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How the Coworking Provider Tribes Is Rethinking the Office

Interview with CEO Eduard Schaepman

Coworking spaces have boomed in recent years, with a worldwide increase in coworking offices and coworkers. At the same time, there is constant change in the coworking ecosystem. Originally dominated by freelancers, creatives, and startups, demand for coworking spaces from established companies has increased in recent years. Coworking spaces have gradually adapted to the requirements and wishes of new users. The currently trend is away from open work areas and toward more private offices. Corporate coworking is no longer a niche market.

In 2020, coworking has been driven mainly by the COVID crisis. For many months, freelancers and employees were permanently based in the home office, and still not all people have returned to their original workplaces.

To get insights into these market changes, SKYLINE ATLAS spoke with Eduard Schaepman, founder and managing director of the coworking provider Tribes. The company was founded in the year 2015 and now has locations in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

In Frankfurt, Tribes operates two coworking spaces: the first at Basler Platz and the other in the Garden Tower. A new Tribes coworking center will open in the Marienforum in winter 2020 – good reasons to talk with Eduard Schaepman about our changing work environments.

Open Space Office, here the "House of Tribes". Each cover stands for a different Tribes location. Eduard Schaepman is shown on the covers.

“Research from before the COVID crisis has shown that 35% of commercial real estate in 2035 will be rented by flexible office operators.”
Eduard Schaepman on the space requirements of companies in the future.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Hello Mr. Schaepman, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Describe to our readers what exactly Tribes does and whom your offers are aimed at.

Eduard Schaepman: Tribes Inspiring Workplaces offers everything entrepreneurs need. We have flexible offices, coworking places, meeting rooms, and business addresses inspired by indigenous, nomadic tribes from all over the world, and our members form a community of like-minded professionals. Our offices have state-of-the-art interior design, based on a specific tribe per location.

SKYLINE ATLAS: In the course of digitization, we are experiencing the emergence of new job profiles, but also new ways of doing work. How has work changed over the past few years?

Eduard Schaepman: Since the rise of the internet, people can work anywhere, anytime. It’s no longer necessary to go to the office every day. There are even digital nomads travelling around the world while they keep working for the same company. Especially now, when a lot of companies have embraced the option of working from home, there will be a shift in mindset.

Tribes Frankfurt - CEO Schaepman in an interview

Eduard Schaepman

Tribes temporary rental offices - Eduard Schaepman (right)

SKYLINE ATLAS: Tribes announced the opening of a coworking space in the Marienforum in the months to come. What distinguishes the location and what will it offer?

Eduard Schaepman: It’s a fantastic location of course, right in the middle of the Financial District, and it’s easily reachable. Our location is on the ground floor, where we’ll have a barista and bar, coworking places and meeting rooms. Our offices will be on the first and eighth floors, with great views of the city. The entire location will be coronavirus-proof: we’ll implement 1.5 meters (5 feet) working distance when we’re rebuilding so it’s a lot better than adjusting an existing office to this distance. Also, the newest ventilation systems will be able to filter aerosols.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Besides achieving profitability, what other challenges do you face as a coworking operator?

Eduard Schaepman: The measures against coronavirus that differ per location. It’s not in our hands, and although we’ve done everything possible to ensure that people can come back to the office, the government still hasn’t decided that it’s enough. From thermal cameras to adjustments in ventilation, we’re exploring everything.

Coworking in Corona times - users have to keep distance
Coworking kitchen with Herbal Water: The self-brewed soft drink is available at all Tribes locations in changing flavors (here: water/mint/chilli)

SKYLINE ATLAS: Is there an active exchange of knowledge between the different users of a coworking space? How can a coworking operator enhance a space’s communication and attractiveness?

Eduard Schaepman: Members connect with each other easily, especially those working at the same location for a long time. They get to know each other and ask for/offer help in their field of expertise. Our Tribal Table stimulates conversations and is often where we organize our ‘members lunch’. Every location has a Tribal Table, which is always round. We’ve learned from the tribes that gathering in a circle stimulates conversation: there’s no hierarchy and you can look everyone in the eyes.

Tribal Table - Tribes Frankfurt
Tribes Coworking Office - Eduard Schaepman walking through the rental offices and the blue marked zones

SKYLINE ATLAS: Are there differences between a space in Frankfurt and those in other countries? What is important to German users about a coworking offer?

