Smart Solutions

Community-run co-working

A public operator model for rural co-working spaces.

Implemented inGettorf

Country : Germany

What’s the solution?

Community-run co-working is a public operator model for rural co-working spaces run by a rural municipality. The services are still fee-based, with users expected to pay for access to modern workspaces and certain related services. However, in contrast to purely commercially driven operator models, the model does not expect to be profit making – especially at the beginning.

The community-run dimension means that rather than simply seeking to generate income from users, the co-working space has a clear focus on supporting local people. Community-run co-working thus involves activities to promote stronger networking of local people and businesses and the establishment of new forms of cooperation and new economic activities in the community. Various events are organised to attract potential users and strengthen the ties of the existing user community.

These events and services are organised through a physical space providing the typical services of a modern co-working environment, including workrooms, workstations, meeting rooms, printers, smartboards, video conferencing technology and kitchen facilities. Services can be offered through packages ranging from short-term ‘drop in’ access to weekly or monthly subscriptions. The solution benefits from the use of standard software for managing the co-working space, including invoicing, booking and statistical analyses.

Community co-working thus aims to reduce commuter flows to the nearby cities, to make the local rural community more attractive as a place to live and generate new local economic activities.

What makes it smart?

The initiative is smart because:

  • it demonstrates business innovation through the development of a community-based operating model for a rural co-working space, thereby creating new entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • it uses state-of-the-art digital technologies to enable location independent work for residents and mobile workers, thereby shifting qualified work tasks into the local community.
  • it reduces occupational commuting, thereby improving the ecological food print of the entire region
  • it strengthens social ties among residents working remotely for employers based elsewhere.


How is the solution implemented?

  • Bring together key local stakeholders to develop a shared view on the potentials generally provided by the co-working space concept under given local circumstances.
  • Find out how co-working spaces that already exist elsewhere work and how they are run. If the possibility exists, seek support from experts who know the subject.
  • Find out if there is enough interest in the idea of a co-working space in the community, e. g. among residents or local businesses. If possible, create interest through practical demonstrations or by setting up a pop-up co-working space for a limited period. When doing so, offer an interactive social programme involving local actors from politics, business and civil society.
  • Develop a concept for the operation of a co-working space that meets the local conditions in technical, organisational and economic terms.
  • Ensure that funding is available to set up and run the co-working space.
  • Set up the co-working space and make sure that it is adequately staffed for running it on a continuous basis.
  • Develop a programme for further promoting the co-working space and ensure that the programme can be funded and staffed.

In what local context has it been applied?

Gettorf is a rural municipality located half-way between two larger cities in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein – between Hamburg and the border with Denmark in the very north of Germany. Local life is characterised by daily employment-related commuting to the surrounding towns and by out-migration trends among the younger population. Ways were sought to increase the attractiveness of Gettorf as a place of residence and as a business location.

Who was behind the implementation?

The idea emerged from a project by the Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein, which toured northern Germany with a pop-up co-working space. The local council wanted to take advantage of the opportunities generally provided by the co-working space concept and allocated staff to adapt the general concept to local conditions. Other local stake holders were involved right from the beginning.

What was the local journey?

