As the world moves away from older economic models, professionals are redefining the workplace. Their new digital tools are all about individuals sharing space and skills. It is not just geographical barriers that the internet has erased like chalk on a blackboard; as easy as it is to hire support staff from India or even telecommute from the comfort of our sofas, we can now share knowledge, learn new techniques and access new tools almost effortlessly. And we’re not talking YouTube tutorials or TedTalk videos here. The digital age greatly facilitates entrepreneurship at every level, as people start to bypass the old, established economic models, leaving corporate ladders in the dust and working for themselves; but also and especially, with each other.
Networking and inspiration included
And so, co-working communities in Amsterdam are sprouting all over the map, with companies such as B.Amsterdam, WeWork, Impact Hub and Spaces or even simple cafés like De Balie on Leidseplein offering desks in inspiring environments. Here, young startups can not only find a roof for their endeavours, but also like-minded collaborators – a process smoothed out by rich, tightly-organised calendars of social shindigs, networking lunches and guest-speaker events.
Bringing people and skills together
This growing – exploding – trend is explained by Ronald van den Hoff, co-founder of the co-working space platform Seats2Meet: “We have forgotten that economics isn’t about mathematics – it’s a social science,” he says. “We are moving back towards its essence: creation between people.” Putting people’s skills together creates value, even without big, formal organisational structures to regiment them. As Van den Hoff points out, especially in the post-financial crisis world, access is more important than ownership. And that is the entire concept on which Seats2Meet was created. It uses a custom, self-learning algorithm to create ‘serendipity’ matches between members. It not only finds them a nice spot to plop their laptop and work on their project, it also partners them with other users whose needs and skills are complementary. Van den Hoff explains: “People start collaborating, and they learn from each other, become better professionals, develop their network and start new organisations.”
Reinforcing each other
In 2011, Sella van de Griend came to Seats2Meet Utrecht for the free lunches. But she was quickly introduced to a vast array of people who gave her advice, assistance and discounts for her growing parenting coaching business, and five years later, her dream of opening a school for gifted children is coming true. “It was quite a struggle, but an amazing process at the same time. I met more than 150 people through Seats2Meet, and without their help, Happy Kids Basisschool Utrecht wouldn’t exist.” Now she pays the favours back – and forward – by offering her own knowledge and inspiring energy: “Seats2Meet gave me a belief in asking for help. This culture of sharing is a wonderful experience – everything, everybody, reinforces each other.”
Startups meet corporates
The process isn’t limited to young entrepreneurs and freelancers: big companies too are starting to measure the value of this new ‘inter-dependent’ economic order and are hopping on board the co-working train, vastly expanding the networking capabilities of the system. Dutch insurance giant Achmea regularly uses the Seats2meet ecosystem to match its employees to visitors or independents. In the past year alone, this move has generated 47 innovation projects, with five currently on the market.
Strengthening the ecosystem
The beauty of the system is that the more people join and the more actively they participate, the bigger and wider the results – not only locally, but globally. Ultimately, as described by Van den Hoff, the possibilities of such a collaborative network are endless, not only to enrich professional lives, but to facilitate every step of the day. For example, with your approval, Seats2Meet can share your route and schedule with other independents, and suddenly it’s easier to get a ride to your booked Seats2Meet desk in a shared car; or to pick up food on your way home from a local chef. “I call this asynchronous reciprocity,” says Van den Hoff. “You may not benefit immediately from tapping into the network, but you’ll suddenly see the value of the give-and-take at five or six degrees of separation.”
Today’s digital tools are changing how we work in ways we sometimes take for granted but often can’t even perceive yet. We are at the embryonic stages of a profound change in the fabric of the workplace where social capital is replacing monetary capital, and where individual enterprise and responsibility blossom.