When I decided to live and work in Barcelona this summer, I had no idea what the concept of “collaborative economy” was. After just a few days in the city, I soon realized that this type of business practice has emerged as a very significant part of the culture and the economy of not just Barcelona, but many cities across the world.
A collaborative economy is one in which businesses are based on horizontal practices and the participation of the community. This type of model runs on trust and closer relationships between the producer and the consumer.
The collaboration is often virtual, interacting with online networks and building communities of people from around the world. However, many cities also utilize in-person, peer-to-peer networking and interaction between companies based in the same area.
In many places, this type of collaborative economy has arisen from problems and downfalls in the existing economies, and people have had to take their careers into their own hands.
For example, Barcelona was not immune to the recent financial crisis in Spain, and it has affected the employment of people all across the city. The youth and recently educated are among the highest affected, with the unemployment rate for those under 25 close to 50%.
This sparked the rise of startups: young entrepreneurs trying to make their new business ideas big enough to take off in a struggling city.
But it’s hard—these people are brave enough to risk it all by starting their own companies based on an idea in their heads, but they have little money, no employees, and limited resources. That’s where the culture of coworking within a collaborative economy was born.
Coworking spaces are a type of office building that offer spaces for entrepreneurs and startup companies to rent. These are no normal office buildings however, as they are usually shared spaces where people can work together. They often offer large tables or couches where independent workers are side-by-side with others who have the same values and are working toward similar goals.
So why would someone who is starting a company choose to pay to rent one of these spaces instead of traditionally working from home or a local coffee shop?
The coworking environment is about so much more than just renting a space to work. It is about establishing a community through this social gathering of people who have similar aspirations for their personal and professional lives.
Coworking is a vital aspect of the collaborative economy because it builds relationships and allows producers and consumers to feed off of one another’s ideas in order to grow and develop.
Coworking provides a place for people to escape the isolation of being the sole employee of their company, and to avoid the distractions of a noisy cafe. It also serves as an outlet to begin networking or ask for advice from other successful business owners who just started out not so long ago. Many of these communities also organize casual coworking events where people can get to know each other outside of business hours, making their relationships stronger and less formal.
This environment is not for everyone, but it is important to note that there are many different types of coworking, and they do not solely exist in Barcelona. There are large and small spaces, virtual coworking communities, themed environments (such as where all companies are sustainable), and even live-in networking spaces where you can rent a shared room that comes with all amenities.
No matter what type you choose and in what city across the world, the culture of coworking has the same objective—to build productive communities and to collectively help one another succeed within the competitive nature of society.
A collaborative economy is also based on the idea of “collaborative consumption,” which is basically the way communities and cities use networks for resource circulation or the exchange of products and services without the use of large corporate companies.
Recent technology has reinvented collaborative consumption with popular websites and networks such as Airbnb, Zipcar, and Jayride. These sites make it possible to share, swap, trade, rent, or borrow while allowing the consumer to switch roles between “provider” and “obtainer” and vice versa.
There are many different developments within the concept of a collaborative economy, but they all recognize the importance of community building within a city, a network, or a worldwide collaboration. As the community becomes more closely involved in businesses, consumers are able to get what they need from each other rather than from large corporations.
I have only been living in Barcelona for a few weeks, but I have already witnessed the effects of the collaborative economy. It has emphasized the importance of community building and led to the culture of coworking and a change in the way businesses are operating in this city, as well as all around the world.
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