Social Capital – the New Currency of Coworking
Could Social Capital be the New Currency of Coworking?
In remote train station locales, empty school classrooms, excess office spaces, and 60 other locations throughout Europe, Seats2Meet offers “free” coworking space in underutilized spaces. But free isn’t no strings attached, it’s the sharing of social capital, or your business model, intentions and the like to nearby neighbors and aspiring workers you share your space with. Approximately 20% of Seats2Meet are reserved for sale through social capital. The strings: those who utilize the social capital pay process are required to help their neighbors with their projects and to network; this collaboration thus far has been a success. Seats2Meet boasts over 1 million booked seats in 6 countries, free cancellation, 301 meeting spaces and nearly 2,000 free workspaces.
Currently, 95% of their coworking spaces are available in the Netherlands, but the European country is looking to expand based on the results of their social capital pay system. The spaces are a mixture of permanent and temporary locations: from extra space in train stations to school classrooms in the summer, Seats2Meet offers 3 types of spaces and claims to “bring the supply and demand of knowledge together” by bringing together all types of independent workers. Independent workers fill out an online application once they arrive on site for their day, dictating what their interests are, as well as what projects and expertise they’d be able to lend a hand to if a neighbor was in want of help. That’s the social capital aspect of Seats2Meet.
Is Social Capital the Future?
Seats2Meet is looking to expand outside of Europe, possibly even into North America, and 61-year-old CEO Ronald van den Hoff currently sees no reason why the 20/80 social capital business model wouldn’t be as effective in America as it has demonstrated itself to be in Europe thus far. But Breather founder Julien Smith has some doubts. “They’re competing with every seat in the world,” Smith said. “A park bench, a local cafe, sitting on the stoop outside a building. It’s very hard to offer a high-priced service and aggregate demand when competition is a $5 coffee.”
Coworking has its roots in the U.S. since 2005 when the first space became available in San Francisco, and the trend has quickly escalated to cities across the nation; but while there are many coworking spots in any city of your choice, free coworking, in exchange for knowledge capital, is a novel innovation if it does spread to the States. But the company couldn’t subsist solely on the notion of social capital as compensation. Their loose franchise system requires that the 80% of coworking spaces they own do pay a fee, and that 2 euros from each seat is sent back to headquarters as payment. Larger organizations can also reserve permanent meeting rooms on a monthly basis.
Wix – North American offline Marketing Manager Sandy Selinger calls social capital a “lower case” ‘free’” due to the fact that often, systems which offer free space ask for fairly definite things in return. “I would call it lower-case ‘free,’ because there is usually some level of contribution,” Selinger said. “Sometimes it’s paying for more elaborate services, and in other cases it’s a matter of actually helping in managing the coworking space itself.” An example of this type of system is embodied by Dallas Fort Worth, a coworking company which requires that members who use the space for free work their front desk for one day out of the week, with the intention of operating at a lower cost as a whole. Dallas Fort Worth founder Oren Saloman places doubt on Seats2Meet’s model, citing a possible divide between paying and non-paying coworkers. When not expecting economic capital, companies which rely solely on social capital may ask workers to promote them via social media — as Seats2Meet currently does not have a PR or marketing team — and other ways to recoup the possible losses of not charging physical money for rental space.