A Digit-funded research project investigating the role of co-working spaces in digital rural futures has held a workshop with over 50 operators, policymakers and researchers.
Traditionally, co-working has been associated with freelancers, often in the creative and digital sectors of the economy, and usually based in bigger cities. Professor Gary Bosworth, Principal Investigator for the project, supported by Digit’s Innovation Fund, explained:
“Rural areas now host a great diversity of co-working venues with a range of business models. Some are small, community-run groups with spaces designed to feel homely and relaxed; others are more outward facing, trying to capture new professional in-migrants or visitors to rural areas”.
The workshop heard that public sector models are more likely to incorporate business incubator services and training events while community models include mixed uses from cafés and art galleries to music lessons and wedding fairs.
This diversity can be a real strength for rural areas as co-working will reflect the needs of local people and stimulate new community-oriented networks. Co-working communities can strengthen the external identity of their towns or villages too. However, diversity could become a weakness if it results in a heavily fragmented rural co-working sector or if some people feel their needs are poorly served by a distinctive local venue. Furthermore, if homeworkers as well as freelancers increasingly engage in co-working, employers’ expectations for a certain type of workspace with particular facilities might lead to greater pressure for standardisation.