As one of a hundred projects, the VillageOffice Cooperative supports readers as they work through the 12 chapters of the handbook for pioneers. On the heels of an eventful journey with its ups and downs, a major change again lies ahead for the pioneering project. In the Deep Dive interview, Stefan Schöbi, Head of the Migros Pioneer Fund, and Jenny Schäpper-Uster, co-founder of VillageOffice, talk about successful alliances, the impact chain as a guide and trust in the team.
From 0 to 100: Deep Dive with Jenny Schäpper-Uster
Stefan Schöbi: Jenny, you founded VillageOffice in February 2016. Are you still just as passionate about your baby?
Jenny Schäpper-Uster: Absolutely! We have yet to achieve our target of 1,000 co-working spaces outside major Swiss cities. But VillageOffice has long ceased to be my baby alone. We now have a community to support the project and help us on our journey. The community has just taken an important decision.
Alliances take a successful project to new heights
Stefan: Where is the project headed?
Jenny: Almost six years after we started out, we are going for a completely new set-up. This will even better support us in making an impact. The community has decided to go open source with our VillageOffice model so that everyone can copy it.
Stefan: So you’re giving away everything you built up?
Jenny: Yes, because it is the best way of achieving our goal. But we are not giving away all we have. Parallel to the open-source approach, we also want to take another shot at the corporate track, as we had originally set out to do. This part of our activities will take the form of a joint venture with a strong partner. Given the fast-paced development in our working world, we couldn’t have picked a better time.
Stefan: It has been anything but a straight road for you, but we’ll come back to that later. Tell us about the big step that lies ahead. Was it an easy decision to make?
Jenny: No, quite the opposite. We spent a long time following up different scenarios, using the close contacts in the pioneer community of the Migros Pioneer Fund and developing several parallel solutions. A number of parties were interested in adopting the established VillageOffice service for municipalities. Ultimately, our community opted for open source. If you’re giving something away, then do it properly. And we’re confident that this is the right decision.
Stefan: In the «From 0 to 100» handbook, this chapter comes near the end, where it says that success waves are generally too small to ride them permanently. What is your opinion on that?
Jenny: VillageOffice was an incredibly exciting journey that was full of surprises. If we hadn’t seized every opportunity to forge new alliances, we wouldn’t be around today. The ripples of success you mentioned help you to do that. However, our experience also shows that you need to persevere because building a sustainable company takes much, much longer than you think.
From 0 to 100: looking ahead
Impact chain as a guide
Stefan: So you had to be all the more flexible with your assumptions.
Jenny: Absolutely, it was quite a roller coaster. It took us three attempts to successfully position VillageOffice exactly where we wanted it.
Stefan: Assumption number one?
Jenny: That employees decide themselves where they want to work. That it is relatively easy for them to gain the support of their company in this. Experience showed that while everyone talks about a flexible working world, when it comes to the rub, employers are conservative and nothing changes. Then we realised that everything hinges on the employer.
Stefan: Back to square one.
Jenny: Exactly. Based on these experiences, we developed our «co-working experience», a very low-threshold offer for large companies to gain initial experience of mobile working, expertly supported by the University of St.Gallen. The experiment showed that companies did not want to work decentrally. The demand simply wasn’t there.
Stefan: Wrong again. And now?
Jenny: We got in contact with municipalities and noticed that in rural areas, there was potential for development, and that we would find a partner who shared our vision. We developed a programme with prospective clients as to how they could enhance the locational appeal of their municipality through co-working. And it worked and continues to do so today.
Stefan: So third time lucky – where do you find the staying power?
Jenny: Our vision was strong enough to keep our spirits up in the face of all the setbacks. We just kept on picking ourselves back up. Obviously, it was no picnic. But, in the end, we knew that if anyone was going to make it, it was us. And so we kept going until we got it right.
From 0 to 100: Impact Chain
Trust is the basis
Stefan: You always speak about «us». How important is this team spirit?
Jenny: The team is the key factor in all pioneering projects. Without a strong team, we would never have managed to weather all the crises. It is therefore worthwhile investing early in your team, and that means before any major challenges appear on the horizon. From the outset, we defined the purpose of VillageOffice and enshrined it in our Articles of Association. Early on, we discussed the lines that we didn’t want to cross. When the going gets tough, it helps you to stay focused and not give up.
Stefan: What kind of a team do you need for that?
Jenny: We were a very diverse team. We didn’t just choose among our colleagues, but widened our radius in our search for team members. Our criterion was a shared passion to achieve a certain impact.
Stefan: Is passion enough?
Jenny: Skills are also essential. And a wide variety of them, to avoid duplicating talents. It helps you to view a common goal from different perspectives, opens up new avenues and makes you flexible. It lets everyone bring their personal strengths to the fore.
Stefan: Passion and skills as the key for a team?
Jenny: And trust. Trust is everything – that can’t be emphasised enough. It is the foundation on which the team is built. Breaches of trust bring a team to the brink. Transparency and trust were our guiding principles.
From 0 to 100: Teamplay