Coworking spaces in small and medium-sized cities : the role of proximities for collaboration dynamics

Abstract : In recent years, we are witnessing worldwide the rapid spread of the practice of coworking and a growing attention towards it. These alternative spaces, inspired by counterculture, first appeared in large urban centres but they are also developing in small and medium-sized cities. The spread of this practice and the type of workers and businesses that use them fit the contemporary post-industrial organisation of work. The phenomenon of coworking in small and medium-size cities is underexplored and is worth considering. The research presented is related to a project called INTIMIDE, which aims broadly at understanding the role and characteristics of coworking spaces located in small and medium-sized cities. The purpose of the study presented is to shed light on the relational potential of physical co-presence among coworkers. To do so, we analysed coworking spaces from the viewpoint of the kinds of proximity that they involve. Previous literature on the advantages of co-localisation have pointed out that, in addition to geographical proximity, there are other forms of proximity fundamental to understanding the dynamics of collaboration and innovation. In the 1990s, the French School of Proximity Dynamics proposed different dimensions of proximity (Gilly & Torre, 2000; Torre, 2010). Five types of proximity are generally described (Torre, 2014, p. 90): they are called cognitive proximity (common knowledge bases and competences), organisational proximity (the extent to which relations are shared in an organisational arrangement), social proximity (the embeddedness of trust relations based on friendship, family ties and experience), institutional proximity (adherence of the economic actors to common rules, such as structures, laws, political rules, and to common values), and geographical proximity (Boschma, 2005). Adopting a proximity perspective, we studied the role of the co-presence of coworkers (geographical proximity) in the dynamics of collaboration among them (intra-space) as well as with external partners (extra-space), eventually by stimulating the establishment of other forms of proximity. We focused on the role of the different types of proximities in collaborative dynamics and collective innovation of coworking spaces located in small and medium-sized cities. In these peripheral territories, the extensive use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) by the coworking spaces’ actors enables an electronic proximity (Loilier, 2010) that may act as a substitute for either geographical or organisational proximity. Moreover, we include in our analysis an additional type of proximity called “opportunity proximity”, which refers to the fact that creative collaborations are often intuitive, based on fortuitous meetings and opportunities seized collectively (Horvath and Dechamp, 2016). We first analysed literature and documents on coworking and we participated in seminars and events on the topic. From December 2016 to July 2017, we then gathered information on coworking spaces in small and medium-sized cities in France (5 spaces in Brittany and 3 in Normandy) and Germany (2 spaces in Baden-Württemberg) by combining several qualitative tools: 36 interviews with both managers/owners and members of the spaces, consultation of documents, site visits, participation in events organised by the spaces. A first interesting aspect of coworking in small and medium-sized cities detected through our exploratory research regards the kind of workers hosted: previous studies have highlighted heterogeneity among coworkers in large urban centres from the point of view of their organisational status (Parrino, 2013). Similarly, the organisational realities observed in the studied spaces in small and medium-sized cities can be grouped into three types: 1/ freelancers, 2/ microbusinesses, and 3/ employees or self-employed workers, whose activity is done on behalf of a company based outside the coworking space. Second, the study highlights the possible relational implications of the co-location of workers within the same space and emphasises the role of coworking as a work context able to provide sociality to coworkers in small and medium-sized cities. Coworking spaces appear as environments in which relationships and interpersonal interaction can develop, not necessarily with effects in terms of professional relations and collaborations. More precisely, the analysis of qualitative interviews with coworking spaces’ actors shows that geographic proximity is not enough to generate collaborations and that other forms of proximities are required to activate proximities. Both cognitive proximity (for intra-space collaboration) and organisational proximity (for both intra- and extra-space collaboration) play an important role in inter-organisational collaboration. However, results also show that opportunity proximity makes collaboration easier and favours both inter-organisational collaboration and collective innovation. In addition, the study highlights that electronic proximity is important to overcome distances.
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Conference papers
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01721976
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Submitted on : Friday, March 2, 2018 - 6:05:25 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 6:30:12 PM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-01721976, version 1

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Gerhard Krauss, Anne-Laure Le Nadant, Clément Marinos. Coworking spaces in small and medium-sized cities : the role of proximities for collaboration dynamics. 2nd RGCS symposium, Research Group on Collaborative Spaces, Jan 2018, Londres, United Kingdom. ⟨halshs-01721976⟩

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