Eyewitness to coworking

Future of work in innovating enterprise


Photo: Larrie Wanberg
This is the entrance to the coworking space, THE SANDBOX Santa Barbara, Calif. The enclosed area, an Airstream trailer, is a sound booth used for small team meetings.

Larrie Wanberg
Santa Barbara, Calif.

International Coworking Day on Aug. 8 at THE SANDBOX in Santa Barbara opened a whole new world for me to witness a global trend in the way a new generation is living, working, sharing ideas and events, and creating enterprise.

THE SANDBOX is a converted warehouse that houses state-of-the-art facilities for independent professionals to rent a desk or office, and offers a smorgasbord of resources to support individual interests. In addition, group events are sponsored and a kitchen area on the main floor encourages members to socialize while eating or participating in group social events. 

I go there at least twice a month to recharge my creative batteries, work on a community veterans project online, and learn about a wave of change happening worldwide. This movement is becoming the “new normal” for startups or for mobile entrepreneurs and workers who find working from home too isolating.

Internationally, coworking is rapidly expanding as a resource for entrepreneurs. In Norway, for example, there are 47 coworking facilities throughout the country, mainly in distributed population centers. One exception is a unique coworking lodge in the tiny fishing village of Tangstad, near the bottom of the Lofoten Islands, where adventures in nature include surfing, outdoor activities, and marvelous visual scenes in the land of the midnight sun. Visitors can spend a few days in motel-like facilities, or young entrepreneurs can stay for an extended time in bunking cabins as part of a “live-in” community of coworkers.

In Oulu, Finland, in September, a “Startup Weekend” gathered aspiring entrepreneurs together for 54 hours of speakers, judges, coaches and mentors to continuously shape and develop a few winning startups ready for launch and investment. The city is located on the shores of the Bay of Bothnia, where modern business and technology meet, bringing together the marketplace of the south and ideas from the openness and space of the Arctic region in the north. 

I attended a Startup Weekend last year at THE SANDBOX Santa Barbara, Calif., where ideas and energy filled the space, and outcomes were well beyond what can be attained traditionally. (I confess that I only participated for 48 hours, as I needed a few hours of sleep here and there, but it was a milestone experience that seeded development of a veterans project.)

Globally, coworking has a presence in 170 countries with at least 12,000 spaces. The industry has grown by about 200% in the past five years and is estimated to reach about five million coworkers in the next three years. Forbes reports that the five most beautiful coworking centers are located in repurposed historic buildings in Montreal, Mumbai, Hollywood, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. These successes are based on architectural design and furniture that create a warm and inviting environment for creative work. In Los Angles alone, there are 10 internationally networked coworking centers and another two dozen local or neighborhood coworking sites.


Photo: Larrie Wanberg
During Startup Weekends, participants can make a seven-minute pitch of their idea. Mentors, judges and investors are available for discussion. Finalists in several categories receive cash and prizes. The young student on stage is from Sweden and attends the SB Community College. His teammate is from Norway. They were one of the prize winners with a college social interactive platform for student activities.

The movement started in New York in 2010 when its founder, Adam Neumann, established WeWork.com. The concept expanded rapidly in other national and global locations, including China and Russia. Today, WeWork is connected to a network of over 500 locations in the 100 fastest growing cities, with over 5,000 employees. The company recently explored two test markets, with WeGrow in private education, and WeLive in communal apartments, but new management is slowing its expansion and considering some reorganization.

In 2011, Denver-based Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC, pronounced “juicy”) spread the concept through four-day training conferences and has since hosted dozens of conferences internationally in four languages.

As coworking became a trend for the future of work in the for-profit world, non-profit organizations began applying the concept to their work, promoting their services to different ages and settings, patterned after a co-op model and advances in interactive technologies that corporations often use for remote work.

In October, an advanced conferencing technology was released that enables virtual coworking in a number of applications. “Rooms” can be set up on a large digital screen so that a small group of occupants on laptops in one location can interact with a similar group of workers remotely. Individual subscribers exchange innovative ideas with independent faces displayed on a large digital screen in distant “rooms.” Likewise, a family group with individuals at remote sites who are interested in family history can work together on a digital screen to memorialize an ancestor from a personal perspective that they have researched or once knew.

In California, all public libraries provide space and tools for patrons to do independent work surrounded by resources. A few weeks ago, I was at the ribbon-cutting for a “Veterans Connect” room, wherein an individual veteran can link and interact with anyone or any resource anywhere.

Seniors, too, are following this trend that offers innovative services. An online service called The Senior Planet Exploration Centers provides tutoring and applications for older citizens to join the digital generation. The Brooklyn-based non-profit, Older Adults Technology Service (OATS), has opened in six states over 15 years and given 43,000 classes to aid seniors in benefiting from tech tools in their daily lives. OATS is now planning to branch out internationally.

Retirement centers and assisted-living facilities are starting to offer ways for grandparents to interact with grandchildren at scheduled weekend times. Clubs on the social activities calendar can exchange conversations with other clubs in a visual network.

The “Vetrepreneurs” program by the American Legion is a university-based outreach to veterans of all ages. I’m involved with a startup project called Platinum Veterans that helps those older than 70 who are living in retirement or independent living facilities to continue in community services with families facing health issues. Platinum Veterans is projected to provide volunteers to programs like Bravehearts Enterprises, that supports families facing pediatric cancer.

In the assisted-living facility where I’m currently living, following surgeries, a computer room is being converted to a “tool library”—an innovative outreach service of libraries in Seattle. In Santa Barbara, tech tools and tutoring by students introduce the resident assisted-living population, with a median age of 92, to the new-age world where their grandchildren and great-grandchildren live and work. On Sunday afternoons, a simulated “eSandbox” connects residents to an online community of family members. On weekdays, opportunities are almost unlimited to participate online in hobby activities, games, learning, community service, and a host of personal interests.

Digital citizens face pros and cons by participating in the world of the internet. The value of new tools and services are the product of growth and wellbeing, outweighing the downside of risk and avoidance. The major benefit, though, is the freedom of choice.

The purpose of a sandbox in a child’s mind is to construct an imaginary thought that is shaped by one’s hand in the sand. For seniors today, THE SANDBOX Santa Barbara is a way for all generations to create something from an idea or grow an enterprise that is expressed at one’s fingertips on a keyboard.

This article originally appeared in the October 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.