Interview: Coworking for corporations


I was psyched to be interviewed by Graham Snowdon for the Work section of The Guardian (along with Deskmag’s Joel Dullroy) about the opportunities for corporations adopting coworking:

Some observers believe that if new co-working spaces continue to thrive, larger companies could profit from sending employees to work in them. Peter Bihr, co-founder of digital strategy consultancy Third Wave, says it could bring together vastly different work cultures, as well as allowing employees and freelancers to learn from each other. “It could help develop and refine ideas and foster innovation in-house,” he says. “As a side effect, companies get access to great talent they might not otherwise be able to reach.” Bihr admits that as yet, relatively few larger companies have started working in this way: “Nasa is one example, having dabbled in a collaboration space in San Francisco a few years back. But we have been seeing many startups evolving out of co-working environments, and I expect and hope we will see a significant number of companies experimenting with co-working.”

Read the whole article here: A co-workers’ revolution?

Weeknotes #186


olafur eliasson

The paperwork up front: As J. pointed out, weeknotes aren’t supposed to start at number #001 necessarily but rather at the first week of whatever it is you’re making notes on. I had a bit of a hard time finding a good starting point, but now figured one out: So from now on I’ll count from the first week after I decided not to stay in my job as an editor for a political magazine-slash-think tank, but rather went freelance to do web stuff on my own. It’s somewhat misleading as I had worked freelance for years before as a student, and would still be writing my masters thesis afterwards, but that’s as symbolic a starting point as there is. So, dating back to the first day after my brief editing stint, 17 October 2006, today it’s week #186.

It’s been a pretty productive week, and there’s just three things I’d like to highlight:

Betahaus study

We did a brief study on social security among the coworkers at Betahaus. I won’t go into the details (executive summary), but rather at how we got there, as I think it’s a good example of how quickly you can get something off the ground, particularly in a coworking context: Christoph Fahle of Betahaus and I talked about all the journalists checking out Betahaus and how the majority seems to expect coworkers to be there because they’re poor they can’t afford a “real office”. Since we had a gut feeling that they might – like ourselves – be at Betahaus voluntarily we decided to just ask and do this mini study. That was a couple of weeks ago. The first draft of the form was online hardly 48h later, then it took us a few hours over a span of maybe a week to tweak the details. Two emails (to invite and remind the potential participants) and 16 days later we closed the online form again to sit down and crunch the data. That, plus writing up the report, took about two full days. Idea, a few emails to coordinate, then just get it done: that’s the agile coworking way. Or at least it felt pretty good.

Mozilla Drumbeat

Mozilla organized a Berlin event (also at Betahaus) to spread the Drumbeat love. This deserves its own blog post, but allow me to summarize: It rocked.

Olafur Eliasson

There’s a new exhibition in town. Olafur Eliasson (Wikipedia) is a Danish-Icelandic artist living in Berlin these days. With major exhibitions at Tate Modern and the MoMa he certainly doesn’t need introduction, but if you’re in town, do not (NOT!) miss his exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau Innen Stadt Außen. (Don’t let the boring website turn you off.) In fact, go there now.

Image: Olafur Eliasson

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!

ZDF Auslandsjournal: Coworking


ZDF Auslandsjournal

ZDF Auslandsjournal did a piece on a team working at Betahaus. The show was a special about the future of cities, and this being Auslandsjournal they usually film abroad. For the future of work it turned out, though, that Berlin is the place to go. So they filmed a bunch of us (Anna Lena Schiller, Christoph Fahle, Igor Schwarzmann, Martin Menzel and me) for two days working on a little website to accompany the TV piece.

Zukunft der Stadt

The segment “Coworking Spaces: Bürogemeinschaft der Zukunft?” aired on 28 April 2010, but it won’t be available online after a week due to some of the more stupid strange restrictions public broadcasters are operating under in Germany. (Which also restricts me from embedding the video here. If anyone has freed the video, let me know.) So the text will stay online just like our website sketch, the video will be up for a week. Betahaus is featured from around minute 9:20.

