Over the last decade, rapid advancements in cyber-infrastructure have forged new connections between people and places, in turn creating new and previously unforeseen channels for commerce and collaboration. From eBay and Craigslist to Uber and Airbnb, companies have capitalized on a new kind of hyper-connected consumer to cut down on transaction costs and better match supply with demand. At the core of this new business model is efficiency, what theDesk CEO Thomas Hui calls the utilization of “idle resources”. A new age of sharing, driven by the internet, has led experts to estimate that the global sharing economy will be valued at US$335 billion by 2025. Until now this trend has been fueled primarily by a digital phenomenon, but we see a new vision for the shared economy, one with roots on the ground in the form of physical hubs. Hubs that you may know as co-working spaces.
Humanity has been bartering, trading, and sharing assets for thousands of years, but the arrival of the internet and big data has rapidly accelerated this exchange of goods into a fully fledged global network of interactions, enabling what we call the shared economy to grow on a large scale. In brief, the shared economy is an economic model based on the peer-to-peer (p2p) activity of acquiring, providing or sharing access to goods and services via a communal platform and helping to better utilize idle resources.
New economy icons such as Uber and Airbnb have used this data to develop incredibly successful business models. Uber engages private vehicles that would otherwise go unused for 95% of their lifetime, while Airbnb’s utilization of empty homes gives homeowners the flexibility to supplement their income when their house would otherwise be empty. However, to take the sharing economy to a higher plane it’s crucial that companies don’t just act as digital middlemen. Instead, they must focus on solving the problems of engagement that exist when humans share and interact in physical space – workspaces, neighborhoods, and wider communities. The benefits of this on a human level are clear, for example in China 86% of customers say they like the convenience of sharing. However real-world sharing goes beyond the swipe and click of digital platforms, it is built upon the trust that is created through real relationships and community.
Looking back to a survey on the sharing economy from 2010, 75% of respondents predicted they would increase their sharing of physical objects and spaces in the next five years. However, in the same study, 78% of people listed trust as a major factor that may impact this decision. Almost a decade on, what are the key lessons we can take away from the development of this new economy?
Primarily, it’s that Trust doesn’t just happen, it must be built. Sharing platforms attempt to solve the issue of trust through reviews, but often only extreme views of one-time-users are the ones that stand out, distorting the bigger picture and leaving other users skeptical. In real life, trust is even more important and even harder to build. This is why co-working spaces, that engage with the wider community, are such a key foundation to building a physical sharing economy. By systematically connecting with surrounding neighborhoods, they enable their community members to develop trusting relationships that facilitate the sharing of idle resources.
For example, a local business may have a specialized 3D printer that they use for work, but it sits idle more than 75% of the time. By partnering with a local co-working space and giving members access to the equipment, the business finds a way to better utilize their investment, and members gain shared use of a new resource. By acting as a nexus through which a community of individuals can interact, the co-working space is able to foster trust and unlock the power of idle resources in local communities. Neighboring business gain the value of new connections, and can outsource their idle resources through a trusted partner, while members gain access to resources that can elevate their businesses – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship based on proximity.
As Thomas Hui explains, “Many existing companies in the sharing economy only solve the problem of matching supply and demand, however proximity can push the sharing economy to another level by solving the problem of reducing logistics costs.” While trust is fundamental to the development of a real-world sharing economy, this trust can only occur if people are interacting with one another regularly. Proximity and local community are key in enabling the aforementioned trust to be nurtured, and overall logistics costs to be reduced.
There are numerous digital interactions that can be made more efficient through the utilization of co-working spaces as a trusted community hub. For example, offering a safe place to store and pick up a key for a local apartment rental, or facilitating buying and selling on local marketplaces with a trusted place of exchange. The key is that coworking spaces can act as a physical manifestation of trust for communities.
We are entering a new phase of the sharing economy. The past few years have proved that digital trust can only go so far, as online reputation be easily falsified and manipulated. As such, we must recognize and prepare to usher in a new phase of the sharing economy: a system built on inclusive community, trust and proximity.
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