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The Evolution & Future of CWSC 2023: Insights from Marc Navarro

Helga Moreno
Helga Moreno
The Evolution & Future of CWSC 2023: Insights from Marc Navarro

Are you curious about the upcoming Coworking Spain Conference in Valencia on May 9-10 and the excitement it's generating in the coworking industry? To shed some light on the event's history, objectives, and unique features, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Navarro, a renowned consultant in coworking and organizational development.

As the content director of the Coworking Spain Conference, Marc shared his insights on the conference's evolution, goals, and highlights, giving us a glimpse of what to expect in Coworking Spain 2023. Read on to discover more about this exciting event and its impact on the coworking landscape in Spain and beyond.

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in coworking?

Most people don't know I have a background in product and service design. I worked as a designer and in engineering departments developing lighting or machinery and I have always been committed to solving problems and that required working closely with the people actually building what we had drawn. If you don't listen and help them when in trouble you won't be able to ask them to trust or help you when you need that (and you are going to need that at some point). I also had bad bosses who taught me what not to do, but even from those, you can learn positive things. In those years before coworking, I renovated two of the offices I was working in.

Marc Navarro, Chief of Content of Coworking Spain Conference

Coworking for me is the meeting point of people, technology, and design, both physical and service.

So it's an industry in which I can mix some of my passions. In the beginning, it was an industry where you can explore a lot of fields, everything was less organized or structured and it gave me the opportunity to investigate a lot of fields and I guess that was a huge bonus for me and hooked me up to the niche.

2. What is the story of the CWSC? How it all started?

Manuel Zea is the one that can talk about that better than me as he's the founder of both Coworking Spain and the CWSC (Coworking Spain Conference). But as a fast summary back in early 2012 Manuel launched a proposal to create a coworking conference in Spain on Facebook. There was nothing: he just wanted to see if there was interest in the subject after he attended the Coworking Europe Conference. The response was so good that he organized the conference from the US (he was coming back to Spain just one month before the conference).

After the first conference in 2012 in Madrid, the CWSC moved to other cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, and Alicante. My first conference was in 2013 and in 2016 CREC was the host of the conference (I was working for them at that moment). 2017 was my first edition as the content manager of the event.

A lot has changed from those early days, and the event evolved in the same way the industry did. In every edition, Manuel tried to improve the conference and that was what made me become in love with the conference and wanted to be involved in the organization.

I would say that my favorite editions have been 2019 in Alicante for the attendee count and 2022 because it was the first in-person conference in three years and in the event you can feel the people were craving for it.

Coworking Spain Conference

3. What are the main goals of the conference?

  • We always try to provide a full snapshot of the flexible space industry.

We do love coworking but we understand since 2015 the "coworking industry" is a hot topic in the conference, or in other words, the business model, operations, and financial schemes of coworking spaces are every time more important in the flexible workspace industry. We understand that a good conference must show the full picture of what's going on and what's next to come to the market.

  • Our second goal will be to help move the operators forward.

We use our platform to push for the necessary changes in the industry and make operators see things they might ignore, or are tempted to ignore because they are too focussed on the day-to-day operations.

For example:

In CWSC 2022 we had a talk from the Cowork Café from Banco Santander. Some operators texted me in real time saying they didn't like the talk, etc. My reply was (and still is) I gave you no alternative talk because I do think you have to listen to this. Of course, you are free to leave the room and have a coffee but I don't want you to tell me in 5 years "Oh Marc! You didn't warn us about this".

The story behind this is that operators usually don't reevaluate their value proposition and the reasons are quite diverse. I would say most of the time is about rethinking what they do and how they do it. I think they are sometimes not fair when evaluating competitors' advantages.

I would love to see more self-criticism and more creativity to deal with their own weak points.

  • On the other hand, there's something else: a conference must become a meeting point for operators.

The two days of the CWSC and the day of the FlexWork Academy is the only moment during the whole year when the managers and staff are surrounded by people who share their worries, pains, and scope. The CWSC is where they find their peers and meet their community. To achieve this you have to create an environment to make everyone feel welcome, veterans and newcomers alike.

Back in 2019, we started a new path to make the conference more accessible to an international audience. We had simultaneous translation in the main stage. In this edition, we also do that and we can say that 80% of the content will be in English in order to make the conference accessible to everyone. The challenges coworking and operators face are global, so everything discussed in CWSC can be applied to Holland, the UK, Serbia, France, Germany, or any other European country.

  • Our goal is to achieve 100% of the content in English in the future while we keep our authentic feeling by doing that with simultaneous translation.

Currently, 25% of our attendees are international but we would like to see that figure increasing in the following years as we know the content and the experience works for them because they keep coming back.

4. What topics do you usually discuss?

We cover coworking and coliving (we introduced coliving back in 2017). To be more specific, what we do is create a meaningful content mix: we have big and huge operators talking as well as small players. We mix speakers from big cities with speakers from smaller cities too as we understand the contexts and markets are really different.

