Community is everything in a coworking space. As coworking pioneers have been saying for years, coworking is not about the desks and wifi.
But building community isn’t easy. It takes vision, commitment, consistency on the part of community managers and, perhaps most importantly, member engagement and participation.
I chatted with Maya Delano, Senior Community Manager at NextSpace (and rockstar community builder in my home space in Santa Cruz, Ca.) about engaging members in their coworking community. Here are 19 of her best tips:
1. Create opportunities for every member
Find ways to engage every type of member in the community, regardless of whether they’re an introvert, or an extrovert, or what their background is. Providing opportunities for everyone to interact with other members.
2. Remember that coworking is about the people
A coworking community is an ecosystem we create for ourselves. It’s how we interact with each other. Loneliness is increasingly a factor in our world. As much as people love having their computers and being at home or a coffee shop, they miss the water cooler talk.
3. Create events people want to be part of
Make events fun, exciting and interesting. Keep people curious and on their toes. Make events all-inclusive. Provide events that every type of person is interested in. Provide a variety of events. You can’t just do a happy hour on Friday and expect that it will engage everyone. When we started doing member recess, it was because a lot of members didn’t want to sit around and chit chat and drink. That wasn’t their thing. But going out and playing, and being creative for an hour in the afternoon, was totally their thing.
4. Set the mood
I set the mood in our coworking space depending on where I sit and how I interact with members. I model how loud to be and how much talking we do with each other.
5. Connect people in large and small ways
When I talk about member engagement, it’s on several levels. On a small level, I introduce people, make sure the conversation hooks for one or two sentences, then walk away and let them manage their own connections. On a big level, it’s throwing the biggest, baddest holiday party you could ever come up with.
6. Be a composer
The community manager is the composer of a space. Community engagement is not going to happen with just you, you need all the different instruments. You can’t expect members to just come together as individual instruments to make amazing music and create an amazing feeling. Without the composer, it’s not going to happen. I consider myself either the cruise ship director or the composer, depending on whether you want to be on a more classical level or a silly, Love Boat concept.
7. Set the community tone on tours
Establishing the culture of your coworking space starts with a tour. I make sure that on a tour, I introduce that person to two or three people. Those members know I’m going to introduce them so they don’t feel like I’m interrupting. I introduce them to someone who’s like the space mom, to the guy who chats with everyone, the small business development guy who can give them business advice. I introduce people to our members so they immediately make connections. Then, when they come back to the space for their trial day or next coworking day they already have a few names and faces. I know—because I’ve already set the culture on the tour—that the members will say hi to that person. I’ve already set that tone with the tour.
8. Include everyone in Happy Hours
We really prioritize our happy hour and make sure there’s something for everyone. We always have non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages so everyone is comfortable. We always have a lot of food because not everyone’s there for the booze.The happy hour is a sales tool and an opportunity to get members away from their computer. It’s the appropriate space to chit chat, for people to talk about who they are, to network, and to engage with each other. We introduce new members at happy hour and I start conversations for them. I’m always threading, threading, threading. I am the weaver of community engagement. I’m constantly thinking about how I can connect this person to another member and to the community at-large.
9. Empower members to host events
We give members the opportunity to express themselves in the space. Can they bring in an event, an activity or a nonprofit? I give them a platform to bring outside influences into the space so I’m not doing all the heavy lifting. For example, they bring in the Downtown Streets Team nonprofit to host a fundraiser. I give them permission, and I support them, but they’re doing most of the heavy lifting. That way, members are fully engaged because they’ve taken ownership of the space and ownership of an activity where they can share their passion with the rest of the space. Member events open up networking and business opportunities for people, and it’s an opportunity to share what they do with the other members. Our NextTalks empower members to share their knowledge and give back to the space.
Hosted Happy Hour by NextSpace Santa Cruz Coworking Member Idea Fab Labs
10. Embrace the community manager lifestyle
This is not a 9-to-5 job—it’s a lifestyle job. If you don’t enjoy being in the space, and if you don’t enjoy being around your members, then this is not the role for you and you’re not going to get the results around community engagement and community management. In a way, this is customer service—it’s about how can you best serve the members.
11. Get curious
If you’re not constantly curious to know how your members are, curious to know what they’re up to, and curious about how you can help them, you’re making a huge mistake. Curiosity is what gets you engaged with other people.
12. Don’t try to do everything yourself
You can’t micromanage your space. You have to engage your members in the space. You’re not the one doing the dishes if you’ve engaged all your members in a fun game around dishes. Always find a solution to a problem. If you’re just telling your members they’re bad for not doing dishes, there’s not going to be any engagement. Figure out how to make it fun. Make funny signs, put a mirror near the sink that says, “I’m a member who does their dishes.” Create playful, engaging ways to set your community norms.
13. Create community norms
Have community norms and rules and regulations. These norms help define the culture of your space. If you don’t have a clear idea about your own community norms and the culture of your space, no one else is going to. Create a town hall meeting to get everyone engaged in creating the community norms and getting on-board with them. You can’t just come up with the norms, you have to include the whole community. Community norms is coworking 101. You’re not going to be able to get engagement if you haven’t brought your community in to buy into these standards and community norms
14. Find ways to include shy members
For people who are shy and on the introverted side, I simply ask them what they’d like to see at the space. Ask them what would get them out from behind their computer? That is your first step of engagement. A lot of times, people don’t get engaged because they don’t feel confident sharing their voice. You need to acknowledge them, let them know their voice is important, then follow through with something that would engage that type of person.
15. Get outside the space
NextSpace San Jose does a Walkabout Wednesday where members go out to lunch together. We suggest going to a place where you pay upfront so you don’t have to wait for a bill or split the bill. We also do evening or weekend activities, such as riding the train together or doing a beach cleanup. Make the activity something members can invite their families to.
16. Think beyond networking events
We’re all a little over networking. It can be exhausting. Finding ways to get people out and engaged, without having to do the networking chit-chat, is key.
17. Get the right community manager balance
For senior community managers, and spaces with more than one community manager, make sure you have complementary skill sets and strengths. If you’re a sales and marketing person, make sure you get an operations person. If you have certain weaknesses as an owner or leader, it’s good to hire someone who has the strengths you don’t have. You’ll balance each other out and it will make for a better business. If you’re not good at events, get a sales and marketing person. That’s been a huge key to my success at NextSpace Santa Cruz. You don’t need two extroverts in the same role. If you have an extrovert and an introvert, people can connect in different ways. Those two styles of people engage in different ways so you’ll be able to cover a lot more ground with a lot more personalities.
18. Take care of your business so you can focus on community
Make sure you have your operations taken care of so you have the time and energy to do awesome events. Think about the structure of your business. If you’re constantly behind and you can’t do events because you have to deal with your P&L, you’re still stuck in survival mode. When you hire, think about that.
19. Embrace the importance of being a community manager
Community engagement is a higher level, spiritual type of thing. It’s an advanced emotional experience for human beings. It’s a woke kind of thing.
Pacific Workplaces offers shared workspaces in 17 locations around California and Nevada. If you are looking to impact your local community while being part of a vibrant group of coworking professionals, find a Pacific Workplaces location near you.
By Cat Johnson, a content strategist, storyteller and coworking member at NextSpace Santa Cruz.