Today was day 1 of the 2017 Canadian edition of the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC). While there were a ton of great ideas discussed, one clear, overarching theme: coworking is about community.
Two industry leaders prove this point:
- Carsten Foertsch of Deskmag pointed out your competition is not another coworking space. Rather, around 70% come from either a home or traditional office.
- According to Tony Bacigalupo, founder of New Work Cities, the value of a workspace alone is approaching zero. Organizations as diverse as Cadillac, Lululemon, Amazon Web Services and Capital One are offering literally free coworking space to startups.
So how do you compete against free? Create a strong coworking community, of course.
Building a Coworking Community
In a panel of coworking space operators, Melissa Hope from HiVE Vancouver spoke about the specialization of shared workspaces. She gave examples of workplaces focused on architecture or female-focused. While trying to cater to everyone is never a good business plan, the diversity of options means there is something for everyone.
The Commons Calgary’s Jess Steinbach believes independent coworking operations are a reflection of their owner. When she meets a potential coworker that is not a fit, she often refers them to what could be perceived as a competitor, based on the prospect’s needs and personality. Unconference executive producer Liz Elam concurred. In a panel about the future of work, Liz said the industry is bigger than WeWork, and have a chance to attract significant enterprise players, if operators work together.
Challenges to Community Building
The Deskmag research highlighted some serious challenges to creating a strong community. Coworkers are increasingly part of teams, versus freelancers or independent workers. Teams interact with the community differently than individual workers. And nearly all tenants have another workspace.
Fortunately the day provided ideas to overcome these obstacles. Several participants spoke about using technology like Greetly. The receptionist, they said, allows staff to focus on community. There were similar comments about mailroom and conference room management software.
Bacigalupo from New Work Cities suggested starting by focusing on just 10 people at a time. Create a special experience for them and help build their network. In turn they will rally other tenants and attract new prospects. L’Atelier coworking member Kurtis Stewart believes he has two professional communities – the people in his company who he works remotely from, and the people he works in proximity to.
GCUC Canada director Ashley Proctor kicked off the day with the best summary possible: “coworking is not about desks or WiFi. Coworking is about people.” Just like a startup should focus on their culture, your shared workspace must define, refine and continuously install your community plan.
Have you had success building a coworking community? Share your favorite tactics below.