Coworking centres as Smart Hubs in rural areas

Since 2005 co-working centres have begun to exist as shared workspaces to build up a community of independent professionals, jointly cooperating on different projects. Very quickly this concept from San Francisco has spread virtually all over the world. Great boom to co-working centres have been caused by an offer of financially available and well-equipped shared offices. And start-ups or small companies could afford such services.

Now coworking centres are built also by multinational capital companies. They become a common part of development projects in major cities and are not used by young people and novice entrepreneurs only. The offices in co-working are also ordered by larger companies for a limited time to cover their operational or time-limited needs. Flexibility and independence in some cases breaks the spirit of cooperation that stood at the birth of this phenomenon.

In the Czech Republic the number of co-workings is approaching a hundred and you can find them in smaller towns. Can co-working centres become a Development hub for local communities?

Relation to libraries

There is a great history of libraries in the Czech Republic and they always have been community, information, cultural and education centres of municipalities. With the coming of internet, they have become, thanks to state support, first and often the only publicly accessible places to internet in smaller municipalities. Their role is still irreplaceable. Their often-small spaces and a relatively narrow specialised focus, however, do not provide opportunities for larger community activities.

This role could be taken just by co-working centres. They often have larger spaces, conference spaces and enough staff for organisation of community activities. Due to the focusing on business innovation and use of the latest technologies they become an ideal place for connection of local communities, technologies and information. Thanks to this, they can create a smart centre, so called smart hub, where anyone can gain the guidance he/she needs.

If we emerge from the logic of “digital twins”, a true digital transformation, and hence its territorial realization, called Smart City, then we can work with network models of Smart Hubs with services for communities approximately 10 – 20 thousand inhabitants. These are both city districts as well as catchment territories (called municipalities with extended competence). This network provides community development and services in a common pattern. This will help to change the relevant competency and financial models to ensure the sustainability of this effort.

Demonstrator from Humpolec

One such a co-working that has an ambition to be more than just a workplace for the community of freelancers is the co-work “Together in Humpolec”. In the town with a total of 11 thousand inhabitants, an Innovation centre with a strong social impact is being made on more than 600 m2. Let’s imagine it as a possible pattern for emerging smart hubs in the countryside. In this context, we can talk about the Demonstrator according to the RASC methodology. We are ready to share the experience and the necessary tools for operation. At the same time, we want to be active in organising further progress in both national and Central European space.

Fig. 1 – Premises of the co-work “Together in Humpolec” in the premises of the company Profil Nábytek, a.s. (Building A and Building B)

The core of the physical form of the twin is an open shared space with reception, offering small snacks, and a separate meeting room. Furthermore, the centre contains member open space type office locations, so called closed offices for 2 to 8 persons, and lecture halls. The operator is a social enterprise Co-working cooperative Together, focusing on integration of people with disabilities into everyday life. In the first phase, the enterprise created three jobs for this target group of employees. Co-working employs 6 people in total and others engage in the form of volunteering or external cooperation. With a growing conference activity, they are planning to create additional jobs.

Other social enterprises from the region are involved in co-working. Marketing activities are provided by the social enterprise PTL, s.r.o., catering for workshops and conferences is provided by a social enterprise “Sheltered workshops of Vysočina”. Other social enterprises provide food for sale of refreshments, another social enterprise provide regular cleaning services etc. New social enterprises will be created on the premises of the Smart Hub and at other premises suitable for small production. The co-working space will be used for social rehabilitation and for educational activities by local non-profit organisations, e.g. Medou daily service centre.

Fig. 2-Visualization of the reception area

The local dimension is also underlined by close cooperation with the Local Action Group: “Company for Humpolec region development”. It uses co-working spaces and mediates information related to development activities and potential funding opportunities both to members and other bodies in the region.

A cooperation with local primary and secondary schools is also being prepared with a focus on Technical Science teaching.

Fig. 3 – A Network of social enterprises involved in the operation of Co-work in Humpolec.

Architectural concept, equipment and decorations express environmentally friendly relation, respect for human dignity and benefits of cooperation. Dozens of experts participate in the centre’s activities through regular lectures, workshops and conferences.

Fig. 4 – Floor Plan of Co-work (Building A)

Modern information technologies are the basis of every quality co-working. The Co-working cooperative Together provides its own and complete online management of co-working membership, login to events, reservation of meeting rooms and also includes tools for establishing new contacts. E.g. on the screen in co-working there are contacts on users actually residing in the premises and are interested in cooperation. To achieve this only a corresponding setting of the user profile is needed, and the login made with a chip or in the application when entering the co-working. On the Web there is an on-line overview of the current workload of co-working and availability of the meeting rooms.

The services offered include fast colour printing to A3 format, using smart Logon. E.g. the registered user can send the print file to the printer from home and the next day when visiting the co-working the file is printed after triggering the printing machine by his/her chip.

Effect of a Smart Hub for Region

The impacts of the co-working on the local community are as follows:

  • Create jobs for people with disabilities.
  • Use of local resources for most activities.
  • Providing modern facilities for existing and new entrepreneurs.
  • Promoting “networking”, establishing new contacts and collaborating.
  • Improving education in the area of the use of information technology, healthy lifestyles and personal development.
  • Developing cooperation between business entities and non-profit organisations, younger and older, healthy and people with disabilities.
  • Bringing new visitors to the city and supporting of local tourism.

Is this the way?

Unlike large towns, rural areas are more limited in community life. There is not a large offer of clubs, background of universities and cultural activities are not too rich. The Smart Hub can be a hub for meeting and networking. Although people know each other personally in small towns, practice shows that facilitation of meeting creates new forms of cooperation which would otherwise not occur. There could be a closer cooperation with the city/town where the co-working becomes such a neutral place for meeting with citizens when discussing local issues.

In Humpolec they are open to share their know-how and even their information system, which is scalable for use in other places.

Want to build a similar hub in your city?

Do you already run co-working and would like to elevate it to a higher level?

  • We will provide an information system to manage user access to internet.
    • ensuring security of the local network and the protection of the operator in the illegal activity of a co-working user.
    • controlling of entry into co-working areas, including opening relevant door, according to the user’s set access rights.
    • three-tiered access structure: Publicly available web, members-only information, administrative part with rights for operators and administrators.
  • Become more attractive for both existing and new users.
    • we will incorporate your place into our marketing activities.
    • by means of a shared membership whoever can travel, use services of more co-workings, without having to pay a stand-alone fee for each. Everyone in the network gets paid for the time the relevant member spent there. Win-Win for all parties.
  • We will Help with preparation of professional events and communications with local actors.
    • We will explain the principles of the social economy and help create a social enterprise.
    • We provide long-term support and training for integrating people with disabilities into the working process.
    • We can mediate fair suppliers of support services and products.