*An article by Jasmijn van Es on Part-up about S2M co-founder Ronald van den Hoff*
Seats2Meet is the place to be if you want to meet new people, get a coffee, and do some work all at the same time. As long as you’re contributing social capital, your coffee is free and you all have lunch together. There are excellent meeting rooms available for collaboration. As a freelancer, I can often be found here, and I’m curious about how S2M came to be. At the time of writing S2M consisted of 75 locations all over the world– an international success. Who better to speak with about the early days of the company and the ideas behind it than Ronald van den Hoff, founder of S2M? We won’t stick to these topics alone– Ronald is happy to share his vision of the future of work, education and technology. Armed with piping hot coffee we relocate to a quieter space in S2M Utrecht Central Station.
Seats2Meet has become a household name, even internationally. Where did it all start?
The idea of combining meetings, both work and social, came to me and my business partner Marielle Sijgers in 2000. We set up Meeting Plaza & Lounge because we noticed a change in society that our concept was supposed to help adapt people to. Unfortunately we were too early– the market wasn’t ready and we closed our business. In 2007 we were courageous enough to try again. This time around we did a more thorough and disruptive job; the beginning of Seats2Meet. The market was ready, and so were we.
What was your vision behind Seats2Meet?
My partner and I both had a background in the meeting and congress world. We wanted to create a space where we could offer these facilities, but also be accessible to the growing number of freelancers. The central space for S2M would be the room where freelancers could work for free. The spaces round the center would be rented out to companies, or could be used to give workshops and the like. We were hoping to seat about five to ten freelancers every day, but then suddenly we were overrun by them.
At S2M you ‘pay’ with social capital, what does that mean?
Your workplace at S2M won’t cost you any money, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay. Social capital is our currency: when you come here to do your work, you increase your visibility by signing up online. This way you’re telling the community what you have to share, and what your expertise is. Using that information you’ll be matched, meaning you’ll have unexpected meetings with people who could be relevant to your interests. This generates worth and that becomes the total added value of S2M. The online system is a big help, but it’s noticeable that people will start a conversation during lunch, when sharing a desk or over a coffee. There’s an atmosphere of openness that makes initiating contact easy.
A changing society
There’s an online knowledge sharing development (Google), a social contact development (Facebook) and the next step seems to be online organization of work. How long do you think it will take for all of us to get used to that?
I give it five to ten years maximum before all of this is completely integrated. We’re further into this phase than you might think. We’ve been exchanging online services and products for a while now and are moving towards an autonomous world. Our environments will become more automatized and algorithms will start to make more choices for us.
An example: you’re here in this building. In a few years this building will know you’re here and will start to adapt to your needs. When you walk outside you’ll get advice on how to travel to your next meeting on your phone, for example. All your schedules, contacts, locations etc. will communicate with each other. It won’t be long until a number of these applications, data and networks are coupled to one another. That’s where it all starts.
We’re not familiar with worth generation in any other form than an organization in a large building. That image will disappear in the coming few years.
I can imagine that if someone checks in for the third time here at S2M there’s a big chance they’ve already met someone they would like to work with. It would be convenient for people to be alerted of the existence of Part-up when they walk in the door for the third time, so they can start working together with the people they’ve met and invite others. On your first visit you’re too preoccupied by other things, so the third visit would be best. We would also use Part-up to notify people when their fellow team members are in.
The future of work and education
How is the way we perceive work changing?
All we know is one way of generating worth: organizations in a big building. This image will disappear in the coming years. It has nothing to do with today’s dynamics. We will be able to use collaboration software such asPart-up, and this new software and way of thinking will help the pieces fall into place. We’ll be taking a step in the direction of a new kind of worth generation, with each other as a society.
Without this image of working in offices how will our image of ‘working’ look?
Organization without hierarchy or a separate building. What could that possibly add? Take banks for example, they’re being replaced by much cleverer applications, algorithms and data systems. The fact that a few things aren’t allowed legally or impeded by politicians and multinationals is a problem. The establishment trying to stop new developments: absolutely counterproductive.
Uber doesn’t own any cars, AirBnB doesn’t own any buildings, Thuisbezorgd doesn’t own any kitchens but they are the largest players in their own sector. And if any of the aforementioned aspects try to stop them a local alternative will pop up soon. There’s no stopping this. You cannot discount the value of these services– they are already here. This exact thing will happen in the case of work. You won’t own any employees, you’ll work together, you won’t have to have an office to work in. That will all change completely.
If our way of working will be so different, what will schools look like in 10 years?
Until puberty learning together and from one another is important so that will stay the same. Afterwards knowledge can be gained online, including coaching in groups. This won’t be either fully physical or fully online, there has to be a balance. There will always be people who want to study Ancient Greek until their thirties, and that’s fine. The old won’t just be gone suddenly and it’s an important part of our culture and history. I can imagine though that children, when they reach 18, will become entrepreneurs: a life of learning by doing.
Introducing a new era
You aren’t just the founding father of S2M but you also set up Society 3.0. How are these related?
Society 3.0 is the vision that forms the basis for S2M. At one time I started writing down my thoughts and visions. First in the form of blogs, then in a book and now Society 3.0 is a publisher for similar books, with similar ideas. Ultimately it’s a kind of content provider– a new wave publisher. We’re looking at what this is good for and what is necessary. Society 3.0 is the vision that provides the context within which S2M works. We need people to keep understanding why we do what we do. Someone has to provide new developments and ideas because the established power won’t.
Do you feel responsible for carrying out your vision?
Yes, I definitely feel responsible. Mostly because we cannot expect the establishment to do so, partly because I have ideas that are speaking to other people. I can contribute something, and so I do. My generation has been messed up by current views on work, so as long as we can contribute to a better future we should.
Speaking at the Part-up Event
The Part-up event on April 18 will take place at S2M Utrecht Centraal. You’ll be speaking about your vision– what can we expect?
We’ll be talking about cities. I’m demonstrating the development of a connection between local and global activity, which is creating a new type of economic collaboration which I call interdependent economy. The need for new products around us that used to only be within companies such as an HRM department, administration or management will increase. A team of three to ten people will need to have access to these resources. I will be talking about why access is essential, which is an interesting connection to Part-up.