gcuc canada conference logoI spent a few days attending a coworking conference (or “unconference conference” as they called it) recently and was not expecting to learn what I did about co-working.

Ashley Proctor, the Executive Director of GCUC (Global Coworking Unconference Conference) Canada called upon City of Toronto Councilor Mike Layton to provide the official welcome. The event location was not even in his ward, but he is a supporter of the coworking concept and was asked to give the opening remarks.

Tony Bacigalupo of Indi Cities in New York City gave a eye-opening speech about the history of coworking. He explained that the term “coworking” was coined in 2005 by Brad Neuberg to describe a physical space which was intended as a collective work space for coders. The first coworking space was the San Francisco Coworking Space at Spiral Muse for two days a week. It took some time to get people into the space, but they slowly trickled in as people started to understand the concept.

After about a year, the Spiral Muse coworking space closed. Several months later a second space opened up with a larger space that could accommodate more people, called the Hat Factory. Since Brad Neuberg created the first coworking space, the number of coworking spaces and available seats has roughly doubled each year.

The first meet-ups with the topic of coworking at SxSW (South by Southwest) was an annual set of film, interactive media, music festivals and conferences that took place in mid-March in Austin, Texas. This is where the idea of the Coworking Visa program, a way for traveling coworkers to work at other coworking spaces, was born.

While the official use of the word “coworking” was used in 2005 by Brad Neuberg, Toronto’s Centre For Social Innovation (CSI) opened in 2004. As CSI’s Tonya Surman said, only 30% of what CSI does is coworking – its primary focus is on its members. SCI  is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world.

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) has 4 locations – 3 in Toronto and one in New York City. Yes, New York City! It seems that a persistent NYC entrepreneur who loved the CSI concept was determined to make a connection between the Centre for Social Innovation and RXR Realty, a forward-thinking realty company in New York City. After some talks, it was clear that CSI New York would be a great fit to the CSI family of innovative coworking spaces.

Lets come back to what coworking and GCUC really is.

The idea of coworking is simple: independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone. Coworking spaces are about community-building and sustainability. The five core values of coworking are Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility and Sustainability.

It is really important to note that coworking spaces do not see the people who work from them as tenants – they see them as members of their community. As Tonya Surman said…..“For the community by the community” when referring to the coworking concept. This is why coworking spaces do not have an office manager; they have community managers.

The Global Coworking Unconference Conferences are a great initiative to not only keep the collective of coworking centres going and working together, but they are a place to share coworking stories, ideas, tips and help new coworking centres to gain valuable insights into what coworking is truly about. In short, people call the Global Coworking Unconference Conference “GCUC” and pronounce it “juicy.” I did not know this until the second day of the conference and was confused thinking my ears were deceiving me when I thought I heard speakers say “juicy” when they talked about it.

One last note about unconferences, a term that was new to me. It seems the unconference part of the conference is where there is no planned themes for the discussion groups. Attendees were asked to put ideas of topics they wanted to explore on large sticky notes, then collectively all of the other attendees would look at the suggestions and vote on them. The best part was that no one knew whose ideas were who’s, so the selected breakout discussions were not biased in any way. More conferences of like-minded and similarly inspired people should try this “unconference” approach to get some really fascinating discussions initiated.