The CUAsia event at February 26-28, 2016 on Bali was a big success and very inspiring, as you have been able to read from the blogs by Lenneke van Rossum. Today in our series ‘Ten visionaries, one future’, we interview Stephanie Arrowsmith, who was one of the keynote speakers at CUAsia.

Stephanie is a digital nomad and consultant to social enterprises in Asia-Pacific, including StartSomeGood.com, a global crowdfunding platform for social impact initiatives. As a participant at last year’s CUAsia conference, she was back this year as a speaker to share her perspectives as a digital nomad in the region and the opportunities presented through this rapidly growing movement of location independence and coworking.
What does the term ‘coworking’ mean to you specifically?
To me, coworking means being part of a shared space where you do your work alongside a community of diverse people also doing work – across professions, industries and backgrounds – which enhances opportunities for collaboration, peer to peer support, friendships and a sense of belonging.
How would you describe the development of coworking in Asia?
Fast moving and diverse! Coworking is evolving to serve (primarily) two very different niches in Asia – the ‘digital nomads’ who are often foreigners in their host country and staying short-medium term in that community, as well as the local entrepreneurs, freelancers and startups wanting to be part of an innovative and collaborative environment. The idea of working sans-cubicle, in an open environment with less privacy is actually quite uncommon and foreign in Asia (in Indonesia at least!) as it challenges the traditional workplace hierarchal structures. I love that this movement is picking up though, as we break down power barriers in the workplace but also encourage more openness in terms of friendships and social interactions in the realm of work. Relationships drive business in this part of the world, so this will only encourage relationships to be created and fostered outside of traditional networks (e.g; through family, school etc)
How does this development relate to the rest of the world?
I think the rest of the world is entering coworking 2.0 (with Asia following to suit) in that coworking is not just for the individuals, freelancers and startups looking for an alternative to working home – but rather, embracing collaborations across sectors and inviting established organizations, government and corporations to participate in this movement. We’re also seeing a diversification of coworking spaces and niches – for impact, tech, women, youth etc – some standing alone, and other integrated into existing spaces like banks, universities, schools and so on.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the coworking movement worldwide?
We’re already seeing that the current definition of coworking has been stretched and more clarity will be required around the term ‘coworking’ as more niche styles and interpretations develop. More regulation will occur as the sector continues to grow, and this can be both a challenge and an opportunity.
What type of people does it attract?
People who see the value of collaboration and enjoy being part of a community they create. The reason coworking ‘works’ is because of the community – so those who participate in creating that community, benefit from it too. People who see value in collaboration and being around others are attracted to that value proposition, and it serves our human need of belonging. I think the biggest challenge though, is that people don’t know they need coworking – til they’ve tried it! I think is valuable to everyone, but those who are attracted to try it out are those who are open to collaboration.
What is the importance for people of being part of bigger collective?
Greater opportunities for serendipity, a sense of belonging and more accountability in our work and personal life. In my case, as someone who works independently, it fulfills my need for social relationships, building a network of awesome folks pursuing their passions and feeling accountable to others.
How do you envision the way we work in ten years from now and what will be the specific role of the coworking movement in this, according to you?
Wow. Ten years? Given how rapidly our current way of work has evolved I can only imagine it’ll involve teleportation devices between coworking spaces…kidding! But maybe more fluidity between coworking spaces as location independence grows for both individuals and companies – perhaps more effective passport or alliance systems the way airlines collaborate with one another. I hope that this trend of coworking indicates that on a whole, we WANT and NEED to work more collaboratively across sectors and with each other, so that’s a great cultural shift.
If you had to pick one favorite place to work in this world, where would it be?
Ooh that’s a tough one – I’ve been to many, many inspiring spaces particularly in Asia. However in general I like working close to nature, so productive spaces that have natural elements (gardens, water, open air) are always a winner for me. I also love working on trains to be honest – Long distance trips. There’s something about the changing scenery and sense of journey that comes with it. We have CoBoat already, can someone make a CoTrain already??
What is your life motto?
Live unbound.
Part of a larger manifesto that you can read here – but in essence it’s about finding adventure, challenging what is considered impossible and not allowing self limiting beliefs get in your way of achieving your potential. It also speaks to the ‘unbound’ lifestyle I choose to live – location independent. Living unbound in mentality and in lifestyle 🙂