and chose to pursue this style of working very much voluntarily – we thought we should go on a fact-finding mission.

So we asked the residents of Betahaus about their financial situation (income, insurances etc), threw in a few demographic questions (age, gender etc), stirred for a while and out came this brief report. For good measure we also tacked on some ideas for improvements of the overall situation of freelancers at the end of the document.

The whole report is available here (in German): Betahaus Kurzstudie “Soziale_Absicherung” (PDF)

Here’s a translation of the executive summary:

Betahaus is a central work space for freelancers in Berlin, from so-called Digital Bohemia to laptop knowedge workers. The large majority of Betahaus users is freelancing or just founding a company. (A few full-time employed are the exception that proves the rule.) Beyond that, the residents of Betahaus can hardly be pigeon-holed as the Betahaus workforce is a very diverse, heterogeneous group regarding income (below €1.800 to over €5.000), age (22-47 years) or profession (design, media, mechatronics…).

If you were to depict a typical Betahaus resident based on the average of all data we found, he would be male, 25-35 years old, freelancing and working full-time. He has health insurance, but no pension plan and hardly has any insurance besides that, but feels sufficiently socially and financially secure. From the government he wishes less bureaucracy, more flexible support and less disadvantages compared to full-time employees. But not just the average, but particularly the statistical outliers find a home at Betahaus, from precarious post-grad to well-earning startup founder or regular employee who is looking for an office away from his office.

In the study we paid particular attention to social and financial security. We came to some remarkable and partly alarming results: Just about 40 per cent of respondents have an all-round insurance package, i.e. health insurance, pension plan and at least one more relevant insurance (occupational disablement insurance, additional private pension plan or life insurance). Still, more than half feels sufficiently financially and socially secure.

Asked for their vision of a perfect social security system, the respondents criticized Germany’s social security system and expressed wishes aimed at politicians: Freelancers are structurally disadvantaged compared to regularly employed, and Betahaus residents wish equal treatment. This includes less bureaucracy as well as more flexibility in the social security system: flexible rates of contributions, the option to exit or change membership in the social insurances, unbureaucratic support in bridging temporary crises or phases of client acquisition. The wish for the option to easier switch between regular employment and freelancing was expressed, particularly in regards to pension plans and health insurance. Particularly young freelancing parents have a hard time as the system for financial support for parents is aimed primarily at regular employees.

We, the authors, are part of the demographic we studied here. In addition to the mere interpretation of the data we would like to offer some perspectives and food for thought in the last chapter. These inputs are aimed as much at politicians as they are at the freelancing community:

  1. Equal treatment of freelancers and regular employees
  2. Make the first steps easier
  3. Allow flexible switching between employment and freelancing (and back)
  4. Flexible micro credits
  5. Support young freelancing parents
  6. Support coworking spaces
  7. Collaboration instead of competition

Christoph has more details in German at the Betahaus blog.

The study is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc-sa), so share as you wish.

Thanks everyone at Betahaus for your contributions!

Studio 70: New Coworking Space in Berlin


Coworking at Studio70 Café at Studio70

As many of you know, I’ve been very interested in coworking lately, a way of working much for fit for the freelancer & web crowd than 9-to-5 offices or a permanent desk at the local coffee shop. (See my interviews with founders of coworking spaces, some thoughts on coworking, or this Barcamp session.)

I had been thinking about opening a space, but was at a very, very early stage and never expected to start anything soon. Enter Philip and Sebastian – Philip found a great space, Sebastian brought a bunch of us to a round table: Welcome Studio70 to the coworking world!

We’re not officially open yet, and there’s quite a few things to figure out before we really open our doors to the web-working public. There’s a few things I can say pretty definitively already, though: It’s a great bunch of fun & smart folks, we’ll be running Studio70 on a non-profit basis and we’ll encourage our coworking friends from abroad to drop by and spend their Berlin time here (be it via coworking visa, Hallenprojekt or some different system).

Easiest way to get in touch right now is via: Studio70 on Twitter. Studio70 is located just off Kottbusser Damm, U Hermannplatz, Berlin Neukölln.

Looking forward to seeing you at Studio70!

Studio70 Art Spontaneous art at Studio70

(Studio70 Flickr set)

The Folks Behind Coworking: Patrick Tanguay


Station CPatrick Tanguay founded Station C, a coworking space in Montréal. (Currently, he’s coworking from Berlin.) Installment No 4 of my series of interviews on coworking, in which Patrick shares his thoughts on coworking.

What’s does Coworking mean for you?

