Wednesday, July 25, 2012

»COWORKING« as a creative work method is also developing in Slovenia

On a sunny morning in May we met with Luka Piškorič in front of Kino Šiška. He is the co-creator, and promoter of the coworking scene in Slovenia. Our initial intention was to only observe the coworking event from the 1st floor of Kino Šiška but it turned into an exciting conversation over a cup of coffee and we immediately realised that this was something important that the broader public needed to know about. Thus we present it to you, in the  new issue of Aktualno 2.0. I hope it will excite you, too.

V: What is »Slovenia coworking«?
»Slovenia coworking« is an initiative for promoting a new paradigm of work co-operation in Slovenia. The primary aim  is to establish a coworking community in Slovenia and promote the formation of various coworking spaces and opportunities.
Coworking is a modern work method that provides freelance and other professionals with a "coworking" space they can occasionally or regularly share with other creative people from the same or other fields.

V: How did this story begin?
My "career" started in 1995 at KUD France Prešeren where the DTP KGB - Desktop Publishing Studio Kudov Grafični Biro had an office on the upper floor. The studio was sponsored by the Open Society Foundation and equipped by advanced computers used for desktop publishing, i.e. designing various media projects and magazines. At the time, powerful computers were not something people would have at home. I worked on most of my projects at the studio and helped manage and develop it as well. In essence, this was the first coworking space in Slovenia.

V: And afterwards?
Afterwards, I worked at various agencies for the next 10 years, then in 2006, my partner Eva Perčič and I opened our own agency, Memo Institut, an institute for creative research, particularly netography, which is a field no one else is currently working in in Slovenia. One of the interesting projects we are working on is the development of the destination brand for the Radovljica Municipality.
Netnography is a qualitative research method that enables analysis of web content, blogs, forums, etc. This provides us and the client with a very useful insight into what web users think about specific topics. The research results are then integrated and developed either in the form of new brands and communication strategies or for the purposes of developing new or improved products and services. This further development often includes professionals from different fields, i.e. programmers, designers and other creative industry professionals.  
V: How did the idea to set up a coworking space in Slovenia come about?
The people we were working with on various projects expressed a desire to extend our cooperation beyond those projects.  This resulted in the need for a space where we could both work independently yet jointly develop new project that would enable an exchange of expert knowledge. I am interested in various fields, but I cannot cover them all. Interaction with experts from other fields enables me to have insight into developments in their fields as well. Thus, the desire for cooperation developed into a new form of creativity. 

V: Were you previously acquainted with this form of cooperation?
We were previously not familiar with coworking. Naturally, we wanted to know if similar forms of cooperation already existed. Thus, we travelled across Europe visiting various coworking spaces, e.g. in Amsterdam, Vienna, etc. We immediately realised what it was, that we were looking for. Last year, I attended the Coworking Europe Conference in Berlin, which was a magnificent experience. Coworking is already quite well developed in Berlin. There are over 60 coworking spaces that are diversely segmented. On the one hand you have a nine storey building with a Michelin restaurant at the top and a view of the entire city, while on the other hand there are more "underground" spaces, such as Betahaus, which, among other things provides residency to artists and is equipped with 3D printers and similar advanced technology for supporting development of creative ideas.

Eva Perčič and Luka Piškorič
Source: Luka Piškorič's personal archive

V: What aspect of the Berlin conference did you find most exciting?
I found the Berlin conference very interesting particularly because all the people working in these coworking spaces, as well as managers of them, are aware that this method is not likely to bring big profits. The idea is based on forming a community and that is the essence of coworking spaces. The main rule of development of coworking spaces is that you need to build a community that will work in a space before the space itself can come to life. A coworking space is not set up by deciding to put a few desks and equipment into an old space and rent it to users. In this way the coworking concept differs from the share desk concept. The aim of coworking is to provide people working on similar or interconnected fields, the opportunity for interaction, exchange of knowledge, cooperation in projects and the ability to jointly approach larger business clients. 

V: Does the Slovenia Coworking initiative have a formal organisational form?
It is basically a movement supported by Poligon, an institute for the development of creative industries. 

