Marko, Co-founder of Poligon (Ljubljana), went to Prague in January 2017, to meet Locus and its team, through the European Creative Hubs Network and our Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). This is his article about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.
Instead of writing a dull report introduction, please allow me to present Ljubljana based Creative Centre Poligon which is one of main and most progressive bottom-up established collaborative hubs in Southeast Europe. Poligon is not only a coworking space as it could be quickly mistaken, but can be seen as a training ground for the self-employed and creative communities operating in the field of creative economies, social entrepreneurship and culture. In times of increasing precarious work, the collaboration of individuals from different fields is crucial, as it enables professional exchange and increases social security, which is very low in this particular work segment.
Because of that, Poligon almost exclusively focuses on self-employed and would like to develop and apply different strategies and tools that would help to accelerate the networks creation and work optimization process for its target group. Above that we believe that Poligon developed a model with the strong focus on community and its role in space development that could be recreated and reapplied in different environments. Thus, we invest a lot of time and effort in knowledge – both myself and other co-founders are curious researcher and are always striving toward new milestones that would enable us to develop further and potentially find new ways for enhancing the strength of collaborative communities, self-employed individuals and limit the share washing of new economies.
And this is how this my p2p story begun. Last autumn I had the chance to take part of first Creative Hubs Network conference in Belgrade, Serbia. Above expanding my network and meeting new, interesting people, I heard about p2p exchange programme and decided to apply on the first call. Few years ago, I briefly lived and worked in Prague, where I had the honour to meet prof. Will Bennis, founder of Locus Coworking Spaces. Both myself and Mr. Bennis are academics on one hand, but on the other also coworking space managers and community developers. The idea behind the application has been to share our academic knowledge, experiences and observations and also to share work experience mainly on the topic of community building and how to increase the inflow of so-called digital nomads to our spaces.
One of main Poligon’s goals is to become a hotspot for digital nomads from all across the globe. The city of Ljubljana has been widely undiscovered by mass tourism till recently and has experience a tourist boom just few years ago. Because of that we have seen a rapid increase of digital nomads who are coming to Slovenia for a couple of days and then deciding to stay for a prolonged period (e.g. few months) in order to work remotely. Poligon’s community has around 30-40% foreigners who are using our workplace premises on a daily or weekly basis. In comparisment – Prague has been a major tourist hub for almost two decades now and coworking spaces (namely Locus – two spaces, founded by Mr. Bennis) are applying different strategies to attract digital nomads to their workplaces. Moreover, Locus has been testing various tools (meet-ups, community gatherings, pitches, etc.) on how to increase participation in community activities by before mentioned digital nomads who are coming to the space as drop-in members and staying as full-time members plus on how to incorporate them in their network. Community building is a complicated process, especially if coworking spaces have a lot of members who tend to stay for only a short period of time.
Secondly, in 2015 both Locus and Poligon have been the stops of travelling community of freelancers, called Remote year. The mentioned community stayed in our coworking spaces for a month – while Poligon had some difficulties to fulfil all their needs, Locus has quickly adapted and soon afterwards again found itself as a host space. Travelling communities of digital nomads are on the rise and we are planning to establish potential collaboration with some of them. But first, we need to adapt our programme (i.e. community management, etc.) and our space (i.e. more private spots for conference calls, more tables, etc.). Mr. Bennis has provided a valuable insight on how they are managing these things at Locus. On top of that, we both shared the observations on how the travelling community with different sets of values and standards impacted our core communities at Locus and Poligon.
Besides the academic aspect of community development within open collaborative spaces such as coworking environments, I have been also looking at learning from Locus’ adaptable character to respond to an increasing flow of digital nomads. I have been essentially looking to experience and learn from their community management programme, as well as get inspired by the practical use of space. But instead only working on this, we have done much more – we are planning to establish a partnership relationship between Poligon and Locus and enable – similar to the Coworking Visa programme – our members to use spaces when staying either in Ljubljana or in Prague. Because of rather short stay in Prague, we haven’t managed to finalized the project, but we are keen to do so in the next month or two. Stay tuned!
Marko Orel Creative Centre Poligon