Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
High-growth, share-based startups — like Airbnb and Uber — are transforming the hospitality and transportation industries. The sharing economy is also fundamentally changing how people work.
From corporate professionals to entrepreneurs, coworking is rapidly becoming a viable alternative to offices and cubicles.
Coworking is a new but skyrocketing industry.
It’s hard to believe that coworking did not exist 15 years ago. The first coworking space opened in California in 2005. A recent forecast by Emergent Research reported the following projections:
- By December 2016, coworking facilities in the United States will include over 11,000 spaces
- By 2020, more than 26,000 coworking spaces will be available to an estimated 4 million iworkers worldwide.
That’s extraordinary growth by any metric. Melissa Saubers, CEO and owner of CoWork Waldo and Sarah Fustine, Think Big partner and leader of Think Big Coworking, are recognized as industry experts and innovators.
Both Saubers and Fustine agree that coworking growth is fueled by pent-up need.
“Corporations, freelancers and entrepreneurs are all looking for ways to be more creative and productive,” Saubers said. “Coworking laid the groundwork for the future of work.”
It’s also noteworthy that locally, nationally and globally, the leaders of this entrepreneurial industry are women. Here’s their take on how women are shaping this booming industry.
Making a success of coworking requires leaders who share.
In the industry’s early years, Fustine noted, there were no handbooks or business models for running a coworking community. Women took the initiative and formed industry organizations to share processes and best practices. Here are a few examples of these pioneering women:
- The Global Workspace Association is led by Jamie Russo, owner of coworking communities in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.
- The Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) was founded by Liz Elam, who owns coworking spaces in Austin.
- Saubers was instrumental in bringing the GCUC conference to Kansas City, and both Saubers and Fustine played key roles in organizing the conference.
- Fustine is a member of the Board of Directors of COSHARE, the national coworking association.
- Saubers and Fustine serve as president and vice president, respectively, of the Kansas City Coworking Alliance.
What’s spurred the rise of women leaders in this fast-growing industry? Saubers and Fustine emphatically agree: two fundamental skills, and the opportunity to use them.
Community Building: “You’re not just managing real estate, you’re creating a community,” Fustine said. “It’s the reason this industry exists. Women are really good at creating community and taking care of the details. This is a people-based industry.”
Collaboration: “In coworking, we walk our talk,” Saubers said. “An industry that is based on collaborative workspaces has to be led by people who share ideas and information. This industry is different.” Fustine adds, “People share – even those who might be considered competitors in other industries.”
With rapid growth comes adaptation. Saubers and Fustine see changes ahead, as large-scale, niche, and hybrid spaces evolve. What seems certain in this dynamic environment is that women leaders will continue to influence the future of coworking.
Elizabeth Usovicz is topline revenue strategist and principal of WhiteSpace Consulting, specializing in top-line revenue strategies and market insights for high-growth companies, new ventures and business units within established companies; keynote speaking and strategy session facilitation. Connect with Elizabeth at email@example.com or @eusovicz on Twitter.
In July of 2015, Startland News collaborated with WhiteSpace Consulting to conduct a whiteboard conversation with women entrepreneurs in the Kansas City region. Women entrepreneurs shared their perceptions about launching and leading companies, and identified topics for ongoing discussion. As a result of this conversation, Startland News and WhiteSpace Consulting have developed (S)heStarts, a blog series that explores the entrepreneurial experience that women and men share, as well as perspectives on how their experiences are unique.