Leading, Connecting And Creating: A GWA Conference Recap

Experts and visionaries from the global flexible workspace industry descended on the 2019 GWA Conference to connect and share knowledge.
  • Experts and visionaries from the global flexible workspace industry descended on the 2019 GWA Conference to connect and share knowledge.
  • The three-day event spanned all aspects of flexible workspace management for owners, operators, and industry consultants.
  • Allwork.Space’s Adam Greenwald attended the conference in Washington, D.C. and shared his top takeaways.

Hundreds packed the MGM National Harbor Hotel for the 2019 Global Workspace Association Conference held in Washington, D.C. this past September 18th-20th. Filled with owners, operators, developers, community managers and industry consultants of coworking and flexible workspaces big and small — the conference was a surefire hit for all attendees. 

Following an introduction by Jamie Russo, Executive Director of the GWA, workspace luminaries appeared on stage to share their thoughts on leadership, culture, inclusion, marketing/sales and the importance of nurturing and embracing the entire flexible workspace industry both today and for years to come. 

Over the next few days, the conference was where the brightest minds from all over the world descended to connect and help shape the flexible workspace industry from top to bottom. 

Here are the highlights from the 2019 GWA Conference:

Day 1 included two different “tracks” for attendees to follow — the owner/operator track and the community manager track — both offering big ideas and inspiring speakers from each side of the industry.

The owner/operator track featured keynotes from Kevin Wheelan, the founder of Everspaces, who talked about the many ways to standout and position your coworking space from a crowded market. Wheelan stressed the importance of knowing who you are by choosing between offering convenience or fidelity. 

A space only interested in offering a place to work is convenient while a space that offers fidelity is a place where consumers want more than a place to work — an experience that fuses better technology, design aesthetics and an emotional impact for its users. How should an owner or operator choose? Wheelan suggested being “more specific about your target market and infusing the values and beliefs of which your consumers will benefit from the most.”

The secondary keynote by Sean Eikerman, a Business Advisor for Cultivate Advisors, passed on some industry secrets that would help land coworking operators more members. Eikerman played the role of an undercover prospective coworking member by taking tours of workspaces and reporting back on what was effective (or not) in the spaces’ approach to attract new members. 

Eikerman’s main takeaway was making sure coworking operators know that consumers buy with their hearts — and operators must validate prospective members by asking them what is most important to their workspace needs. He added that so many coworking operators overlook this simple task. 

A talk by Jack Richer, CEO of Placeplay, emphasized the importance of the technology that operators choose to run their office space. Selecting a strategic path to add fully customizable software should be every operator’s goal — whether it be using an already established platform or building a proprietary, stand-alone system from the ground up. 

The community manager track featured keynotes from Michael Everts, the US Regional Manager from OfficeRnd, who spoke about the importance of networking within a conference such as the GWA itself — a perfect place to connect with like-minded individuals to share best practices on how other community managers are managing successful coworking spaces and making significant contributions to the industry. 

Everts’ session was followed by Hannah Walker, Chief Consultant of Big River Consulting. Her talk featured the “bigger picture” of the flexible office industry — of people’s desire for meaningful work — which she says will ultimately attract these same people to the coworking community. 

Walker urged that community within coworking is everything. The community manager is one of the most important people within a coworking space, Walker says, because that person’s job is to build connectivity between people within a workspace. “Community has the power to influence not only your work, but your health and wellness,” Walker added. 

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“The community manager leads the way by curating a coworking community that results in faster growth, greater user retention and a true separation from the market competition. These components make up an irresistible community, and in the end, an irresistible community wins every time,” she said.

Day 1 ended with a networking round robin, a showcase of industry exhibitors and the GWA’s first ever Community Manager Award ceremony — highlighting and congratulating community managers who have made honorable contributions to the coworking industry in their own communities.

The Future of Work

Day 2 featured industry stakeholders who all shared their vision for the future of work. 

Mark Gilbreath, the CEO and Founder of LiquidSpace started the day by asking all attendees why workspaces have moved toward a more flexible model. Companies had been signing 10-year leases but now no more. Why so? Gilbreath stressed that the market has been talking and the customer base had expressed interest in an office economy that highlights financial flexibility that is simple, efficient, fast and aspirational. “Old tenants and landlords are now being challenged on their workspace approaches — but [our association] should help bring every player into the flexible workspace industry, together,” Gilbreath added. 

The day’s keynote speaker was Jeff Hargett, the Senior Practice Director of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Hargett emphasized the notion that if employees are engaged at an emotional level where they work, they will engage customers in the same way. More leaders must understand what their company stands for — and thus need to actively display their organization’s values in an upfront, transparent manner to grow and maintain any successful service business. 

The following talk was given by a panel discussing the impact that technology has played in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Most notable was the decision of Amazon to place its second headquarters close by and its impact on the commercial office and tech ecosystem.  

The day rounded out with talks from Lisa Picard, the CEO of EQ Office sharing her bold perspectives on the next 10 years of commercial real estate. The follow-up panel discussed the ins and outs of using technology to build coworking membership and billing platforms and how operators can use smart devices to deliver business intelligence for both their front-facing members and back-end investors. 

The day ended with a multitude of workshops ranging from topics such as how to supersize your workplace revenues to the pros and cons of franchising in the coworking industry. 

The Corporate Side of Flexible Space

The final day of the GWA conference examined the corporate and enterprise side of the flexible office and coworking industry.

A talk from Dan Tanghlreni, former administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration under President Obama, shared the government’s view of the commercial real estate market as its single largest tenant. The follow-up panel discussed how to design, build and adapt the flexible office to attract corporate occupiers.

The conference wrapped up with a myriad of behind-the-scenes tours of industry-leading coworking spaces in and around the greater Washington, D.C. area. Attendees were able to get a first-hand look of how specific design, amenity building, site selection and community elements all play a part in driving a successful coworking and flexible office operation.

The GWA Conference of 2019 sure did not disappoint. With the flexible office industry dramatically on the rise, all attendees left knowing that they were a part of something special. In the end, it wasn’t a single keynote talk, workshop or the tour that made the conference a success — but more the fact that every individual could take pride in their contribution to an industry that will shape the way we work for decades to come.

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