PARIS – Coworking is making its way to France with sites catering to workers who want to get away from their homes or offices. Neo-Nomade.com is a French site that lets users find spots in their city to join the global trend and to collaborate on projects or create community outside of traditional work settings.
Coworking goes back to the turn of the century when the word first started to appear. The idea is for independent workers to meet in a common space to work, recreating an office setting for those who work at home. It became more mainstreamed in 2005 when San Francisco-based Brad Neuberg opened the Hat Factory, spawning hundreds of similar work centers across the US. The idea quickly spread overseas to cities like Berlin, creeping slowly into French culture over the past few years.
Neo-Nomade (Neo-Nomad in English) is one of the up and coming sites for coworking in France. Co-founder Baptiste Broughton is working on spreading the trend throughout the country. He met up with SmartPlanet while coworking at the Novotel hotel in the heart of Paris.
Broughton and his two colleagues search for and partners with spaces that are willing to welcome coworkers through Neo-Nomade. The idea is to find places with the necessary resources (Wifi, desks, etc.) in order for independent or at-home workers to have a more social working experience. Neo-Nomade currently lists over 400 addresses in Paris alone, ranging from Starbucks and cafés to libraries and private galleries.
While most public spots are free, some private spaces require users to pay a fee to join. Many places, like hotel bars, saw coworkers as squatters, though Broughton sees the concept as an important partnership for both parties. “Their interest is to invest in this opportunity,” he said.
With so much variety, where and how users work is entirely up to their own needs, making coworking a difficult concept for many to understand. “Coworking is a word that can say everything and nothing,” Broughton said. “People work on their own project but surrounded by community,” he said, something that many at-home workers crave.
Even salaried workers with offices are increasingly opting for a change of pace with coworking situations, though French culture isn’t entirely adapted to this arrangement. Strict managerial styles and a passive mentality among the French workforce still limit coworking to largely freelance communities. Workers need an example to follow before they’ll jump on board. “We need one or two major actors to show that it works,” Broughton said.
In addition to having social interactions, coworking also opens up the potential for collaboration. Though some people simply prefer to leave the house, others are searching new energy and inspiration that happens from talking with other creative types.
The idea of collaborating with others is not new. Aristotle and Plato were doing it long before anyone needed a website, Broughton said. Still, Neo-Nomade is part of a movement that includes creating Smart Work Centers and more organized collaborative efforts in spaces designed specifically for nomadic workers, both freelance and salaried office workers. Plans for such a center outside of Paris are already underway.
“Coworking is just the tip of the iceberg for this movement,” Broughton said.