I’m not sure it’s a good analogy but it’s been coming to mind often lately when I think about Coworking so here goes. Going from the “Cloud” concept that seems to represent the web more and more, I think a lot of coworkers work(ed) and to a certain degree live(d) in those clouds, participating in a variety of networks, groups, collaborations, etc. online. Yes meeting in person but largely in more fragmented and temporary ways. That storm of activities and connexions was always somewhat immaterial. I think you can see coworking spaces as the place where the eyes of those storms hit the ground. Coworking spaces to me mean the place where a lot of loose electronic connexions take a physical space, where a more classical kind of connexion and interaction can take place, in person. We still need that, the incredible growth of coworking shows that.

What brought you to Coworking?

It started with just wanting a place to work, initially it was supposed to be a shared space for a few freelancers splitting costs, nothing specifically community oriented, no dropins and members and such, just an office. We (with my business partner Dan Mireault) then heard of Queen Street Commons in PEI, Canada and then Hat Factory in SF, followed by Citizen Space. At the same time various groups and events were trying to get going in Montréal and couldn’t find a cheap place to meet. Our initial need for offices, mixed with the ideas from those spaces and the need for a meeting space “made for us” became Station C.

Every Coworking Space seems different. What’s the focus of yours, what makes it special?

There’s almost three questions in there. What makes us diffrent from other spaces I guess would be the investment we made in the look of the place, we dedicated quite a bit of time and some money to make it look good. We have both been at this freelancing thing for a few years so I guess we were less worried about investing a bit more and assuming the risk.

I think what’s made us special so far isn’t the same thing as our focus now. Initially it was simply being first in town, introducing people to the concept and, because of the founders and founding members existing networks, becoming a great hub for the web/tech community.

Our focus now is to broaden that base to many more fields, we want to be less of a web centric place, to bring more communities to interact and to make our membership a lot more diverse.

Where do you see Coworking in five years?

I see coworking as being more diluted and stronger at the same time. I think already the term is being hijacked by some who don’t share the original “ideals” of the first space and that trend will continue. I also see a very good natured and natural adoption of the concept by entirely new groups. I think coworking will become a tool for companies to find new ways to collaborate in-house and to setup cheaper sub offices, I think it will also become more and more popular as a service for larger companies to buy for employees, a kind of halfway solution between telecommuting and commuting.

If you look at new libraries (Amsterdam has a fantastic version of that), you will see a lot of people collaborating, studying and working there and the books are almost just the decor. I believe there is a great opportunity for cities to seize on that and make smaller, non library places to work, where the same crowds can go. Collaborations with coworking spaces or the creation of new spaces with coworking mindsets could make great additions to such places.

I think coworking will also be stronger because our physically disconnected but very web connected spaces are seeing more and more traveling between them, coworkers going to other cities for weeks or months and quickly finding footing and a new network in that city thanks to the local coworking space.

Where can we find you?

For the next couple of weeks at The Business Class in Berlin. Then at Betahaus, also in Berlin (both coworking space) and then back at my own space, Station C in Montréal, at the end of June.

Thanks a lot, Patrick! Click here to read the other interviews with the folks behind coworking.

The Folks Behind Coworking: Tony Bacigalupo


New Work CityTony Bacigalupo is one of the heads behind New York City, a New York-based coworking space. In the third installment of my series of interviews on coworking, Tony shares his take on coworking.

What does Coworking mean for you?

Coworking means so many things to me, but overall I think it represents a big step in a larger shift in the way we work and live. The shift is one that moves away from white-collar work in centralized offices at set hours, and toward independent work closer to home.

What brought you to Coworking?

I was telecommuting, working from home, and it was awesome until it drove me nuts. I figured there were other people like me out there who needed to get out of their home and work alongside one another.

Every Coworking Space seems different. What’s the focus of yours, what makes it special?

We’re focused on freelancers and small startups in NYC, and we’re the only space in Manhattan dedicated to coworking. We want to help independent workers in NYC and also help make NYC a friendlier place for people to work on independent projects.

Where do you see Coworking in five years?

I see coworking in lots of different shapes and sizes. Many of them won’t use the word “coworking,” but the principles will be there. Dedicated workspaces, cafes, hotels, apartment buildings, libraries, executive work centers, libraries, home-based spaces, hybrid spaces… more and more people are going to be able to work anywhere, and they are going to work everywhere.

Where can we find you?

Right here at my desk in New Work City, in the middle of my amazing community of members :-)

Thanks a lot, Tony! Click here to read the other interviews with the folks behind coworking.

