Coworking hard? Or hardly coworking?
That was the question I asked myself amongst a crowd of about 200 local entrepreneurs, artists, government officials, nonprofit workers and community members who gathered Wednesday at the spacious Plexpod: Westport Commons to set the world record for the most people coworking in one place at the same time.
As I bumped into familiar faces, drank Thou Mayest coffee and made new connections, it might have felt like play. But we were there to work. Well, cowork.
Community, collaboration and serendipitous collisions are all part of the beauty of coworking, said Melissa Saubers, founder of Cowork Waldo.
“Coworking is all about is the people. It’s not about the space, we don’t care about square footage or any of that,” said Saubers, who is also the founder of the Kansas City Coworking Alliance. “We care about the people and so this whole event was really about the community and the community did this.”
In recognition of International Coworking Day, the nonprofit KC Coworking Alliance celebrated the growing industry with a day of fun, putting Kansas City on the map.
Coworking is defined as “people from different businesses or organizations working side by side,” Saubers said.
So although you might be wondering why large corporations like Sprint and Cerner haven’t already beat this record by sheer numbers, coworking is a different breed, she said.
“Many spaces can say that they had 200 people coworking together in any regular day,” Saubers said. “But the point about this was that these were people from all different kinds of backgrounds coming together to work together. It showed that Kansas City is a well-connected city.”
The event kicked off with 1 Million Cups, showcasing local startups UpDown NightLife and Bixy.
After some mixing and mingling, attendees were handed an official “ballot” on which they were instructed to share their names and organizations. A volunteer team — with representatives from all 11 coworking spaces in the alliance — funneled everyone into Plexpod’s recently renovated Medallion Theatre. There attendees were required to stay and cowork for 30 minutes, making the record official.
Coworking was monitored and validated by witnesses.
“The proctors were in charge of up to 50 people each making sure they were in the room, that they were coworking and doing what we set out to do,” Saubers said. “Then the judges verified that the proctors did their job.”
Once the record was set, Kansas City Mayor Sly James addressed the group, validating the crowd as the city’s “true changemakers.” The future of work is changing, James said, acknowledging the culture of coworking as one of “collaboration” and “connection.”
Attendees were encouraged to stay and cowork at Plexpod: Westport Commons throughout the day, with such Kansas City brands as Thou Mayest, Messenger Coffee, the Sundry, Betty Rae’s Ice Cream and the Donut Lounge offering food and drink.
Saubers was pleased with the turnout, she said, adding that the hashtag #KCCoworkingDay was trending No.1 on Twitter throughout the day in Kansas City.
“The biggest takeaway from the event is that the Kansas City community is extremely supportive of each other,” Saubers said. “I thought the buzz was really good, and the support was phenomenal. It really just shows that we are a welcoming city.”
She said that she hopes the event will spur friendly competition with other coworking communities.
“The North Texas Coworking Alliance tweeted that they may try and beat the record next year,” Saubers said. “It’ll be fun to see what other cities and regions do to try to team up and top that record. I think that next year on International Coworking Day — which is Aug. 9 each year — we’ll expect to see some competition.”
In the next 18 to 24 months, the Kansas City metro is expected to welcome more than 300,000 square feet of coworking space for entrepreneurs, startups and larger companies. Opened earlier this year, Plexpod Westport Commons is one of the world’s largest coworking spaces at 160,000 square feet.
Launched in 2015, The KC Coworking Alliance exists to share best practices, ease communication and spread the word about options in the area, Saubers said. Members include: Bridge Space, Cowork Waldo, eCafe, the Ennovation Center, the Enterprise Center of Johnson County, the Grid, iWerx, Plexpod, Think Big, Village Square and WeWork. Saubers said she expects membership to double or triple over the next five years.
— KCCoworkingAlliance (@KCCoworking) August 9, 2017