We frequently hear that coworking is more than just a place to work. All those latest events with coronavirus outbreak, lockdowns, and recession put community building matter into the focus of many workspace operators. They experienced really hard times when the first wave of COVID-19 stroke the world. Many workspaces ceased their existence but many of them not only survived but even enhanced their positions in the market.
Workspaces that managed to live through the initial shock were utterly flexible and inventive. They introduced intricate campaigns and anti-crisis technologies. However, all winners have their secret tactics that we are going to discuss in a series of dedicated articles. I am talking about the coworking community as a major asset of any workspace and a durable shield against the dreadful second wave of Covid.
You will probably find no exact definition of the coworking community on the net. The fact leaves much room for expressing our own thoughts and ideas.
I believe that a
coworking community is one of the key workspace values. It includes all members of a particular network together with managers and operators. The community of coworkers makes workspace sustainable and adds value to membership.
Belonging to a coworking community is beneficial for all members as there is no competition where one person wins while others lose. Here every personal gain becomes the gain of the entire community.
The coworking community is constantly developing. New members are involved as long as they can become a useful addition to the existing group in terms of a business partnership, friendship, active membership, etc.
Growing a community is not about pitching your services and recruiting new people under your brand logo, it's not about creating Facebook groups. The coworking community is about relationships and trust. Community members not only work under the same roof, but they also share experiences, responsibilities, and participate in all sorts of events, which keeps the community alive and develops a sense of belonging and commitment in each person.
Building a community at a coworking space is easier said than done. Some operators are patient and stubborn enough to succeed and some give up after a few failures. This section is aimed to motivate you to go ahead with your efforts.
Let's get to know why is it so critical to build community at a workspace.
A workspace without community is an office center. Historically, coworking spaces were the places for freelance entrepreneurs to reduce the burden of expenses through a shared economy, to avoid isolation through shared experiences, and to find partnerships through networking with other members. Without a dynamic community, your workspace can offer only one value — desks for rent.
You can't inspire loyalty without a community. A lot of entrepreneurs come to coworking spaces looking for company, interaction, and a supportive atmosphere. If you don't provide these values, they have no reason to sign up for your membership. Even if they do sign up, they don't feel the belonging, so can leave your workspace any time without regrets.
A lost advantage over competitors. Workspace business becomes more competitive day-by-day. If you don't have a community, what can you contrapose your competitors? Why customers should choose you instead of staying at home, renting an office in some prestigious business center, or using one of the shared offices?
To make a long story short, a workspace without community contradicts the initial coworking notion. Members of such a center don't get the value of belonging to a group, so if they find a cheaper desk, they leave. It goes without saying that people coming to work at your premise will never become its evangelists (you have no culture to evangelize), they won't promote or recommend your space, they won't give you feedback as they are not interested in your brand growth, strength, and health.
I hope the above points gave you a better understanding of what you miss out on by neglecting the community. I believe you are ready to start working on it inside and beyond the walls of your workspace linking and activating local businesses and individuals.
The best advice here is probably — start building community even before launching a workspace. You don't actually need a space at this stage. You can reach your prospective community members on socials or organize evens at some cozy cafes. Any place will do as long as it has electricity and the Internet.
Be ready to educate people because plenty of entrepreneurs have no experience of coworking or even an idea of a shared economy workspace.
Point out the issues freelancers have to overcome when they work from home alone or try to concentrate in a noisy café. Describe multiple benefits of a coworking space, show how it can change their life, make them productive, and happy.
Be creative and convincing when preparing your speech. Your goal is to uncover the values entrepreneurs get when they share some work time in a social way. Never forget that your prospective customers are businessmen who need to earn their bread. Explain that coworking is not about socializing but working, collaborating, learning, and growing together.
One event is not enough to start a coworking community, run regular campaigns for some time, and very soon you will make up a list of prospects willing to come to your space once it is open.
Supposing your coworking space is operating. New members are looking to jump on board. Everything goes fine, still, your community-building efforts must continue. Let's see what you need to do to develop your community.
A selective approach to members. Ideally, you should accept only those members that can become a good addition to the existing community. I don't ask you to reject membership sign-ups. You won't need to. If you know your target audience perfectly well, you can tailor your marketing campaigns to attract particular types of members. Believe me, your revenue won't decrease if you stop trying to please everyone. If a member gets at your workspace by chance, they are likely to leave soon because your policy doesn't resonate with their interests. Just the opposite, when you cater to a certain group, they are happy with your interior, amenities, technology, events, perks, and services set. Happy members stay with you for years and bring new people in.
Introduce new members. Some members get in touch with unknown people easily, others are too shy to join the conversations immediately. I suggest you work out a procedure for new members' introduction. It shouldn't necessarily be personal intro especially if you are managing a big coworking network. You can use your coworking newsfeed to break the ice and help newbies to socialize.
Organize events and attend them personally. This point doesn't require extensive explanation. There is no better way to enhance your community than offering varied events interesting to your members. Hackathons, workshops, yoga classes, Friday nights with music and free beer, social runs, whatever, let members share experiences and become closer to each other.
Share brand stories & encourage members to do the same. Each brand has a story. Share it with community members to involve them in your world and get more personal. Brand marketing is based on content and the most emotional content is storytelling. Shoot photos and videos, run Facebook, and Instagram profiles. Create stories together with members, interview them, and post what they say. This way you get valuable information about your customers, their likes and dislikes, interact with members, and place powerful trust signals for prospective clients. Nothing is more trustworthy that insider's feedback/review/story. Use influencer outreach tools to cooperate with nano and micro influencers.
Stay true to yourself. Your brand should have its unique values and clear positioning along with the social mission. This is required as a community can be built only around authority. Coworkers should take you as an industry influencer who knows how to run a business and achieve set objectives. Think of your brand as a gravitation point that pulls members and keeps them on the orbit.
Refrain from pitching. Your flexible workspace is a complicated business model where you offer varied products. Sure enough that you want to grow your revenue, your business, open new locations, sell more memberships, and additional services. However, you can't use community events for pitches because it will ruin everything. Speaking about sales, if you want to boost them, make your products and services easy to discover and apply for. Nice and simple mobile apps for members with the possibility of remote meeting room booking, services catalog, community feed, etc. is a much more humane way to close the deals. Members take this approach as improved comfort and not as an attempt to pull your hands deeper in their pockets.
Connect people. You know your members as you guide and support them throughout their customer's paths. You store their data in a membership catalog of your coworking space software. It's easy for you to identify good matches for partnership and collaboration. Take a proactive position and connect businessmen during the event, coffee break, lunch, or any other possibility if you believe that they will benefit from your introduction.
Build trust. Trust is a basic component of a coworking community. Show members that you care about their issues via implementing contemporary customers' support technology at your space. Respond quickly and offer effective solutions. Show members how much you trust them by enabling self-service wherever possible (meeting room booking, applying for benefits, making payments, etc.) Stay connected with members all the time, post news updates in your corporate communication channel, involve them in conversations, ask opinions, encourage likes, and shares.
Arrange networking spots. I am sure that you are aware of the best practices of flexible workspace design and there are plenty of areas where coworkers can comfortably sit and communicate. You also know that the best discussions spark near the coffee spots. Make sure that there are enough coolers, coffee machines, and kettles placed near your seating arrangements. Buy quality coffee and tea, provide milk and cookies. The taste of your coffee will make coworkers come to these common spots, stay there for longer, and enjoy the company of peers more.