The Folks Behind Coworking: Alex Hillman


IndyhallAlex Hillman cofounded Indyhall, Philadelphia’s answer to San Francisco’s Citizen Space. (On a personal note, when Indyhall was set up I closely followed the whole process in their blog, which I think really kick-started my personal interest in coworking. Go check out the earliest posts!) In this second installment of my series of interviews on coworking, Alex shares his thoughts and experiences.

What does Coworking mean for you?

We say that coworking isn’t about the desks. The desks are a vehicle, part of a clubhouse for a wider community. Having a clubhouse provides a focal point for interaction in a community. That community embodies trust, communication, collaboration, socialization, and a mutual respect for place and each other.

Ultimately, coworking is a community of workers, and that means more than a collection of workers sharing space.

Furthermore, coworking is a movement, a shift in higher purpose when it comes to not just where, but how, people are going to work in the future.

What brought you to Coworking?

I was introduced to coworking by two of the movement’s earliest catalysts, Chris Messina and Tara Hunt, who co-founded The Hat Factory (the first permanent coworking space) and then went on to open Citizen Space, both in San Francisco. Even before becoming a freelancer, I recognized that this could be valuable for Philadelphia as a way to bring together the disparate communities in my own city. As the project evolved, so did the vision, which included teaming up with Geoff DiMasi. Working with Geoff has brought a finer tuning to the purpose of IndyHall’s version of coworking.

Every Coworking Space seems different. What’s the focus of yours, what makes it special?

Our focus is 100% on individuals, humans. We don’t rent desks to companies, we have members join our community and have desks as a resource. When you take a holistic community approach to a coworking space, a lot of things fall into place that normally would take a lot of work. That’s not to say community development isn’t a lot of work, but it’s a whole lot easier to build something sustainable when the community groundwork is laid first.

By decoupling the desks from the real “magic” that takes place at IndyHall, we can accomplish things that couldn’t be done without the community being in place.

Where do you see Coworking in five years?

5 years isn’t a fair prediction, because the whole movement is less than 3 years old itself. Considering in the last 3 years, we’ve gone from less than a dozen spaces, mostly concentrated on the west coast, well over a hundred all around the world and a wider recognition of coworking as a buzzword, I think we’re on a stratospheric trajectory. The fact that coworking gets talked about by people who aren’t even aware of the movement and it’s history means it’s growing and growing fast.

My biggest hope is that coworking becomes more than a buzzword used to represent people sharing desks and that people really latch onto some of the fundamentals of coworking that set it apart from the otherwise failed business model of office suites and hot-desking. If more people understand what makes coworking really work (in the situations where it does work), I think it stands a chance of really turning business on it’s head and changing the way that companies utilize space, teams, and communication. All of these changes, obviously, are for the better.

Where can we find you?

At IndyHall, of course. IndyHall is in Old City Philadelphia, and online at We’d love for you to come meet our community members and see what we’re up to.

Thanks a lot, Alex! Click here to read the other interviews with the folks behind coworking.

The Folks Behind Coworking: Chris Messina


Citizen SpaceChris Messina is one of the folks who started it all. Together with Tara Hunt he founded Citizen Space (San Francisco). Also, Chris and Tara put a strong focus on the philosophy behind coworking to put it all into context: Coworking is not just about space, but also ideal. So here’s the first installment of a series of interviews on coworking.

What does Coworking mean for you?

Well, coworking is kind of a means to an end. It’s on the one hand a community of like-minded folks who don’t want to just work alone. On the other, it’s an operational framework — and something of an imperative that describes how you might go about creating a physical institution that people want to join, become a part of make their own.

I mean, at its root is a self-granted permission to create a work environment and reality that you want for yourself. And the community is there to push you forward, in order to turn your vision into reality.

What brought you to Coworking?

Well, as a cofounder of coworking, I initially just wanted a space that was somewhere between a cafe and an office — but that felt more spontaneous and had a lighter atmosphere about it. Since no one else had really done it — and sustained it — it seemed like it was time to try my hand at it!

Every Coworking Space seems different. What’s the focus of yours, what makes it special?

Well, I’m actually “between spaces” right now!

Where do you see Coworking in five years?

Wow, well… it’s grown into something much bigger than I might have imagined, and I’d thrilled about that. What I hope happens is that coworking will move down the cultural stack and become something that people expect of a city — like libraries or coffee shops — and that private and public coworking spaces will crop up — open to anyone, especially those affiliated with the network.

I also hope that the social networking behaviors that are common now bleed into the physical world and support the coworking movement worldwide.

Where can we find you?

Heh, that depends. Physically or digitally? Truly, I’m aiming to be a global citizen, and at the same time a citizen of the web. So, everywhere.

Thanks a lot, Chris! Click here to read the other interviews with the folks behind coworking.