Experiences and Predictions on Coworking

Kane Willmott, current president of the Global Workspace Association and Co-Founder and CEO of iQ Office Suites, said that for him, the GWA is all about giving back.

Willmott started out as a real estate broker, only transitioning into coworking about six years ago. He attended the 2012 GWA conference in Baltimore while he was in the midst of opening his first coworking site in Toronto. Having come from the real estate industry, where a combination of privacy guidelines and industry norms create a culture of guarded information, Willmott said he was shocked by how open other attendees were.

“Everyone at that conference was so generous with information and their time,” he said. “Through my relationships that I got through the GWA and through the conferences, I was able to navigate around some really big potholes… It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

After that conference, Willmott went all in, and when he was approached about joining the board, he jumped on the offer. “I saw that as an opportunity to give back to the association that really had just given me so much,” he said.

The changing face of coworking

Willmott said he sees much of the openness within the coworking community as a result of the newness of the field itself. “There are so many more stakeholders at the table now and it’s growing so fast,” he said.

“Even the big guys at the end of the day are trying to figure it out,” he added. Willmott explained that although coworking and similar flexible office models are seeing an explosion in their industry, this niche does not have the benefit of a long history like similar industries. While fields like the hotel industry have years of experience and best practices to draw on, the key stakeholders in the coworking industry are all working together to determine those norms.

This need in the industry, Willmott said, is part of what makes the GWA so important. “It’s a place where the operators can go and meet other operators,” he said. “It’s really the place where questions get answered.”

As an example, he explained how his discussions with other GWA members helped him avoid pitfalls in the financial structure for his coworking company. While trying to navigate a complicated financial structure for his own business, Willmott said another member of the GWA told him, “Once you hire the right person, and you have them working on this and this and this and this, then it will all turn around for you.” This member was able to point him to the key deliverables to be watching for when considering hiring a bookkeeper. Willmott said the advice he received did indeed prove true: many of the problems they were experiencing were alleviated once he was able to identify what the company needed in a new hire and then recruit and hire that person.

Many perspectives

As president of the GWA, Willmott brings a unique perspective to the board. “I’ve set on pretty much every side of the table as far as coworking space,” he explained. Willmott has worked as a broker, a landlord, an accountant, and a space operator. He has negotiated deals from multiple perspectives and can bring his knowledge of both coworking and the surrounding industries to bear as he helps other GWA members succeed.

Willmott said he actually joined the coworking industry because he was looking to leave third-party brokerages.

“We really wanted to build something,” he said of his company at the time. After looking at other potential business models, including self-storage, he said an investor introduced them to the coworking business model. He and his business partner, Alex Sharpe, were able to bring their previous skills as a brokerage into the equation—with great success.

“We leveraged a lot of our skill sets,” he said. “There was still a lot to figure out, but we had some key skill sets that lent well to this business.”

He said his goal as president has been to use these skill sets to offer perspective and mentorship to newer members and to advocate for all members of the coworking industry—and better communication among them.

“We all get better by sharing the information,” he said. “You get that back, what you share.”

The future of coworking

Willmott also said he’s seeing exciting trends as coworking continues to evolve and grow.

“There’s a huge shift in the way that people are consuming office space,” he said, noting that while coworking used to serve primarily small businesses and independent freelancers, the new, service-based model appeals to larger and larger clients.

He predicts this shift toward larger clients will lead to more collaboration between operators and landlords since both will be going after the same customer. However, he said coworking will also continue to service the small businesses and independent contractors as well, though—only now with more resources, thanks to increased capital flowing into the industry from larger clients.

He also predicts that the GWA will continue to lead the way in the growth and change ahead.

“As that shift happens, we’re going to be at the forefront of it,” he said, noting that the GWA’s surveys of the field and regular communication with key players allows them to almost “predict the future,” helping companies understand and predict trends in their respective corners of the market.

For Willmott, the value of the GWA isn’t primarily in the trends or the predictions, however; it’s in the relationships.

“The relationships that I’ve made from the GWA have been amazing relationships with people who have been so generous with their time,” he said. For him, interacting with operators, landlords, and others across the coworking industry is really about saying “thank you” for everyone who has and continues to invest in him, his coworking spaces, and his business.

Get to know Kane with a fun Q&A

1) Tell us something unexpected people wouldn’t know about you

I am a big kid. I love to play and explore – I love Skiing (like a teenager), surfing and dirt biking.

2) What is your favorite hobby?

I like to build things. I find it relaxing. Every spring I seem to get the itch. Last year it was a motorized winch that pulls our kids on a wakeboard across ponds. This year I built an in-deck trampoline in our backyard (back to that big kid thing). That said, there are still some items on my wife’s list which I haven’t gotten to yet.

3) Which group/musician was your first concert?

Guns and Roses – Still love that band.

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