Eduard Schaepman: Our concept is the same in every country because our members all want the same: a great, inspiring workplace with lots of inspiring community members!

SKYLINE ATLAS: Do young creative people actually want to work with large companies under one roof?

Eduard Schaepman: Yes, definitely. We also see a lot of corporates with young employees, who like to connect with other young creatives in our locations.

SKYLINE ATLAS: To what extent is the coronavirus crisis currently causing problems for coworking providers? Has the home office become a competitor to coworking?

Eduard Schaepman: Definitely not. It has shown people, both employees as employers, that working remotely benefits everyone involved. It’s cost and time efficient: the employer doesn’t need a dedicated workplace for each employee if they work remotely – from home or from an office. Working from home has benefits too, but people will miss social contacts, and in most cases a permanent home office isn’t ideal.

Eduard Schaepman discussing the advantages of coworking

SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s peek into the future. Do you anticipate a consolidation among coworking providers, or will growth continue? What are the plans for Tribes in the next few years?

Eduard Schaepman: I think that coworking places are a great solution for companies who will have not enough space to create the 1.5-meter (5-foot) safe zones around employee workplaces. With a flexible contract they can rent the necessary space to provide their employees with a safe workplace, and whenever we get back to normal, they can easily return to their own offices. We’ve noticed our members in The Netherlands visiting the offices sooner than in Belgium and Germany, but this too starts up again slowly. So no, I don’t think there will be a difference between the different needs for more office space.

SKYLINE ATLAS: What do you think future trends and developments in coworking could be?

Eduard Schaepman: The impact of COVID-19 will eventually result in an increase of space rented by operators. Research from before coronavirus, from high quality broker agencies (like JLL, Cushman, and Colliers) has shown that 35% of commercial real estate will be rented by flexible office operators in 2035. Many companies will want to rent flexibly because of coronavirus, because their employees will combine work from home with working from the office. With social distancing measures they don’t fit in the (old) office at the same time, so companies want flexibility in their lease terms – which will eventually result in a positive impact for the flexible office market.

Eduard Schaepman - CEO of Tribes

SKYLINE ATLAS: Thank you for the conversation.

The interview was conducted in September 2020.

About Eduard Schaepman

Next to being a real family man, Eduard Schaepman is an inspiring CEO who dares to think and live out of the box. He is a well-known Dutch real estate entrepreneur and creator & founder of Tribes. He began his career in 1990 as Marketing Manager at Bank Mees & Hope, after which he held various Change Management positions at an executive level, including positions at Robeco Group, Fortis Group, euroShell, SNT International, ClientLogic, and Chalet Group.

In 2010, when Eduard fulfilled his father’s last wish – updating his family tree for the Dutch Patrician section of the Central Bureau of Genealogy – he discovered that the Schaepman family had spread all over the world. His ancestors’ nomadic migration (to New Zealand, China, the United States, and Suriname, among others), sparked his interest. He started to explore different cultures and the diversity and origins of people.

This led to his interest in nomadic tribes, especially the similarities between traditional nomads and modern business nomads. He visited many nomadic tribes, like the Mosuo in China, the Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, the Masai in Africa, and the Berbers in Morocco. Each time he makes a documentary of the journey and uses the learned wisdom and rituals for new Tribes locations.

Eduard Schaepman has received a awards: White Canvas Reputation Award, Networker of the Year, Marketing Manager of the Year, Blog Award, Most Innovative Real Estate Manager, and many others.

More information about Eduard Schaepman:

About Tribes Inspiring Workplaces

In February 2015, Eduard Schaepman launched “Tribes Inspiring Workplaces“, a flexible office concept with inspiring facilities for its members. Tribes offers office space, flexible workplaces, meeting rooms, virtual offices, and meeting places in Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Each location is inspired by a nomadic tribe, and the look and feel of the locations is the same, but the interior design is completely different. In addition, there is a theme per tribe, from which you can learn a lot as an entrepreneur. For instance, Tribes Frankfurt Central Station is inspired by the men of Vanuatu, who perform a ritual of land diving: they jump off a self-built wooden tower (about 20-30 meters high) with two tree vines wrapped behind the ankles. A good dive helps to ensure a bountiful yam harvest. A similar fearlessness is sometimes needed by entrepreneurs too.