As the coworking industry evolves, chains and independents spaces alike are molding themselves to better accommodate the variety of needs of modern-day entrepreneurs. Shared workspaces are differentiating themselves by offering value-added services, partnerships with nearby retailers, unique environments, and attractive payment structures.
Yet the true value does not lie in such perks, but rather in the coworking community within the space itself! If Wifi and a table were all that was needed, a coffee shop or a home office would suffice. Yet, being social creatures by our nature, we gravitate towards camaraderie, which for entrepreneurs, is often only found within a coworking space.
In order to cultivate this vital facet of shared working space, it falls upon coworking managers to nurture their space and members. Galvanize touts itself as a "learning community for technology" with eight locations. Aaron Hohle, their Director for Community, says community building must be fostered. “The desire to connect is there, but members want it to be easy, and it’s up to coworking spaces to do that.”
So what do owners have to do when wanting to build a strong coworking community?
Step 1: Create a Sense of Belonging
For Galvanize's Hohle, the keyword is "belonging". Determining the identity of shared office space allows for a common ground where coworkers of varying personalities and functional skill sets are able to feel comfortable. This makes it easier to build networks, bounce ideas off each other, find lunch partners, and ultimately unlock the potential of a cohesive professional community.
This sense of belonging plays an integral role in the direction of the coworking space in the future, and as the coworking industry begins to get more saturated, the benefits of a strong community and unique sense of belonging become even more relevant. The Farm SoHo is a member of the League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces. Sancar Ayalp, The Farm SoHo's marketing manager believes that the “differentiating factor is the vibe and the focus of the community itself.”
Ayalp continues to tell us that as the barriers of communication are weakened through shared values and interests, the innate desire within individuals to collaborate comes out. And the roots of a flourishing community begin to take hold and allowing operators a strong foothold to further nurture and grow this community.
Step 2: Building on Belonging
Once members are comfortable, community managers can encourage further community growth. This can manifest itself through events and organized activities. While every shared workspace has events, with belonging, coworkers can use these activities to build deeper bonds and conduct business. This can take the form of games, social events, lunch, and activities “centered around learning”. These tend to encourage “connections and discussion amongst members.” says Sancar. He believes that these types of events would be most useful when building a conducive community. This allows different individuals to be able to learn from one another, inspire each other, and ultimately bring members closer together.
The variations are endless, and the best approach for you depends on the unique culture of a particular coworking space. One notable approach is to highlight your members and their successes through communication channels. In your newsletter, Slack channel, or Facebook page, highlight new offerings, deals closed and funds raised. Give random members a chance to present themselves to kickoff events. This can spark connections that might otherwise go uncovered.
Step 3: Sustaining Belonging
As if the first two steps weren't hard enough, community managers must remember that it is an ongoing process. As such, you must continue to think of ways to innovate further to foster a close-knit community. One way that Hohle from Galvanize does so is through member roundtables. Coworkers are urged to offer suggestions on different topics, allowing members to feel more valued within the space.
So, How Important Is Your Coworking Space Community?
At GCUC, or formally the Global Coworking Unconference, New Work Cities founder Tony Bacigalupo said that he believes the community is the only meaningful differentiation. It is imperative that operators create and share a compelling vision for their community. Members must feel that they belong, that they are valued members of a group that can grow stronger by working together. Community managers should encourage, and even curate, networking between members.
Written by David Lui