Top 10 Takeaways From GCUC Chicago

Last month was GCUC, the Global Coworking Unconference Community, bringing together the best and the brightest minds in the industry. Holding space for such a diverse cross-section of futurists, flex operators, entrepreneurs, techies, and real estate professionals is an astonishing feat. This was my baptizing saunter through these grounds, so I kept my finger on the pulse and my ear to the chest of this dynamic gathering’s heartbeat. 

With that established, dear readers, I proudly present the Top 10 Takeaways from GCUC Chicago 2023.

Takeaway #1 – There’s plenty to be optimistic about.

There were smiles all around, warming up the Windy City. As William L. Edmundson, SVP at iWorkSpaceMail with iPostal1, put it, “I have never seen so much enthusiasm for the future of our industry.” We’re seeing a major mind-shift as the demand for flex space and coworking grows from the current 2 – 4% of commercial real estate to the expected 30% by 2030.

Takeaway #2 – Coworking is becoming mainstream.

Barbara Sprenger, Founder and CEO of Deskworks, wrote recently about these changing tides within coworking. “The partnership between the mission-driven founders in the industry and the more business-focused new entrants can only make coworking a very long-term, sustainable, and truly necessary improvement for how we work, how we improve our communities, and how we live.”

Takeaway #3 – We’re here to care for people. 

No matter how big coworking and flex space operations may get, we’re in the people industry, first and foremost. As Gina Schreck, Founder and CEO of The Village Workspace phrased it, “We are in the business of caring for people. Not the “sell offices” business, but the “we are here to help you grow your business and to make life easier for you when you walk in our doors” business! Why would anyone take off their comfy sweatpants and leave their home office for just another office?”

Takeaway #4 – It’s time to be special.

Maudy Westerveld, General Manager at EBC Amsterdam, said it best when she shared, “The main thing I’ve learned is that businesses are all about people, and showing up at the office isn’t as important as it used to be. To help your members out, make sure you give them an awesome office that speaks to their target audience and lets them feel like they’re part of something special.” Unlike an office that your boss requires you to be at, using a coworking space is a choice. It needs to be beautifully designed and welcoming or people will go elsewhere.

Takeaway #5 – We need to care for ourselves in order to create spaces that people want to be in.

As much as we ought to care for our customers and our offerings, we also have to care for ourselves. Peter Chee, Founder and CEO at Thinkspace, shared what he valued: “Taking great care of yourself, so that you’re in a position to bring your best, most excited energy to building up your coworking/flex space. Don’t worry about what the competition is doing, and focus on retention.” 

Takeaway #6 – We are at the confluence of people, products, and technologies.

Daniela Mallarino, Technology Partnerships Manager at Kisi, said that what she found most inspiring at GCUC, “was the motivation expressed by both the speakers and attendees to continue building spaces that prioritize user experience, community, security, and flexibility. It’s inspiring to see how an industry uses tech to promote that kind of growth.” The great technology available needs to seamlessly intersect and help define your offerings.

Takeaway #7 – We as providers have to be as flexible as our offerings. 

Joel Ballew, Chief People Officer and Founder of CO.LABOR said, “Probably the biggest takeaway was the reality that we may offer ‘flexible’ options/products, but do we really, actually, offer solutions that are flexible to potential members? A day after I got home from Chicago, my team and I sat down and started making changes to our product line, just because we want to be able to offer true flexibility to a growing membership base.”

Takeaway #8 – The proverbial less is more also stands true.

Though we need more flexibility, we also have to learn to work with less at times. Sofia Stolberg, Co-founder and CEO at PilotoMail, phrased it perfectly: “There was one cohesive sentiment throughout the conference this year: how can we do more with less? How can we grow more with less space, less capital, less time?” In many cases, the technology available for coworking – both software and hardware – reduces the need for all three.

Takeaway #9 – We need to bring enthusiasm, engagement, and life!

No matter what you offer, big or small, you have to have energy and zeal. We have to stand apart. As Cat Johnson, Founder of Coworking Convos, The Lab, (and so much more) said, “All coworking spaces are not the same. No matter how fabulous your space might look, if it’s lacking life, energy, and engagement, your members are not thriving—whether they say so or not.”

Takeaway #10 – You’ve got to attend GCUC!

In the end, Jerome Chang, Founder of BLANKSPACES Coworking, summed it all up perfectly: “This is the one conference where FOMO is real – don’t miss the next one!”

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