Digital Nomads on taz.de


German newspaper taz has a special edition this week: to celebrate its 31st anniversary, the editors under 31 years took over and produced the paper. One of the topics the focused on is digital nomads and new ways of working, in other words: knowledge workers, coworking, you name it.

The talked to a bunch of my friends and colleagues here in Berlin (Gernot Poetsch, Sebastian Sooth, Anna Lena Schiller) and also briefly to me. Here’s the lovely video/slideshare they made about us:

Digital Nomaden from 2470media on Vimeo.

You can find the article (in German) on taz.de.

Hamburg: Becks Camp, Barcamp


I’m back from my vacation and (after a brief health-related break) ready to rock again. So next week I’ll be headed up to Hamburg for two camps that I’m really looking forward to: The Becks Gold Urban Experience Camp (I’m assuming this is the official blog), in the following called only Becks Camp, and Barcamp Hamburg.

Both events will be completely different, no doubt, but also I’m expecting both to be a lot of fun. At the Becks Camp I’m actually invited as one of 10 creatives (whatever that is) to put together some kind of installation to reflect on the theme of the event customize reality. (Full disclosure: As invited artist I’m getting paid for my participation.) My take is to think about workspaces, and how to create workspaces for laptop workers (think coworking) by working with a given environment and tags to recontextualize as necessary. How exactly this is going to work I’m not sure yet, but the resident artist-in-charge Luis Berríos-Negrón has promised his support and my feeling is that my very rough ideas are in excellent hands there. So we’ll see. I’m curious how it’s going to work out, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been invited as an artist anywhere, so it should be fun. That’s Thursday, 12 November.

Barcamp Hamburg will be on 13-14 November (FRI/SAT). Last time I was at Barcamp HH I met a lot of very interesting and cool people, and I have all reason to believe this time will be no different. And since links are the currency in which barcamps can pay back their sponsors, here’s a hat tip to the sponsors: Otto, Google, eVenture, Lecturnity, T-Mobile, BCD Travel, kaffeebazar, Pure Tea, Microsoft, Yalook.com, saftblog, T3N.

So let the games begin. I hope to see you at Hamburg!

Update: Becks has put up some photos of the Hamburg event as well as this video:

Beck’s Gold Urban Experiences Workspace Hamburg from Beck's Gold Urban Experiences on Vimeo.

Also, and this really put me in a great mood, Grandmaster Flash (yes, the real one) was at the event as a DJ and Ludwig captured some of his set in a video (thanks!):

Tag your laptop


In a discussion with Jay Cousins recently we talked about a small problem: If you’re coworking in a cafe or in a coworking space, you sometimes don’t know a whole lot about the other folks around, or what they’re working on. Online, Twitter or a coworking network like Hallenprojekt.de do a good job transmitting just this information. But if you walk into a cafe and would like to strike up a conversation with another laptop worker, things can get socially awkward. (Plus, of course, you don’t want to make the round from laptop to laptop talking to 10 people until you find someone you relate to.)

Jay mentioned something he had done over at a Barcamp in the UK, which is give people a funny hat with their tags (i.e. interests, skills, companies etc) so you could see across the room who you might want to talk to based on shared interests. So we wondered if there’s a way to reach the same effect without running around in public wearing giant tag-cloud hats.

Here’s a proposal: Just tag your laptop, so people can see what you do:

tag your laptop The important bit: The piece of duct textile tape in the lower right corner, tagged with some projects i’m involved in.

It’s probably too much trouble to update it to a current status, but at least you get a general idea. In my case that you can see in the photo above: I’m interested in #coworking, a regular at #studio70, co-organizer of #atoms&bits as well as #likemind Berlin, and I’m a member of Berlinblase.

Of course, duct tape might not be everyone’s first choice. (If in doubt, double check first if you can remove it without traces!) So get creative: Use a non-permanent marker right on your laptop. Use stickers. If you’re a tinkerer, attach a little display on the back of your laptop. Of course it all works with your Moleskine, too. And next time you’re in a cafe and see someone with the tag #coworking on their laptop, make sure to say hi!