A great location, spacious office area, high-quality fit-outs (and free coffee!) are all traits that successful coworking spaces share. However, there is another really noticeable trait that attracts people to shared spaces – a vibrant coworking community. The opportunity to be part of something bigger. Of something truly amazing. A reason to put on pants.
Research published by Harvard Bussiness Review states that the number one reason people move from a traditional office environment to shared spaces is to have access to a community that helps them grow and create connections.
In addition, The Global Entrepreneurship Report for 2017/2018 shows that it’s easier for entrepreneurs to grow their business when they are part of an environment with people that have similar values and interests. A place where networking and collaboration opportunities are countless.
So, if community can be positioned as one of the top differentiators for coworking spaces, and you’re looking to scale, how do you go about doing it? After working with hundreds of coworking spaces around the world, we’ve noticed some interesting differences in the approach to successfully scaling a community. Here’s what we’ve observed so far:
Know your mission. Define your audience.
Good communities are a well-balanced mixture of shared mindset (vision, values, interests, etc) and diverse skills. When a group of people has similar focus coupled with diverse expertise, they can complement each other by sharing good practices and exchanging know-how in a way that’s applicable.
For example, one of our clients, Alley, focus on growing the connectivity points between individuals and entrepreneurs and enhance the value they bring to the community. They position themselves as a “connected platform for entrepreneurs”, which directly speaks to what type of members they’ll welcome in the space. The result? When you walk into any of their spaces the entrepreneurial spirit is palpable!
Alright, so where do you start? Be clear on what your vision/mission is and make sure to communicate it properly. Define your target audience and make sure you understand what they care about and what you bring to the table. And if this sounds a bit too broad to you, start by asking yourself questions like:
- ”What type of companies/individuals do I want to attract?”
- “Why should they care about me and being part of this community?” (If your answer is because of the good location, interior design, price, etc, and doesn’t explain how you’ll help them succeed, then something is missing.)
- “What values should they share that will increase the chance of success of each member in the space?”
Think about your member journey to see how to add value to your community
Consider your member’s journey from start to finish. What can you do in each stage to ensure that when the time comes, you’ll be able to point them in the right direction (or better yet – introduce them to the right person)?
The breakdown of the member journey will be different for each coworking space, but here’s an example that illustrates our point:
You can start simple by asking potential members a question like “Why do you want to join our community?”. Alternatively, if there is a high demand for your space and you have the luxury to “source” the right candidates, you can go as detailed as sending qualification questionnaires or doing “entry interviews” with potential members. Ask them about their goals, interests, motivations to join your space or anything else that will help you come up with ideas on how to help them down the line.
Usually, onboarding checklists come into play here. But it also might make sense to set aside some time with them to discuss all the info you gathered during the sales process. Just a casual conversation that helps you dig a bit deeper into the info they provided, so you can come up with ideas about people or events they might be interested in.
Active member stage
It’s a good practice to set up follow up tasks and check on how your recommendations/introductions turned out, but you’ll probably need to do more than that to keep your members engaged.
It’s hard to recommend a specific set (or type) of activities that are the formula to success, as each community is unique. What we’ve noticed is that each coworking space that developed a vibrant and engaged community says that events are key.
Invest consistent effort in engaging people. In coworking, the real magic happens offline, but make sure you take advantage of online tools to engage your community as they encourage interactions and help to keep your members informed.
Eventually, if you’ve made sure your community consists of members with similar interests and you’ve done your best to keep them engaged, things should start developing on their own. Just give the initial push and then make sure to provide a good environment for things to happen!
The final bit that comes into play – someone left your coworking space, but does this mean that your community is 1 person (or team) short?
Best case scenario – it shouldn’t. So we want to give special emphasis on the final stage of the member’s journey:
Extending your community to the people that are not part of your space
Community is not defined by time and space limitations, but by the value and the meaning of the interactions between people. Retaining former members in your community, or establishing connections with member’s friends that share similar values and interests can be useful. They might have the expertise to help your current members (and vise versa).
Think about the people you met at college or university – although you’re not going to classes anymore, you probably still keep in touch with the ones you’ve had meaningful interactions with by that time. It’s not a coincidence that the best universities like Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge have top-notch alumni associations, which are the communities that gave birth to numerous of the most successful companies (take Instagram for an example, whose co founders met through the Stanford alumni network).
However, once your community grows above a certain point, it will be impossible to rely only on your memory to make such meaningful introductions. So how do you keep up?
Maintain some kind of member’s database
Regardless if you’re using a coworking CRM, a spreadsheet or some kind of dedicated tool for the purpose, you’ll need a way to keep track of all member information and make it easily accessible. You can also come up with some sort of tagging mechanism to easily source the information you need to bring value.
Set up an online community
Think about how you can use technology to increase member visibility and allow people to connect with each other directly. Basically, an online community that can grow on its own and can be nurtured with less effort. We’ll cover this specific topic in a later post in more detail, so stay tuned.
Being focused on hospitality is essential for the success of coworking spaces. But, be cautious to what extent you want to stretch your hospitality service, as too much of it can ‘steal’ the feeling of commitment to the community. Be caring, but let people manage themselves, too.
Here’s a simple example: if a member comes to you with an idea of an event that might be interesting to other people in the space, tell them “Sounds good. When would you like to do it?” and support them in organizing it.
Letting people be part of the process makes a lot of sense. Because, after all, a community is something active, not passive.
Whether it allows companies to meet their new big client without even leaving the office or helps young startups to grow, or simply gives an opportunity for knowledge sharing or wearing pants; a community is something that adds both human and business value.
Community is the core, the foundation, the inner spirit of a coworking space. It’s what attracts people. It’s an enigma that’s often difficult to explain, but yet, it’s why we’re all in Coworking, after all.