5 things I learned at a coworking ‘unconference’ in Bali

Stare at a scenic rice paddy while you work? Ok, thanks Hubud. PHOTO: Coconuts Bali

Coworking seems to be on the rise in Bali with more and more entrepreneurs and creative types (read freelancers) casting off their suit-tie combos and migrating to the chilled out Island of the Gods.

If you think coworking refers to working with your coworkers (as in people who work for the same company as you), then think again. In this context, coworking is trending as sharing work space among people who are not necessarily of the same company, job, etc.

It turns out, there are people totally nuts about coworking, enough in fact to hold a conference, or rather, “unfconference” as they coined it in Ubud just under two weeks ago at the first ever Coworking Unconference Asia (CUASIA) 2015.

As an outsider to the cult that is the modern day coworking community, here are five things I learned at the “unconference” hosted by Bali’s undisputedly coolest and most organized coworking space, Hubud.

1. Coworking people are largely counter-corporate, “escape the cubicle” folks

I seriously saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said “Cubicle Survivor.” The coworkers I encountered like to think of themselves as creative and innovative people who bust out of their cubicles, never to return to the confined penitentiary that is the corporate world. Why do you think they dubbed their event the “unconference?” Of course a regular old business conference would be too rigidly confining and boring, a reminder of the world that a lot of people who are into coworking have fled from.

Many coworkers see themselves as nomads, or “digital knowmads” to be more precise. They’ve got big ideas that they want to share with other exciting people who have a common zeal for getting out of the 9 to 5 trap.

Counter-corporate also means a lot of coworking enthusiasts are counter-corporate-style coworking, which apparently is a thing.

2. Coworking people are master networkers

This could probably be said of any conference-goer of any topic, but coworking people especially are master networkers. How many times was I even asked for a name-card before any small talk was made? A lot. It makes sense that coworkers are so into networking because it’s integral to their business to build up their communities as much as possible. Being social is at the very core of the coworking concept, so of course coworking enthusiasts would turn out to be great a socializing.

It was striking how many coworking space owners and managers told me they don’t want to compete with each other because they all have different styles and just want to compare notes.

3. There are celebrities in the coworking world

Wait, you don’t know who Grace Sai is? She’s only a Singaporean trailblazer in the region’s coworking scene and founder of the Singapore HUB. NBD. Alex Hillman? He’s only the “FATHER of coworking as we know it. Noted.

4. There’s major potential in Asia, and Indonesia specifically

Apparently coworkers see major potential in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. Google search coworking spaces in Asia and you will find all sorts of hubs in Singapore, Malaysia, Jakarta, Cambodia, and so on. Indonesia in particular is forecasted by a lot of these coworking aficionados to be a super happening environment for new spaces. Look at Bali for instance with Hubud in Ubud, Salty Volt in Canggu and Lineup Hub in Seminyak, to name the major players. The first day of the unconference was dedicated entirely to the Indonesian coworking scene.

5. Coworking means community

The vibe that the coworking unconference participants were giving off was an emphasis on community. Coworking space owners even had panel discussions on how to better engage their members and hold community events, rather than having members come in and out to use the fast internet and comfy furniture. Because really, if members just keep to themselves and don’t collaborate and interact with other members, than how’s that so different from working at home or in cubicle for that matter? A lot of coworking space owners seem to be fighting getting labeled as cafes and membership was a big discussion topic over the weekend.

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