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wine, coworking, and the “People at Work” Summit

7 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Like many of you who read this site, I live and breathe coworking and business in general. I absolutely LOVE this shit. It’s hard to not talk about all day long, with anyone who will listen, right? I think that’s a big part of why we love our conferences so much (and more on that a little bit later in this email) and why this email list is so amazing.

But for the people I’m closest to…well sometimes I get the sense they’re sick of hearing about coworking. You know what I mean?

One of the ways I’ve been working through this is by finding and focusing on other things that I can immerse myself in, and one of the other things I love is the food and wine.So I’m taking some classes to up my game in the world of wine.

I’ve been learning a lot about how wine is made, but also the wine business, and during this weekend’s class I added a few non-wine things to my notebook because…you guessed it, I found some correlation to coworking. Whoops.

One of those notes was about the idea of “Collective Action.”

Essentially, the wine industry looks a lot like coworking at its best in that inpidual wineries aren’t in competition with each other, even when they’re directly next to each other on the shelf. The most successful wineries know they’re in competition with beer and liquor. So to succeed, many wineries often band together to bolster regions, and styles, of wine. Sound familiar? 🙂

But Collective Action cuts two ways – in the best examples a region bands together to deliver the best possible product and build an amazing collective reputation. The example in wine class was New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which in the US is on basically every restaurant wine list thanks to their collective action.

But there was an alter-example that struck me. When the South African wine industry was trying to “bounce back” in the US market post-apartheid, their collective action was more focused on courting wine importers with insanely low costs…but most of the wine they shipped out was extremely low quality. As you might imagine, this created a backlash.

“South African wine is overrated – this stuff is terrible.” Creating an entire generation of potential wine buyers who would buy almost anything else before they bought a South African wine.

Now, wine and coworking are different kinds and scales of market. B2C is much more fickle than B2B. Wine has generations of tradition and expertise behind it – we’re about to cross our first decade as a community of practitioners and most of our community is less than 2 years into the game.

But I’m thinking about what we can do now and how I can do what I’ve always done…just more of it, and with more people. 

We’re pretty good at welcoming new people to show them what we’ve learned so far, but since we don’t have generations of coworking to learn from, I’m thinking about how we can bring more voices from outside of the coworking “industry” to shed light on the things we really need to understand.

So for the last couple of months I’ve been reaching out to friends and colleagues around the world to help put together a new kind of event. 

Instead of only hearing about coworking spaces (we already have conferences doing a great job of that), I want to hear about other kinds of businesses and organizations and industries that we can learn from. I want to hear from members of coworking spaces, and have them share the spotlight with us for a change.

I want to create an an opportunity for us to really mature as an industry, by looking to learn outside of our own excitement. Because let’s be honest…that excitement isn’t going away.

We’re a truly international community.

Coworking has led me to visit 6 out of 7 continents on this planet. For that, I’m beyond thankful to anyone who has extended an invite or coordinated a workshop with me. 

And I love going to coworking conferences. If it weren’t for this community, I wouldn’t be going to Bali in 2 weeks for the Coworking Unconference Asia. I wouldn’t have been able to meet so many of you. Coworking means I can step off an airplane in almost any city on the planet and find people I might want to spend time with, just by typing “coworking cityname” into Google.

Meanwhile, a lot of people can’t travel. For lots of reasons: costs of time and money, international visa restrictions and complications, personal/professional schedules…

I know a lot of those people are on this list alone. And even more of them write me every day. I want to create something that they can participate in. 

So we’re trying out something new – an ONLINE conference about Work and Collaboration – on April 21st. 

And we’re calling it the People At Work Summit.

People at Work Summit – The people side of Coworking, Collaboration, and the Future of Work 2016-02-10 14-38-47

We started by going back to basics and thinking about what the best (and worst) elements of an in-person conference are, and how we could create them online. Flip the script entirely.

We didn’t want to strap a collection of webinars together and call it a “conference,” because watching a live stream of an in-person event feels like an afterthought at best, or totally awkward and isolating at worst. And most of all we know that the best part of a conference is interacting with other attendees, learning from each other.

And since this is a truly global thing, we’re doing it around the clock. 24 hours in a row. Starting at noon Eastern on the 21st. We’re programming every time zone with amazing people to learn from, plus “hallway time” and “happy hour.”  I’ve personally never seen an event quite like this – and until recently, I don’t think technology was good enough to make it worth trying.

With that said, an online event is NOT a replacement for in-person conferences. That’s not the goal here at all. If we do this right, People At Work will help more people get to the point where attending an in-person conference is within reach.

Which is also why this event has access as a priority.

Even once you take travel costs out of the equation, money is tricky thing. Our economy is global, but it’s not always equitable.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from giving away SO much of what I’ve learned is that it can make a difference in places that I never imagined. Seeing my work help complete strangers in remote places is basically my ultimate drug.

So in addition to removing the travel costs from the equation, we’re also offering scholarships. For every 10 attendees who sign up, we’re giving one away seat for free to a scholarship applicant.I’ve already gotten emails from people in small towns in India and Africa (and here in the US, too) who are PUMPED to finally have something they can participate in.

Obviously, there’s not much event without you.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is an experiment. We’re still working on the schedule (which means we’re looking for speaker nominations, especially outside of North America). We’re working with all of our confirmed speakers to make sure that every minute of their time sharing is actionable. You can also meet some of those speakers in episodes 16, 17, and 18 of our podcast.

But without this community, it doesn’t matter who we get to speak. 

Later this week we’re going to release the first batch of tickets. “Early adopters” are going to help us shape this conference in a big way, especially over the next month.

So add yourself to our announcement list if you want to grab one of the early adopter seats. 🙂

And if I think about “Collective Action” in terms of our community and our industry, we’re already at the inflection point that people have been saying is coming soon. More people are looking for coworking – and what they can learn from it about the future of work – than ever before.

What is going to happen to coworking in 2016 and beyond?

Nobody knows, because we haven’t created it yet. Let’s do it together on April 21st.

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.