V: What sort of reactions has Slovenia Coworking received so far and how do you expect it to develop in the future?
Our activities started in January, here, at Kino Šiška during the international  JellyWeek - an annual event that takes place in January across the globe. Its aim is to promote coworking. The Jelly movement was essentially the initiating point of coworking across the globe. Creative free-lancers initially worked at home or in cafes and from that, coworking spaces started to develop. During this year's JellyWeek we launched our first coworking event, i.e. Slovenia Coworking. Based on the positive feedback we received, regular weekly coworking events have become a fixture at Kino Šiška, which now becomes an open coworking platform every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

V: Are these Thursday coworking sessions attended by regular members or do participants vary?
It depends. Some of us are regular members, while others attend when time permits. There are several members who are employed at large companies and come when they feel a need for a different working environment. On average, we have 10 to 20 attendees each week. 

V: Do you and Eva organise these sessions alone?
Yes, we are basically the "social MC's" developing this activity. We have invested a lot of time in managing and developing the coworking movement.
Recently, we have introduced an activity called "Excellent! You may sit down!" where each coworker can have a 15 minute presentation of his or her project. This is followed by a 30 minute discussion during which other participants comment and try to upgrade and find opportunities for joint further development of the project.

V: This is great! So you are actually adding new services to the space. And how is "Excellent! You may sit down!" received?
So far the feedback has been excellent. We have presented a few projects: the first was  “Philoguerrillo” which blends philosophy with design. The idea of the project is to make T-shirts with philosophical content. The project was initiated by a philosopher and a designer. Next, we presented the “Posodi avto” (Lend Your Car) by one of our coworkers Lev Piautzer. Samo Mirnik presented the “Balirka” company which provides a web application for the administrative needs of small businesses and self-employed professionals. The debate focused on the key "bureaucratic" needs of users like us who work independently or in small companies. There was also a presentation of the programme of »KSEVT« (Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies) which will open in Vitanje this autumn.
The "Excellent! You may sit down!" ideas that will be presented in the next session are published on our Facebook page a week in advance. Another project that was developed based on "Excellent! You may sit down!" discussions was the Sharing Day project.
V: Can you tell us more about the Sharing Day?
We wanted to organise a coworking event on the streets of Ljubljana, and invite people to join us and share their knowledge. Then the opportunity arose to cooperate with the CoFestival. Thus, we organised our event within the CoFestival at their venue. We wanted to identify, and bring all Slovenian sharing initiatives to one place, present them and conduct discussions on methods of work, and eventually declare June 1 as the Sharing Day. We translated the term "sharing" to "souporaba" (co-use) so that e.g. my neighbour too can understand that this is the day he can lend me his lawnmower, for example. The complete program of the Sharing Day and the initiatives presented there was published on our website.

Source: own archive

V: Why didn't you translate the term "coworking" to Slovenian as well?
At the Berlin conference last year we agreed not to translate the term "coworking" to other languages. The reason was to avoid confusion and to ensure unified use, e.g. to allow finding all articles and input on the topic quickly when browsing the web.

V: Are you planning any similar events in the future?
We are organising the first Slovenian coworking conference that will take place on 4 October at Kino Šiška. The main aim of the conference is to present coworking in detail, to show current global developments and host foreign guests who have been actively engaging in coworking for a longer time. If we fail to ensure sufficient funds to bring them to Ljubljana, the discussions with them will be conducted via Skype. The event also aims to establish regional cooperation - we are expecting our colleagues from Croatia, Italy and Austria.

V: Would you perhaps like to highlight another project you find interesting?
I would like to mention an experiment currently being conducted in the Netherlands, which commenced approximately a month ago. The experiment is being conducted in cooperation with 50 large Dutch companies that have decided to enable their 75,000 employees in total to work in coworking spaces which have been set up at these companies premises specifically for this purpose. Instead of going to their offices in the morning these employees go to an organised coworking space where they interact, learn about new projects and develop joint projects with employees from other companies.

V: How can we follow your future activities?
Our main communication channel is our Facebook page and I invite everyone to join us and participate in developing coworking in Slovenia.

Thank you very much, Luka.

In these globalised times horizontal structures open up entirely new possibilities for quick identification of new needs, development of science and knowledge for placing new products and services in the market. Coworking is another new form of cooperation resulting from redefined relationships in business and the society as a whole. I hope this will inspire you to make new steps towards a modern eco-civilisation and a thriving planet. 

For the Vibacom Team,

Kaja and Violeta