The advent of modern individualism, or a breeding ground for inventive forms of collaboration? Coworking and new ways of working are a hot topic. This effervescent sector calls for a closer look.
In the multiple coworking cafes blossoming in Silicon Valley, a complete stranger approaching a table in full conversational swing is not altogether rare. Over the heads of his modest audience, he launches, to no one in particular, an intriguing pitch: “Does anyone have any experience of coding in Arduino?” Nobody bats an eyelid. In these collaborative workspaces, this is as commonplace as a traditional “Heh, how are you?”. Hands are raised and ideas pour forth. Some exit the table for a few minutes for a private chat with the newcomer. Contact details are exchanged. A new project may be in the making. Or maybe not. No matter. This new contact will be dutifully filed, his latest news paraded on social media for his name to bubble to the surface as an idea takes shape.
There are no defined roles and no hierarchy, or very little, in this hotbed of creativity. The best mentors are those who can spare 15 minutes between planes to share their successes, but especially their failures. The host is over there, a young, girlish female sporting a t-shirt, discussing with a developer, whose fingers dance over the keyboard seemingly with a life of their own.
How does the magic happen? It is a trend spreading across the globe: in Europe, where France is by no means dragging its heels, but equally in emerging countries, the creative chaos in cafes in Bamako or Abidjan has a new name. New digital nomads, millennials are rebelling against management, packing their rucksacks and transporting their work space to Bali or Bangkok. We conjure a mental image of teenagers sitting cross-legged in a paradise setting, keyboard on their laps. They feature on Instagram under the hashtag #digitalnomads. We covet their precarious travels, financial tightrope and business plans, from the midst of paddy fields, deserts and jungles.
For a project to take shape, it takes two to tango. Since time immemorial, solitary geniuses have been forgotten in the annals of time. Networking, backers and associates provide much needed support. And for all these people to come together, the setting has to be just right. Virtual reality was touted as the means to revolutionise all this, but we are now realising there is no substitute for real space. Still an office, but not as we know it; a collaborative workspace, at close proximity to other complementary talents. Each one has a different sense of purpose and proposition. In Paris, Station F, the self-proclaimed largest startup campus in the world, offers 34,000m2 of workspace of inspirational design, complete with restaurants certain to draw crowds. In Bali, Hubud goes a step further, offering coliving quarters connected to the local entrepreneurial and collaborative networks. In Germany, Factory Berlin focuses on socialisation in an ideal setting. Each workspace offers varying levels of support, meetings and opportunities to collaborate. The fine line is not to impose too many constraints, so no uncompromising philosophies, or a target audience so limited as to cut yourself off from a vast universe of possibilities. For innovation is often born of the unpredictable and unexpected.
New digital nomads, millennials are rebelling against management, packing their rucksacks and transporting their work space to Bali or Bangkok.
Launched in June 2018, Quartier Libre is teeming with projects and draws partners in abundance, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte included. Three months after its launch, the space is already fully occupied. We met Arnaud Bassery, one of the two founders.
So what is Quartier Libre?
It’s essentially a space, so a vast playing field comprising two buildings, each yielding 1,000 m2. The first is a workspace offering coworking and training, while the second is devoted to events, complete with a Champagne bar, an innovation showroom, entertainment and conferences. There is a packed schedule of activities, in fact 80 are already planned in just four months. We try not to lay out in too much detail the events and plans featuring at Quartier Libre. We provide the space, gather the talent and let the magic happen! So on one side we have recruited 31 loyal partners, essentially large companies who have briefed us on their needs, while on the other side we host a constantly evolving ecosystem of talent, made up of freelancers and artists, whose skill sets could meet these needs.
How did you come up with the project?
We are both 30-something founders with diverse, slightly unconventional backgrounds. We are both originally from Reims, love our city, and wanted to give back to the community some of the opportunities we weren’t necessarily able to access when we started out. When I was travelling, I also visited a number of inspirational destinations, not only in London and New York, but also Abidjan and Bamako. But to be 100% inspired by a place is impossible; each location is shaped by the local population and its interests.
Do you think Quartier Libre meets real local demand, or is the proposition enough to incite demand?
It’s not always about meeting demand. Sometimes the unexpected concepts are the most popular. The simplest way is to give it a go: we wanted to offer something original, and for the moment, the fact we are at 100% occupancy speaks volumes.