More than a desk: the secrets of building a coworking community
A guest article by Anny Levy of The HUB Islington, London, UK:
I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has come up our stairs at Hub Islington, looking a bit dazed and blinking in the sunlight, and has asked about membership after telling me they’re going mad working at home (one even said she’d started talking to the pot plants!)
However, community in a coworking space doesn’t ‘just happen’ all by itself. You can have a space full of people, all keen to connect and collaborate, and people can still go home at the end of the day not having spoken to anyone beyond asking if anyone has a spare Macbook charger.
As a nation, we Brits aren’t the most forthcoming when it comes to breaking the ice. We need prompting and an excuse if we are to strike up conversation with a stranger – even if it’s just signal failure when you’re on a train.
As a coworking space manager, one of our key challenges is fostering community in our workspace. How do we get people talking and communicating – and more to the point – how do we ensure we create a community that encouragesmeaningfulconnections – ones that lead to professional collaboration, mutual support and cross-pollination of ideas.
While many new coworking spaces have put a lot of thought into how the physical design of their spaces can foster collaboration and connections (rounded tables, shared communal areas etc.) what is often overlooked is the importance of active community hosting. This is something that I can proudly say has been integral to the HUB’s approach to coworking over the years, and we have even created a guide for HUB staff around the world that we published internally in July.
The benefits to getting this right are extensive – from developing a deep sense of loyalty amongst our members (who love to call themselves Hubbers), to increasing trust between them so they don’t feel nervous around, say, leaving their laptop on the desk when they pop out for lunch.
More importantly though, a strong community means that connections happen organically with coworkers trulycoworking, as opposed to just sitting next to each other while they work – starting businesses together, contracting within the community, sharing experiences and knowledge that help them to develop their enterprise and being able to draw on the collective intelligence of the network for brainstorms and strategising.
Community hosting can consist of anything from organising a programme of events that give members the chance to network and pitch their projects, to encouraging the community to come together for shared lunches or a glass of wine at the end of the week.
Our Community Hosting practice guide distinguishes the ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ experiences members should have on joining a coworking space. The ordinary experiences are those that they sign up for – broadband, desk space and access to a network of fellow coworkers.
The ‘extraordinary’ experiences are those that they couldn’t necessarily predict but that add immeasurable value to their membership – the actions taken by hosts “to inspire, connect and support members in the form of programming, events, education and incubation” – in other words, the content that enriches their experience in the network and helps their business to grow.
Hosts are networking facilitators and connection catalysts – we welcome new members into the community and actively help them build links within the network. Increasingly, hosting also means building community in the online arena as well as offline in the physical workspace.
We’ve recently launched HUBNet – our global member social networking site – and getting members on board and making the most of the platform requires active virtual community hosting: welcoming members on to the site, linking them to other relevant members and sharing valuable links and resources.