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Leaving home: coworkers reap benefits of office use

Every edition we assess an emerging aspect of French zeitgeist. This month: freelancers who share office space, by Jane Hanks

Coworking is becoming an increasingly popular way to work, so that even if someone is self-employed they can leave home to go to the office where they can meet up with other people, both socially and for business contacts. They will rent a place in a shared office, instead of working from home or renting expensive premises.

The concept and the word coworking was used for the first time in 1999, by Bernie de Koven, an American game designer and it quickly took off in Anglo-Saxon countries.

Now it has also become an established alternative way to work in France, and the number of available spaces has multiplied by ten in the past five years. When the government asked for a study into coworking in France this year they thought there were 600 centres, but discovered there were 1,800, including just over 400 Fablabs which offer shared technical equipment, rather than just a desk.

The author of the report, Patrick Levy-Waitz told Le Figaro he had been surprised by the huge growth in this field: “What was also striking, was the extent to which the way people work is important to them. There is a significant desire to create something different.”

As a result of this report into what official documents call tiers-lieux, the government has recognised it as a way to attract new businesses and workers in low employment areas and has promised to invest €110million over three years from 2019. The aim is to create 300 centres in small and medium sized towns, rural areas and deprived city suburbs.  The report found that at present the vast majority are in Paris, with the Nouvelle-Aquitaine in second place.

A coworking space, Le 400 in Brive-la-Gaillarde, welcomes the new government investment: “We are happy! Happy for us, because we need support, but happy for all the places in France, which believe, like us, that there is another way to work.”

Their slogan is “A place where you feel at home even though you are at the office.”

Sabine Chouffour works designing heating systems in eco-housing and says she really appreciates Le 400. “I worked at home for eight years but then wanted to be in contact with other people again. Here it is affordable, so I come three days a week and it is interesting to meet other people with different jobs and we talk about a whole range of subjects.”

Micha Cziffra is a translator: “I have been able to get involved in new projects. When you want to work people respect that, but there is always someone to chat to when you have a break.”

You can rent a desk with free access to WIFI for €9 a day, €125 for one month, or €100 a month if you agree to stay there for a year. is a website which posts spaces to rent. It has studied 600 coworking spaces and found that coworkers are made up of freelancers, start-ups and small businesses. However, 20% of places are rented by big companies, who need to send an employee to another location, for a short period of time, for example. Reasons given for people to cowork were firstly to meet people and develop networks, secondly for the situation and to have access to good working conditions and thirdly the price.

A real estate market research company JLL study says the coworking market has seen an 80% increase in operator activity in coworking between 2016 and 2017 and says there is no reason to think this trend is slowing down.

The report points out that in the UK, there are now 3,300 centres, far more than in France, and the growth in independent workers will demand more and more coworking structures. Eurostat figures show the number of freelancers has grown from 700,000 four years ago to 830,000 in 2017 and that by 2030 independent workers will make up between 13 and 14% of the working population, many of whom might prefer to go out to work in a shared office space, rather than staying at home.

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