A happy and supportive community is the Holy Grail of every coworking space. But how do you build a positive and authentic workplace culture?
Allwork.Space caught up with Justyna Michalik-Minken, Head of Ops & Comms at Creative Works in London, to find out how it’s done.
Justyna’s advice includes learning from independent spaces, asking members what they need (and giving it to them), and simply being human.
Why do people join coworking spaces, and why do businesses choose them over more ‘traditional’ office setups? According to Harvard Business Review, it boils down to three things: the desire to be part of a community, to gain more professional independence and to develop a higher sense of purpose.
In other words, coworking members join for the culture, not the physical space (although comfort and facilities are important too, of course). It’s the operator’s responsibility to create this culture by building a rapport with, and between, its members.
We caught up with Justyna Michalik-Minken, Head of Ops & Comms at Creative Works – a coworking space in London – to find out how it’s done. Justyna was able to achieve high occupancy rates after just six months of opening, and now the space is home to 100+ members.
As a Community Interest Company, Creative Works operates with a lean budget and team, so building a rapport with members is about investing wisely in events and resources and making every interaction count.
Here are her 10 tried and tested pearls of wisdom.
1. Relate on a human level
“It sounds pretty obvious, but the only way you’re going to build meaningful relationships with members is by being human and avoiding falling into the trap of over-professionalism,” explains Justyna. “Be empathetic and really listen to your members’ needs, even if it means postponing another task or responsibility for a moment.”
2. Learn from smaller operators
Larger operators can learn a lot from smaller ones when it comes to community engagement. Quite often, community managers at smaller coworking spaces have more autonomy over events and how the space is run.
Although operators with multiple locations need to prioritise “brand consistency”, they should also make sure they give centre managers control over how to run the building – “after all, they know the members best,” adds Justyna.
3. Communicate your values
“Let people know what’s important to you and they’ll do the same,” says Justyna. Don’t be afraid to show your personality and share your interests. Meaningful relationships are born out of more than just small talk over the coffee machine. “It’s really important to be yourself – even if that means walking around in your socks because your shoes hurt!”
4. Ask them what they need
“Ask members what will make their work life easier, and don’t assume it’ll be the same for everyone,” explains Justyna. In an age of personalisation, people expect custom solutions. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t impress.
5. Connect members with each other
Coworking members, particularly freelancers, join coworking spaces to alleviate loneliness and connect with people they might be able to collaborate with. Friendships will be formed organically of course, but community managers can kickstart the process and connect members with the most relevant people.
“If we know one of our SMEs is looking for a graphic designer, for instance, we can recommend someone suitable within the same building. Quite a few of our members have collaborated on projects since we opened – it makes so much sense!”
6. Be honest about what you can do
False promises are a no go but that doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious. “Always be prepared to go the extra mile for your members who will appreciate you for it,” says Justyna.
7. Give people options
“When it comes to running activities and organising events, give people what they want, not what you think they want – and the only way to do this is by asking,” Justna explains. “If you already have a few things in mind, present your members with options and take it to a vote.”
8. Create a welcoming environment
Design and layout can help facilitate rapport-building within workspaces. Breakout areas are an obvious one – organising furniture so that people can chat easily and providing things like sofas that make people feel more relaxed and open to sharing.
“Even the small things can make a big difference,” says Justyna. “When a member joins, we take a snap of them on our polaroid and stick it to the ‘member wall’. We also write their name and specialism underneath. Not only does this help everyone to learn names quicker, it enables members to make professional links.”
9. Treat coworkers as colleagues
“Don’t lock yourself away in an office or hide behind reception all day,” says Justyna, who suggests it’s helpful to see your members as an extension of your team – people to chat with in breakout spaces and exchange ideas with.
10. Word of mouth is powerful – don’t forget!
“Negativity from one person can sour the atmosphere in the entire building,” says Justyna. “It goes without saying really, but it’s important to listen to everyone, make sure their needs are met, and that no one feels left out.” To keep up-to-date with how Creative Works is engaging their community, follow them on Instagram @creativeworks.space.