Rural Co-Working: Key To Countering Depopulation In Spain?

By

The phenomenon of depopulation is mainly rural, and affects small towns most of all. Over the last decade, 6,232 municipalities have seen their population decline, in other words, three out of every four municipal areas. In this context, rural co-working has become an alternative for regaining and attracting inhabitants.

“Creating these spaces with good infrastructure and programmes of activities can become a powerful means of attraction for rural areas,” explained Carles Méndez, an expert in co-working and researcher in the UOC’s Faculty of Economics and Business.

Major rural co-working initiatives are being promoted in Spain, including Cowocat Rural, in Catalonia. “This association is a benchmark for rural co-working in Europe. The professionals involved have travelled to Germany and various other European countries to give advice on this type of initiative,” explained Méndez. Other important organizations are the Cowocyl association and the Sierra de la demanda project, in Castile and León, one of Spain’s autonomous communities that has been most heavily affected by depopulation, along with Extremadura, Galicia and Asturias. The leading countries in Europe are Belgium and Germany, followed by Ireland and the Baltic countries.

According to Méndez, the success of these initiatives lies largely in the work done by the specialists and managers who have carried these projects out. “They have shown they are able to undertake and refocus initiatives according to the needs and characteristics of the area. This flexibility has enabled them to meet the demands of workers, and adapt to changes in the labour market.” Meanwhile, public funding from regional institutions and a firm commitment by local and regional authorities have been crucial. “This support has provided the resources necessary for their creation and upkeep, and given them the momentum and sustainability they need to grow and to be appealing,” added Méndez.

The typical rural co-worker: self-employed and freelance

“The profile of workers who choose rural co-working is predominantly self-employed and freelance, unlike urban co-working, where there is also a significant number of corporate workers. This type of user enjoys the benefits provided by these spaces in a natural environment,” explained the UOC researcher. The number of workers who pay for the space is also an important factor.

The number of employees using rural co-working facilities has increased considerably in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as a result of the increase in teleworking. “Nevertheless, most users are still self-employed and freelancers who find it an attractive way to strike a balance between work and the well-being the rural environment provides,” he said.

Professionals from companies in the ICT, engineering and communication sectors

Rural co-working also includes professionals from companies and organizations, linked above all to work in the fields of ICT, engineering and communication. In Catalonia, professionals working in these fields account for around 45% of users of rural co-working spaces. The remaining 55% are from areas such as the graphic arts and tourism, among others,” said Méndez.

Rural co-working involves a wide variety of professional profiles. “This attractive environment is chosen by a variety of self-employed workers, freelancers and even some employees, who aim to combine the comforts of working in a natural environment with the demands of their career,” he said.

Synergies and risks of rural co-working

Rural co-working can generate social and economic synergies that go beyond what an urban co-working space can offer. “It can create a framework that is conducive to stronger bonds being formed between the professionals who share the space. This closer connection can foster professional collaborations and synergies that enhance business opportunities and the exchange of knowledge,” said Méndez.

Attracting talent and professionals to these rural areas not only has a direct impact on the generation of wealth and economic activity of villages and regions, but it also has an indirect impact by creating services and boosting the local economy. “Taking advantage of the unique opportunities offered by rural areas compared to urban spaces can bring about a paradigm shift in the economy and the demographics of these regions, and make them more attractive to new residents and businesses,” he said. In short, “it fosters social cohesion, economic activity and sustainable development in rural areas,” concluded the researcher.

However, rural co-working also has its risks. “The main risk is economic viability. The business model of co-working spaces in Barcelona or any large city is focused on renting spaces. They can be economically viable by simply renting their spaces. That isn’t the case with rural co-working, where the number of users is much lower than what an urban co-working facility might have,” Méndez pointed out.

In order to be a viable initiative, it can adopt one of two business models: “One is to have a large proportion of public funding, or to become a wholly public service. And the other is to receive partial public funding or become a private initiative, in which co-working has to reinvent itself by offering other services apart from renting a space (renting rooms, which is known as co-living, providing services to external companies, and leisure and catering services, among others).”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *