You Can’t See It, But You Can Feel It: Camp GCUC Afternoon Session

Key insights from the afternoon session of Camp GCUC 2018, the ‘boot camp’ for new coworking operators.
  • Part 2 of Camp GCUC 2018, the boot camp for new entrants to the flexible workspace industry.
  • During the afternoon session, Ashley Proctor and Tony Bacigalupo covered the basics of building community.
  • Vince Pan, founder of Analogue Studio, discussed workspace design and how to make a space ‘instagrammable’.

This is the second part to Allwork.Space’s coverage of Camp GCUC in NYC. You can read the first part here.

Camp GCUC afternoon sessions focused on the human side of the workplace; the speakers talked about elements that although they can’t be seen, they can definitely be felt and they greatly impact your workplace environment and atmosphere.

First off, we heard from Ashley Proctor and Tony Bacigalupo about community: how do you go about building it?

“It’s not kumbaya, but it is serendipitous”

One of the most important elements of coworking is the “co” part of it: collaboration, communication, and community. In Bacigalupi’s words “we need to get in a mindset where we know that we are dealing with actual real people, people whose lives are going to be affected by being in our spaces.”

And while there’s been a huge push towards humanizing the workplace, many companies and operators still struggle with the definition of community. It’s a broad concept, it’s subjective, and it means different things for different people.

For Bacigalupo and Proctor, community is about establishing meaningful relationships and establishing trust, it’s about understanding your market and the type of people you want to have in your space.

Building community

One of the biggest mistakes operators make when starting a coworking space is waiting until their doors are open to build their community. Future operators need to start reaching out to people and building their community before they open the space; for this they recommend talking with your inner circle, existing contacts, and reach out to other local communities.

Now, when it comes to gathering people, you have to find a good way to reach out to them and get them to meet up with you. Bacigalupo made an analogy to bars. Bars don’t say “hey come on over and drink at my bar.” Instead, they say “hey, come play trivia or come to karaoke night.” Coworking operators, existing and upcoming, should take a similar approach to reaching out and attracting people. Offer them something that they won’t find somewhere else (a chair, a desk, and good wifi can be found in plenty of spaces).

Be careful, however when gathering people. Proctor warns against relying too much on your own network to build community, stating that “we tend to attract people similar to ourselves”, and while at first this might not be a bad thing, diversity adds a lot of value to communities and collaboration, so you need to put some effort into hiring or bringing people in that aren’t like you.

Making a community sustainable

Building a community is one thing, making it sustainable is another. Some tips from the experts:

  • Have a code of conduct and/or membership agreement that members have to sign when they start using your space.
  • Culture comes from the top-down, so make sure you have clear rules about what is allowed and what isn’t.
  • Community managers are key to your business, you need to hire well and you need to be able to support these people in a lot of different ways.
  • You need to have a communal space where people can eat together. Sharing a meal helps people connect in ways that other activities don’t.
  • You need to know on which end of the community spectrum your members are: are they looking for security (they are just looking for familiar faces to be around) or are they looking for new faces and opportunities to mingle more? Understanding this will help you better define what types of events or activities you should host, and how often.
  • Hold your members accountable for helping around with the space: dishes, giving tours, keeping their desk space clean, etc.
  • Software can only be an amplification of your community building efforts, you cannot solely rely on it to build community and connections.
  • If you run a big space, you need to identify your members that are super connectors, and empower them to help build and nurture your community.
  • Always keep a record of the people you meet and where you met them.

Workplace Design: Building a home for your tribe

The second afternoon session was about workplace design, how to make a space instagrammable without compromising circulation and other subtle elements that make a big difference in how people interact with the space.

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Vince Pan, Founder of Analogue Studio, started by saying that the way you design your space will say a lot about the type of people you will attract. Which is why before you actually begin fitting out and designing your space, you need to first define your tribe. This will help you make decisions like, how many private offices should you offer? What type of activities do you want to host?

Next, you need to define your scope (in other words, money and time). You need to know how much money you have, where that money is going to be going. This will drive decisions like longevity of lease, materials you use, and how much you will charge.

Lastly, you need to define your space and start building out. This means selecting a space and planning its design features. For this you need to be clear that there is a big difference between rentable vs usable square feet. Key factors that you need to keep in mind when picking a space include windows, access to natural light, stairs, elevators, and bathroom locations.

Pro tips to nailing your workplace design:

  • Your space should aim to blend together innovation, learning, and culture
  • Some design decisions will be related to performance (these will drive about 60% of your project), and others will be aesthetic decisions.
  • Sustainable design has become a baseline in level of expectation, both in terms of environment as well as human (wellness). You can look at the WELL Building Standard, the Fitwell Certification, and integrating biophilia into your design.
  • If you sign a long lease, you should consider refreshing your design about every 5 years.
  • There are no shortcuts when it comes to soundproofing; make sure you insulate walls and seal holes in the walls. Also carefully examine ceiling materials, tiles and types of doors, as these can greatly reduce or increase a space’s noise levels.
  • If you are thinking of using white noise, use it only in common areas, do not use white noise in private offices.
  • Circulation is key to design and community, as it will define how people get around your space and interact with it and others inside it. How you arrange and plan out your space can make a great difference on how much collaboration and interaction there is.

Stay tuned for more GCUC takeaways.