Notes from Coworking Convos: Community Building Strategies for Space Operators

Coworking Convos is a monthly virtual event series hosted by Cat Johnson. Each month, a different topic is presented by guests with real experience, who are subject matter experts and walk the walk in the coworking and flex space industry.

Coworks is a sponsor of Coworking Convos, and we have the privilege of sharing these dispatches afterward — spotlighting the juicy tidbits and powerful takeaways shared in the hour-long conversation. 

But by no means does this replace the real value of being there! Check out the next Convo and be in the room when it happens.

As many who follow Cat Johnson already know, coworking is community. But how do you create, curate, and cultivate it?

Remember your why

Danielle Stroble of Keller Street CoWork kicked off the conversation, with a reminder to focus on your 'why'

“I want to be with other people but not just any people, MY people. It’s easy to lose sight of that.”

Danielle did the branding work to identify her ideal customer, losing sight of the face that she herself was the ideal member. Petaluma is a creative community, and they became her focus instead. Then on opening day, everyone other than those people showed up.

“The people who showed up the first week are still here five years later,” she said. “They've participated in building the community — they have skin in the game.”

The lesson? Let go of who you *think* your ideal client is, and look at the community you want to be with. You'll bring people to the table who want to stay.

Meanwhile, Danielle claims she couldn't sell a cold drink to a man in the desert, but became known as the "over enthusiastic spin instructor" because she believed in the community so much.

TIP: You don't have to curate all the experiences all the time. You can let go and trust someone else.

coworking software operator

Share your social capital

Then the group welcomed Wesley Alexander from CoBiz in Richmond, CA. The space is in one of two ‘opportunity zones,’ which is a designation that already identifies needs of that specific community.

Wesley found he had to introduce coworking as a concept to the community, but it was very well received. 

“You attract the energy you put out there,” he said. And he was particularly delighted when a member was equally protective of the 'energy' in the space.

For Wesley, it’s important to understand what your community wants to do so you can deliver on it.

“My community wanted to tell stories, so I had to make sure we had the resources to help them do it.”

In addition, his job is to make sure everyone feels like they belong. And to do that, he connects members to each other.

“Share your social capital — who can you introduce them to? How can you expand their network?”

TIP: Create a formal process to introduce new members to your community. CoBiz sends an email intro to the community with some facts about the new member.

Your community manager is not a receptionist

Maya Delano comes from NextSpace Santa Cruz, one of Cat’s previous coworking stomping grounds. In training new community managers, Maya has many best practices:

  • The community starts with the tour! Don’t wait to introduce it. Lead with it.
  • Have 'ambassador' members (social butterflies) to introduce to new folks first. “It’s better to have them meet someone who is over the top than to not feel connected at all.”
  • After the tour, invite them back to the next event you are having, 
  • Consistent programming is so important. But it's not all about happy hours. Bagels and breakfast draw a different crowd as does kickball at lunch.
  • Listen to your spidey sense about people who aren't a fit for the community
  • Designate a specific time every day for member services to access you. Participant Ashley Griffin of Collective615 has ‘Come Sit with Me’ links to her calendar. “On certain days and times to have an informal chat to get to know them.”

To that end, Maya and Cat mentioned how they ‘blew up’ the front desk at NextSpace Santa Cruz, simply to free the community manager from that receptionist role and from being glued to one spot.

Finally, we got to hear from Catherine Tafto from Loom Shared Space in Pukekohe, New Zealand.

In her space, the full time residents are spread out throughout the hot desks. “That way there isn't a clique and those two groups can mingle.”

Catherine advised operators and managers to stay true to the ‘vibe of the space’ from membership to furniture. For her, that meant having to reject a free sofa, because it was ’too corporate’ and didn’t give the members the right feeling.

People crave belonging. Explore ways to create that. “Our members are referred to as ‘Loominaries’ so they feel like they are part of the community. Even Alumni are "LoomNi" and children are ‘little loominaries.’

Loom also boasts a meme wall, where members can post in-jokes, references, and conversations from the space. “But you need to induct folks quickly so they don't feel like outsiders when they see that,” she advised.

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