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Tools & Tips

How to get your community rolling

Lunch break at Sektor 5, a coworking space in Vienna

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When you talk about coworking you have to include community as well. It is one of the first things that come up when explaining coworking to your clueless friends. Yet, community doesn’t just happen because you sit people down in an open space and let them work next to each other every day. It takes some work to get your community rolling, but in the end it will pay off. Freelancers initially join coworking spaces for the comparatively low cost, but they stay for the community and the network.

Networking and community usually does not happen while you sit at your desk starring at your screen with your earphones plugged in. It happens before, in between and after. For example, when you get your morning coffee, take some time for lunch or (for those of us who are going to die of cancer someday) go outside to puff on a cigarette.  Taking a break is good for your productivity, because let’s face it, nobody can be productive and motivated for eight (or more) hours straight. Also, it's not healthy to be sitting on your butt for that long, even if you’re getting stuff done. Observe the 20-20-20 rule and go grab a cup of coffee. If you want to boost your community involvement during these little breaks, it helps a lot to have an informal gathering space available.

Informal gathering places

Most coworkers run on coffee, of course there are some who prefer a cup of tea (cheerio, to our English friends), but it is not all about the coffee. Since you usually have to get up for this, it gives you a chance to stretch a bit and move those stiff limbs of yours over to the coffee machine or the café and get revitalized. Taking a coffee break is not just about the caffeine, it's about socializing, networking and relaxing, and there's a lot of tradition and culture added to it.

In Vienna, Austria, a place where the coffee culture goes way back, the coffee houses were (and still are) quite different from the rest of the world. It was quite common that people would come in, order one cup of coffee and stay for the rest of the day. At the end of the 19th century, the artists and writers who basically lived and worked there overran the Viennese coffee houses. It was the place where they painted, wrote, read newspapers and met their friends and enemies.

Looking at it that way, you could even say that the coffee houses in Vienna were the first Coworking Spaces. People didn’t just go there to drink coffee, they went there to be part of a community and being in close proximity to a certain vice was more of a pleasant side effect. The regulars knew each other and sometimes even worked on projects together. The coffee house bohemians were the forefathers of the so-called digital-bohemian, who now occupy the cafés and coworking spaces across the globe.

Comparing this piece of history with contemporary café and coworking culture, you will find that not all that much has changed. People still (or rather, once again) sit around in shared spaces nursing a cup of coffee and enjoying each other’s company. The main difference is, that instead of notepads and sketchbooks they now have laptops and smart-phones, but the rest essentially remains the same.

We still need these places where informal interaction can happen.  Even though coffee shop conquerors tend to not interact all that much with the people around them, cafés (especially those incorporated in coworking spaces) are a crucial part of communication within the coworking society. If no such space is available, the community is just not the same.

No place for casual chitchat…

I don’t want to be pointing fingers, but I recently spent some time at a coworking space where they didn’t have any communal area. In this particular coworking space, the coworkers spent every day working alongside each other not knowing their neighbor’s occupation, let alone their name. Of course not all coworking spaces have the resources or space to have a built in café, but it helps the community a lot if the members have a place were they can just kick back and relax for a bit. Be it a corner with a comfy couch or some sort of open-plan-live-in-kitchen.

>> Next page: 4 tips on how to boost your community

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