  • As part of the “Co-Working Land” initative, the Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein provided a pop-up co-working space in Gettorf for a limited period in summer 2018. The aim of this initiative was to find out whether this working concept would generally meet with interest in rural areas. In cooperation with local stakeholders, a series of events were organised around the pop-up co-working space, which met with great interest in the community.
  • For the local stakeholders involved, it was now a matter of using the positive momentum that had been triggered by the pop-up co-working space in the community for establishing a permanent co-working space. The local trading association and other civil society stakeholders were closely involved from the beginning.
  • The municipal council also supported the idea from the very beginning and made personnel and financial resources available through corresponding council resolutions with the aim of developing a tailor-made concept for Gettorf.
  • First, a rough concept was developed, which was refined step by step. In addition to the search for suitable premises, the focus was also on questions related to suitable technical equipment and a suitable operator concept. Moreover, discussions were held with commercial providers who had expressed interest in operating a co-working space in the municipality. Soon, it became clear that a commercially driven operator model that primarily aims at renting out equipped workrooms would not be suitable for achieving the community’s longer-term goals, such as the promotion of new economic activities through the establishment of a well-connected user community.
  • In response to this finding, the concept of a community-run co-working space was developed. The team of the "Co-working Land" project of the Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein provided advice. As the operator of the co-working space, the community now rents out fully equipped workplaces. In addition, regular events are held to address potential users and to contribute to networking among existing users.
  • The municipality has set up three workrooms with a total of 24 workstations. In addition, a separate meeting room offers space for 8-10 people, equipped with a smartboard and state-of-the-art video conferencing technology. There is also a kitchenette and a multifunction printer. Various fee packages are available to use the co-working space operated by the community, ranging from one-off tickets on an hourly or daily basis to subscriptions on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • The municipality sees the co-working space as an investment in the future. It is not expected that operation costs will be covered by fees from the beginning. Initially, the operation has been secured for three years by corresponding budget resolutions of the municipal council. During this time, the operating concept is to be further developed with a view to ensure long-term viability.
  • Following the renovation of suitable premises, furniture and technical equipment was purchased. A software package was purchased supporting the administrative management of the co-working space.
  • “GettWork" was chosen as the brand name in reference to the name of the municipality of Gettorf.
  • After the official opening in 2020, Gettwork has joined the cooperative CoWorkLand, which has set itself the goal of networking co-working spaces located in rural areas nationwide. Gettwork is the only community-run co-working space participating in the network so far. For the further development of Gettwork's operating model, it is hoped to benefit from the experiences of other co-working spaces.
  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a hygiene concept and extra protective measures were introduced, such as raised protective walls around workplaces and a temporary reduction in the number of possible workplaces.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The Gettwork co-working space in Gettdorf was opened in 2020
  • The still young history of Gettwork has been heavily impacted by the Corona pandemic. Nevertheless, the first workers already use the co-working space and regular operation has been possible with the protective measures introduced. The meeting room is also booked by clubs and companies from the area.
  • To improve utilisation when demand fluctuates, city employees use the co-working space at certain times as well.
  • Some of the current users are self-employed people and tradespeople living in the local community and the surrounding area. Also, some students are currently writing their theses in Gettwork. Users also include some field workers and frequent travellers who need a workplace for a short time to be able to work between their appointments.
  • Another share of the current user community consists of a larger IT service provider operating branch offices in all major cities in northern Germany. The company has permanently rented an office at Gettwork, which makes it possible to offer employees from the area workplaces close to home.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • It is intended to develop the Gettwork into an active place of work and exchange that will promote networking and innovation within the community and the surrounding area. In this way, new economic activities are to be promoted.
  • Another goal is to improve the well-being of the population. Working directly in the community with short distances saves commuting time and provides a better work-life balance.
  • In addition to the purchasing power remaining in the community, the ecological factor also plays a role, as unnecessary commuting is avoided.
  • More generally, the way office work tends to be organised changes and the concept of coworking will play a greater role in the future. The municipality of Gettorf wants to be part of this change offering companies and employees a good solution.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:
Financial needs:

Set up / Investment costs: about EUR 67.000

• Renovation of the premises and furnishing

Ongoing costs:

• Personnel costs: about EUR 20.000 per year

• Software licenses: about EUR 500 per year

• Operation and maintenance of the internet connection / technical equipment: about EUR 1.500 per year

Funding received:
Municipality67,000 €Renovation of the premises and furnishing
Municipality22,000 €Ongoing costs – personnel, software licenses, maintenance

Human resources

• A staff member of the municipal administration was in charge of developing the concept and implementing it.

• Various voluntary actors have contributed throughout the entire planning phase.

Physical resources

• Two workrooms have been equipped with a total of 24 workstations.

• A separate meeting room offers space for 8-10 people and is equipped with a smartboard and state-of-the-art video conferencing technology.

• A kitchenette and a multifunction printer are available to all users.

• A software package for the administration (booking, accounting, statistical analyses) of the co-working space was purchased.

• A broadband connection to the internet was installed.

What to do…

  • Involve as many local stakeholders as possible.
  • Co-develop clearly stated goals to be achieved with the envisaged co-working space.
  • Form alliances with open-minded actors.
  • Seek support from local politicians and administrations.
  • Take the time to develop a well-founded concept for setting up and operating a co-working space that takes appropriate account of local conditions.

and not to do

  • Don’t take for granted that the potential benefits of a co-working space will be immediately apparent to everyone.
  • Don’t underestimate the effort and the time required to make your idea happen.
  • Don’t assume that the operation of a community-run co-working space pays off in the short term.

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