One of the most difficult things to grasp – and explain – when talking about coworking is the human element: your community. There is a lot of advice floating around on how to build and manage your coworking community, and you could be doing every single of these things to still find that you are not getting the results you are after: a flourishing coworking community.
So this is not a post that will list things you can do. Instead, I’ll tell you a story.
Have you got a cuppa? Are you comfortable? Then read on…
I am lucky to have a front row seat when it comes to learning what makes a great coworking space with a rich community. For the past two years I have been working at one of the longest running coworking spaces in the world, The Melting Pot. Here I have dual role of an “on the ground” host (which is what we call a community manager) and a behind the scenes administrator of its consultancy offshoot, the Coworking Accelerator.
A charity and social enterprise established in 2007, The Melting Pot’s people-centred values permeate the business on all levels, and I experience this first hand on a daily basis. I watch people walk through the door and immediately feel the vibe. I can see community building in action when a coworker offers to make the next round of tea, or when we celebrate someone’s successful funding application. But I also see the principles behind it all, the delicate processes and the intricate web of interactions crystallised into concrete tools and captured into words.
While a great vibe and community is immediately obvious when present (and even more so when lacking!) capturing its essence can be surprisingly difficult. This is especially if you’re just starting out on your coworking journey, which is evident by how many people attend our workshops on community building at every conference. People come wondering what to do and how to do it, and get stuck discussing how soon to follow up a potential member in order to make them feel welcome and valued. They wonder: what is the secret ingredient, what is the thing that makes community flourish?
But while understanding the mechanisms behind communities and the people that make them up is important and will help your coworking business in the long run, the most powerful take-away from our workshops is always very simple. At every workshop, Claire – the founder and CEO of The Melting Pot – makes the point of saying loudly and clearly:
“We can all build a great community. We do it all the time.”
The point is that there is no trick, no shortcuts or hard and fast rules on building a community. There is no set list of things that will make your coworking community flourish. It is about the people who make it up. It is all human, it is all fluid, in flux and it takes time. There is no secret ingredient or, if you like, the secret ingredient is… you.
You are part of your coworking community, whether it is just starting to grow or has been busy and healthy for years, just as I am part of my coworking community. And so for me, being a “host” feels right in a way that being “community manager” would not. Because even as I am here to make sure that everything works smoothly, I am not separate from the community I support. Instead, I am able to be a person – not a role – who has good days and bad days. I am able to be my genuine self even as I am being professional.
So in one way, community building is extremely simple and intuitive. But you may still be left with the question of how The Melting Pot has achieved a situation in which people feel comfortable to be just that – people. And this valid question leads us back to the point of understanding the principles and processes at work. You do not need to have this understanding to build your coworking community. But it helps. So how do you gain this understanding?
Firstly, it comes with experience. Go and “do community” like you already do in your life in general. If you stay genuine and keep in mind why you are doing this “coworking thing”, the understanding will come with time. As you build your community alongside your business, it will become stronger and it will be easier to sustain its momentum and inherent joy. It is of course also the case that once you streamline the practical aspects of running your coworking space, you will have more time to do the things you actually want to do, like focus on your community!
The thing is though, that it is not always feasible to wait. Sometimes – especially if you are just starting out – the time is just never there and the learning not as intentional or consistent as you’d like. If this is true for you, don’t worry!
We know that starting a coworking business and building a strong community around it is difficult and takes time and effort. So we have created the Coworking Accelerator to share our expertise and knowledge. Through it, we organise a workshop at least once a year where you can EXPLORE what it takes to launch and grow a successful coworking space with less hassle, risk and cost. We provide tools and resources that you can use to sharpen your skills, avoid pitfalls and gain the knowledge that will help get that practical stuff out of your hair. We offer free, 20 minute coworking consultations for you to learn directly about what we’ve done to grow our community, and if you drop by The Melting Pot, you can experience the vibe first hand. Last but not least, join our CONNECT network as a piece in building a community of peers… with you as the secret ingredient.