2023 is going to be a very interesting year and at the conference, we try to make a snapshot of what's going on in the industry. A few of the subjects we are interested in are

  • How WeWork is growing currently, and how they adapted their previous ultra-fast growing strategy.
  • We also are very interested in understanding how IOS Offices is leading the Mexican market: the biggest one in LATAM.
  • We are going to talk also a bit about management contracts and why an operator should choose (or not choose) a historic building to create a flexible workspace.
  • If you are more on the real estate side you can listen to the biggest real estate companies in Spain Merlin Properties and Colonial (both own flexible workspace brands) talk about how they see the market or listen to an independent player in Barcelona that just expanded to its fourth location in the city.
  • And we will revisit the coworking in rural areas with, I hope, a new twist trying, as we always do, to have an honest clear approach leaving the hype outside the event doors.
  • And of course, as we always do since 2017, some coliving content.

Attendees of the Coworking Space Conference

But keep in mind this is only a fast summary as there are very interesting talks that I didn't mention and the best way to discover CWSC is to take a look to the actual program by yourself.

5. Who would benefit from attending the conference the most?

The conference is designed to be useful for operators, not only in Spain but all over the world, especially in Europe. We are in our 12th edition and we know one thing or two.

We create a conference for the people managing coworking spaces.

We like how a CEO of a space of more than 40K square meters can help a small operator with his vision and useful advice.

We also like how employees which reached the industry quite late and do not have contact with the traditional operators become impacted when they meet the old guard.

I think we help to create an environment in which operators can share thoughts, worries, ideas and keep moving the industry and their spaces forward.

We created specific talks for small operators to help them evolve in environments that lack the density to become big operators in the traditional sense.

Our content in the coliving part section also increased so attendees in that sector can benefit from the conference but I have to say the content is more on the side of coworking.

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6. How did Covid-19 impact Coworking Spain Conference?

I think that almost as everywhere. The impact was huge, most operators didn't know what to do at the beginning of the pandemic and they tried their best to keep their businesses running.

Small spaces and the ones with a higher percentage of members on monthly contracts were the first to suffer the blow. Later that year and in early 2021 the spaces with a higher percentage of longer contracts (6-12 months) started to feel a high impact but the good news for them is they had a longer time to get ready for that. Discounts and the fight for every lead have been the new normal for those days. But after the summer of 2021, the discounted prices given during the pandemic started to be a thing of the past.

The industry in Spain adapted to the pandemic recovering rates for more flexible use. These rates, which existed many years ago, are now adapted to a world of apps, and to a client more used to consuming a service world in which they can pay-as-you-go hassle-less transactions. These services saved many spaces which failed to sell memberships until the summer of 2021.

2022 was going quite well and I think the future is bright now that some companies are welcomed in the 21st century and are allowing their employees to work remotely, but in Spain, there's a long path still to be walked in this sense as many companies are reluctant to allow remote work or limit it a lot.

Today, in 2023, 40% of the tenants still have pre-covid contracts which will be renewed mainly in the following two years and the situation is far from stable: employees don't want to commute and there's a fight over that.

7. How is Coworking Spain 2023 different from the previous gatherings?

I would say this is the first post-pandemic event that will be "truly normal". We feel an increase in interest from the international audience which I think is cool because it may help our traditional attendees to gain a wider scope in their views and the international attendee to get a local point of view and to discover a great community of coworking and flex work professionals.

8. What is the biggest CWSC challenge atm and how do you overcome it?

I don't know if Manuel would agree but I feel it is the translation effort we are making in the last two physical editions. In 2019 and 2022, the translation was sponsored to make the conference accessible to attendees who don't speak Spanish. As you know, with a bit of tweaking here and there, we achieve an 80% of the content in English and we think now we are actually an option to get nice flexible workspace content in Europe.

In this edition, we will be translating the content although no one is sponsoring (yet) this. We do believe the content is good and useful enough to come to Valencia, but we should keep an eye on the number of attendees that are using the service to make it sustainable as we don't need to rely on sponsors to be able to do it.

9. What is your top prediction for the coworking industry in 2023 and beyond?

The pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already there: the flexible workspace industry will continue growing. As more and more companies enter operators will create more types of spaces, agreement types, and different types of services to suit each special need. Big operators will no longer offer dedicated desks positions opening opportunities for a different kind of operator to blossom offering these services.

10. How do you see the conference in 5 years? What is your most optimistic development plan?

What I would like to see is the conference to find a place in the heart and minds of more European space managers.

The CWSC is NOT a conference for Spaniards: it is the coworking conference that takes place in Spain.

We are fighting this idea that it is a local conference because we know that the people who visit once get in love with it and return every year. But if you ask me to be more specific I would say I would like to have a 350-400 attendees conference in which we can add more content, more one-on-one sessions, and have a wider impact in the industry not only in Spain but all over Europe. I would like that the effort we do to curate content and the work we do together with the speaker is not confined to the Spanish market but to the whole continent.

Our commitment will be the same: offer a snapshot what the industry looks like today, what to expect from tomorrow and creating an environment to gather around an industry we all love. The only difference is that we will do that not only for spaniards and a 25% of attendees from abroad but for people all over Europe.

What I can tell you is that we do not disappoint: just come and judge by yourself!

Have more questions for Marc or need his professional consultation? Check out his website: Want to get more info about the coming conferences?

Check out this article: Top 18 Coworking Conferences to Visit in 2023.

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