“It’s Not About Work Anymore” // Coworklisboa-Founder Fernando Mendes in conversation with Jan Bathel

Fernando Mendes

After 2 decades of working as a designer, Fernando Mendes realized that working alone was not half as inspiring and exciting as working with others. Reason enough to found a coworking space together with his wife Ana Dias back in 2009: Coworklisboa, the first large coworking space in Lisbon and Portugal. In conversation with REVUE's co-publisher Jan Bathel, he talks about how he induces creativity, human bonds and a motivation to work that is "not about work anymore". 

You can’t force collaboration, just as you can’t force love, for instance.
— Fernando Mendes, Founder of Coworklisboa

What was the initial idea and purpose for the setup of your project? What activities did and do you carry out in order to achieve the set goals?

I have founded Coworklisboa designing it (both space and community) from my particular point of view. So it was a pure human-centered approach, almost a selfish one as my main goal was to solve my own problem – I wanted to have others working with me and I wanted diversity – not a bunch of designers, like me. That was back in 2010, when the boom of coworking spaces really started everywhere.

How do you trigger relationship building and collaboration between your different users? And which activities do you use to stimulate relationships and collaborations?

You can’t force collaboration, just as you can’t force love, for instance. Humans collaborate not because they really want to but because they need to. Ask anyone if he/she prefers to work alone or in a group and most of the answers will be working alone. Of course, in a coworking space you mix a lot of diversity, people from all professions, men and women, old and new, etc. This melting pot provides the right mood to spontaneous collaboration. In other words, I don’t believe in true collaboration instigated by a few. My individual work and responsibility at Coworklisboa is to “dim lights” to create the right mood between people and to fill gaps between them. Once I achieve this, “love” will happen for sure. :-)

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How do you organize information exchange with, and among different stakeholders users? How do you get people to go into a mode of exchange: sharing their experiences, curiosity, knowhow and failures.

Learning peer to peer is the natural mode at Coworklisboa or – if you want to really get serious about it – think about some sort of collective intelligence in that each individual simply follow a single mark. That is biomimicry, i.e. humans learning from natural and animal behaviour. If I say I am giving a fast course on design thinking today at 7pm in a 7 minutes long session, people will come and participate. Again, this is looking for spontaneous behaviors, not formal ones.

What’s your greatest lesson learned from your Creative Space project? What advice would you give other people that are about to develop a creative space?

Design your space as if you are a coworker, not the CEO of it. Always put yourself in the same position as your coworkers. This will help you to decide more easily and your community will grow organically.
 

What other spaces inspire you?

I am a big fan of spaces not based on the idea of a working space primarily. Brooklyn Boulders Sommerville is a great example of this. In fact, it’s not about work anymore, it’s about work, play, learn and live.

How does the design of the physical space contribute to the principles and goals of Coworklisboa?

Coworklisboa has been co-designed since the beginning from me and all the coworkers that have been working here. We are at LX Factory which is a former industrial facility (1840) now refurbished as the most creative hub in Lisboa. The Factory has a special atmosphere in which everyone feels the urgency of DOING and making happen. Twice a year, we have a special OPEN DAY congregating more than 20 000 people in one day and night.

How do you translate the purpose of Coworklisboa into a digital environment?

We all are tech-mediated now. Technology is ubiquous and all coworkers use it. Coworking spaces have a strong point here. In a way, we are the counterpart of technology, enabling true physical relationships between our residents.

What is the one-sentence core message of the place, which reflects its values?

“It’s Not About Work Anymore”.

Well, thank you very much for your time. A trip to Lisbon has just moved to the top of my to do list – and certainly not just on mine, but on many other REVUE readers' list! We make sure to stop by your beautiful space when we get there.

Check out Coworklisboa online – or come by their beautiful space in Lisboa:

Rua Rodrigues Faria 103
LxFactory - Edifício I - 4º Andar
1300-501 Lisboa, Portugal