1 Year. 25+ Coworking Spaces. Here's What I Learned.

    Amenities, Collaboration, Operations vs Community: May 2017 (CoworkU)

    Amenities, Collaboration, Operations vs Community: May 2017 (CoworkU)

    Bringing together coworking space owners, advocates, community managers, and a digital nomad that works from coworking spaces around the world, the Cowork University meetup has proven to be a wonderful brain trust to share ideas and improve coworking. 

    This month, we discussed:

    Amenities, Events, and Features That Add Value To Coworking Spaces

    There are many amenities, features, and events that coworking spaces have in common. There are definitely way too many to fit into this article, but I’ll review some of them here and put together a list to post later. 

    We all strongly agreed that events, food, and drinks are a great way to bring people together. Whether it is a happy hour, Beer and Waffle Friday, monthly coffee meetup, or using a new app built by a coworker, these events break down barriers and are a great way to expand the number of opportunities people have to connect with each other.

    Although food and drink events are popular, there is no perfect amenity, event, or feature that fits every space. The important thing is to find what your community cares about.

    Non-traditional local resources

    Whether it is a wellness program such as Yoga on the Roof, a weekly Crossfit class, or bringing in experts from the local small business development center, coworking space managers are constantly looking for new and unique ways to provide value to their members.

    My home coworking space (Tampa Bay WaVE) had a monthly 3-hour block of time called Office Hours where three experts each had an hour when coworkers could schedule time to ask them questions to help solve business problems. This was an invaluable way to develop insights and a great opportunity to leverage the network of our community.

    Sponsors to help pay for a new benefit for the community.

    Sponsors can be a wonderful addition to a coworking space. One office connected with a local law firm who funded a Lunch & Learn program where coworkers could ask questions over lunch (we all like food!). It was also a great way for coworkers to start to build a relationship with that firm in case they needed their services in the future. It was a win-win.

    What local business or organization could you partner with?

    Group rate for members

    One of the last ideas we discussed that could provide an immediate benefit was negotiating group rates for the coworkers for outside businesses like magazine subscriptions, hotels, car sharing, or various other services. Saving money is always a good thing.

    How Do You Manage the Operations and Community of a Space? 

    This question is a broad one and went in a few different directions. To me, operations and community management of a space are two sides of the same coin.

    On one side, the trash needs to be taken out, tours need to be given, and problems need to be addressed as they arise. However, a good portion of time is also needed to bring the community of coworkers together.

    Yes, I know. These operational examples are focused mainly on what coworkers see. There are many behind-the-scenes operational needs that are beyond the scope of this post and will be discussed in another meetup and article.

    How much time can we spend on each side of this coin? Which is more important? Will one drive the other?

    There was a lot of discussion around these issues as you would imagine.

    In my view, coworkers notice if the operations are off, but feel it (not always in a tangible way) if the culture is right or not right. There is not a perfect percentage or amount of time to spend on one or the other.

    The type of coworking space you have matters and influences what people expect. Location, size, cost, amenities, etc all have the potential to affect certain aspects of the community — especially if balls are dropped or expectations exceeded.

    One of the most common challenges in any space is dishes in the sink.

    What is the expectation in your coworking space? Do workers clean or not clean?

    Did you create the expectation that you clean? Some coworkers expect that because they are paying for a place to work, they should not have to clean. What is your expectation? Is it clear with the coworkers? If it is clear, and they are supposed to clean, why aren’t they following along? What needs to change? Is this operations? Is this community?

    If something such as dishes is left undone (dirty) for days, coworkers and visitors notice. They may even do something about it. Some will do the work for the sake of the community, however, others will do the work because they don’t like looking at it. Some won’t do anything. I do not believe one is right or wrong.

    Expectations are the name of the game. Whatever you decide to do, be consistent. Focus on the operations, focus on the community, or focus on both. Without someone in leadership working on the community, coworkers create the community (for better or worse). Without a focus on operations, the community can suffer from a lack of involvement or attention.

    Operations

    I have always been a proponent of getting the basics right.

    I love the idea of a checklist of items to be done daily, weekly, etc. This could be invaluable for keeping track of when the basic requirements are done.

    Are you in a position to delegate tasks to members? If you decide to go this route, it is important to realize we have work to do as well. If there is a way to make it beneficial for the coworker in a tangible way outside of being nice, that could make a long-term agreement more appealing. Whether it is a discount or some kind of recognition, we all like to feel loved. In the discussion, someone mentioned that a coworker was offered $100 off their monthly dues to take out the trash as needed. They happily agreed.

    Make a point of getting together with your team, be introspective, and work to make the community better. Ask yourself: did you fail at anything this week? What could be improved to make your experience and the experience of the coworkers better?

    Community

    Most of the conversations here were about balancing community growth and operations.

    It can be a challenge to be part of a community while also managing and guiding it. It is easy to want to hang out with people all day, however, we all have things we need to do each day. Coworkers just need to know that you care and are there for them.

    One coworking manager and operations extraordinaire told me that she had two goals every day:

    1. To create a safe space for everyone in the community
    2. To make continuous improvements in everything they did

    This is a fantastic approach. You don’t need to spend all day working on community, but it is definitely helpful to think about what else can be done to improve the office.

    How About The Data? Tracking Results.

    What are the most valuable statistics to track operations and community success?

    These vary but here are some ideas: number of email signups, number of tours, new members, conference bookings, capital improvements, cancelations.

    Also, what were the results of marketing efforts, events, networking, changes in process, etc?

    The point is to ask better questions. Why do you want to track something and how will it help you make better decisions and improve the space?

    Collaboration Among Coworking Spaces

    I love this.

    A coworking space is not everything to every type of person.

    The vibes, locations, amenities, etc can be very different.

    Does it make sense to break down barriers and create an alliance of spaces in your community? Can you all benefit from doing this?

    There have been numerous examples throughout the United States that have shown that these relationships can improve the coworking experience for members as well as managers of the spaces that participate. 

    What does this relationship look like?

    I have seen a few versions. Some groups of coworking spaces will refer a person or company to another space if they believe it will be a better fit. Some groups want to connect to share resources. Does it make sense for every space to have a podcast room? Can your space offer additional conference rooms in exchange for use of another space’s podcast room?

    Just start the conversation and see how you can all benefit.

    Games Within Coworking Spaces

    Keeping the space connected through games, experiences, events, and openness is extremely powerful for the growth of the community.

    Someone suggested doing a baby face game where the members of the community brought in photos of themselves as babies and everyone got to guess at who was who. Whoever got the most right could even win a lunch! This brings me back to middle school and old games we used to get to know each other better.

    As a coworker and someone that has worked in many different coworking spaces, my experience has always told me that not all ideas will work, but that does not mean they aren’t worth trying. Just pay attention, track results, be present, and work towards continually improving how the community interacts and grows together.

    I would love to hear your feedback, questions, or responses below. See you all next month.