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VillageOffice is conquering communities

The VillageOffice cooperative is bringing work back to where we live, perhaps soon to the commuter community Bischofszell. Photo: John Patrick Walder
The VillageOffice cooperative is bringing work back to where we live, perhaps soon to the commuter community Bischofszell. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Less commuting, upgraded locations, creating communities: more and more regions are discovering the advantages of coworking spaces (shared public offices) in their future planning – and require support in the process. The young cooperative VillageOffice meets this need and is therefore expanding its business.

Remo Rusca is on tour. The VillageOffice partner fills community halls and village pubs – almost weekly. He speaks to party presidents, business representatives, club boards and citizens about coworking and the benefits of local coworking spaces, resulting in hesitant nods, lots of laughter, usually applause at the end, and at least the participants’ realisation that this kind of a space in their community would not be such a bad idea.

Coworking as a location advantage

But let’s start at the beginning. Rusca’s current venue is Bischofszell in Canton Thurgau. This community of almost 5900 inhabitants is part of the Regionalplanungsgruppe Mittelthurgau, the Central Thurgau Regional Planning Group, where Rusca has also been a guest speaker. During that location development conference, there was a discussion on how federal funds could be used to do research on coworking spaces in the respective communities. “The initial scepticism among the mayors present vanished when VillageOffice presented impressive facts about commuter flows,” says Bischofszell’s mayor Thomas Weingart. The former journalist had briefly researched the subject of coworking and was then quickly convinced by Rusca’s comments. “Economic development falls into my remit anyway and a coworking space could make our community more attractive. So I contacted VillageOffice and asked for support.”

“Now it is a matter of defining a strong ‘why’.”

Remo Rusca

Remo Rusca and his team carried out a feasibility study with 22 community decision-makers. Result: the demand for a coworking space is there, as are individuals to build up and affect a coworking community. The task now is to inform the people of Bischofszell about the VillageOffice concept and to determine their needs – or, as Rusca calls it during the golden circle based on business consultant Simon Sinek’s strategy, “to define a strong ‘why’”. He makes it clear to Thomas Weingart from the beginning: “We can offer you consulting, but you have to know what you need and then build up the space and the community accordingly.”

Mayor Thomas Weingart and VillageOffice partner Remo Rusca on a tour of the town of Bischofszell. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Mayor Thomas Weingart and VillageOffice partner Remo Rusca on a tour of the town of Bischofszell. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Sought-after consultants

Mayor Weingart and VillageOffice partner Remo Rusca discuss the final details over a sandwich in the city garden. Then the tour continues on to a table in the local cultural bistro, where a few elderly citizens are already waiting for the doors to open. The occasion: “InForum”, an information and discussion event recently launched by Mayor Weingart. Today’s main topic: VillageOffice. “It’s about getting a feel for how our idea is being received by the people of Bischofszell,” says Rusca as he connects his laptop and makes final preparations for his talk. He seems relaxed – such presentations and consulting assignments are currently routine for him after all. Various regional planning groups, which coordinate and promote spatial development and cooperation among the associated communities, have discovered VillageOffice and the deeper meaning behind the new company and are now enjoying the support of Rusca and his colleagues as part of a future-oriented location promotion project.

Adapting the business model

This has generated a main source of income that the young company had not really planned on originally. “With its consulting, which also includes the real estate market, VillageOffice supports the demand for its original offering, helping to expand the infrastructure as it does so,” explains Leila Hauri-Stieger, who is in charge of the project on behalf of the Engagement Migros development fund. “That’s actually pretty smart. That’s why we supported and provided our own consulting to VillageOffice in adapting its business model: an open culture of learning is very important to us.” The development fund makes it possible for its projects to respond to circumstances and answer market reactions, for example. “Our projects are pioneering and should be agile. We support them in this,” says Hauri-Stieger.

And so the network of coworking partner spaces is constantly growing; it already comprises 57 locations, from Geneva to Scuol, from Altdorf to Lake Constance. VillageOffice places great importance on only including those locations that are demonstrably oriented towards the values of coworking. But its focus is still on the original business idea: companies can make the constantly growing network of partner spaces available to their employees by taking advantage of various motivational options. They want to remain attractive as employers and test new forms of work – out of the conviction that the company benefits from the improved quality of life of its employees. Videos about their experiences have already been made with employees and decision-makers at Tetra Pak and HHM.

VillageOffice has developed a new tool so that companies can inform themselves independently about the relevance of the VillageOffice vision. The employees’ places of residence and work (anonymised) and the existing VillageOffice Partner Spaces network are superimposed onto one another using software. This shows how many of the company’s employees could already benefit from a decentralised form of working with VillageOffice. Based on this, the company can start the process of raising awareness and making decisions in-house. If necessary, a group of experts is available to assist companies independently and comprehensively alongside VillageOffice.