Nothing Beats In-Person Communication, But These Online Tools Come Pretty Close

Nothing Beats In-Person Communication, But These Online Tools Come Pretty Close
Even with the best tools and the most dedicated community manager, nothing can replace that person-to-person relationship.
  • Cat Johnson’s latest Convo brought five coworking specialists together to share their tried-and-tested communication strategies to foster a vibrant workspace community.  
  • The panel of experts shared tips on how operators can keep their community humming along happily even when they can’t be together in-person. 
  • Different tools work for different people and spaces; it’s important that operators figure out what works best for their community.  

Every coworking and flexible workspace needs a way to communicate with members. Good news is, there is an incredible, although at times slightly baffling, array of tech tools to enable community managers and members to stay in touch. 

Why does it matter?  

A healthy community culture is fuelled by connections and conversations; it’s the glue that keeps workspaces functioning happily. As Cat Johnson noted in her latest Coworking Convo, “it’s hard to activate a community if people can’t make connections with each other”, and that’s why it’s so important to give members easy ways to stay in touch with each other. 

Not only that, spaces also need to provide an open channel of communication between their members and their community manager. Because when the coffee is in danger of running out, you need to know who to turn to. 

Cat’s latest Convo brought five coworking specialists together to share their tried-and-tested communication strategies, and how they keep their community humming along happily even when they can’t be together in-person. 

The Convo welcomed: 

  • Anne Kirby – The Candy Factory 
  • Bruce Montgomery – The Entrepreneur Success Program 
  • Renee Sánchez Leal – Society 204 
  • Joshua P. Jané – Percolator 
  • Sarah Athanas – Groundworks 

We’ve summarized their top takeaways below. 

One thing we learned is that while different tools work for different people and spaces, one constant is in-person communication. Even with the best tools and the most dedicated community manager, nothing can replace that person-to-person relationship; what these tools do is to supplement those connections by keeping the conversation wheels turning, at least for a little while. 

Here’s what these five spaces are doing: 

1. Anne Kirby – The Candy Factory 

Anne Kirby has used a lot of different tools in the 11 years she has been running The Candy Factory, but one has been particularly successful: Slack. 

“We live on it” she said. “We’ve been using it for several years, it’s very important for all our internal communications.” 

That goes for connecting members with each other as well as contacting them with community managers. Through Slack, members can find out about events, report issues, find interesting clubs or groups, get mail notifications, and, pretty much everything else. 

During the onboarding process, the team trains new members on how to use Slack and connects them with online groups they might be interested in – “our crossword channel is one of our most popular” — which further builds in-house social connections. 

“Some other tools failed miserably for our community. We learned that if it’s not working, don’t waste your energy and time on it, just move on. But when you find something that works, run with it.” 

2. Bruce Montgomery – The Entrepreneur Success Program 

When The Entrepreneur Success program was forced to go virtual during the pandemic, Bruce Montgomery tried Slack to keep his online community collaborating, but it just didn’t stick. 

In an effort to get members connected with each other, and to introduce them to local government programs and funding, Bruce started producing a weekly show called ‘Rebuilding Chicago’. 

This caught on and became a valuable resource for members and local businesses. Their Facebook group also became one of their most popular communication channels.  

“Our members use it as a vehicle of cross-pollinating their services with others. It’s not just a one-way street. Community works when it is bi-directional, and this works for us very well.” 

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    Another big success in his communications toolkit is a weekly email newsletter. This is popular because it provides succinct, relevant information for the community, but most importantly, members recognize that the information within it comes carefully curated by Bruce. 

    It’s so valuable to members that they are tuned and ready to receive it, every week: “When I don’t send it out, I hear about it!” 

    3. Renee Sánchez Leal – Society 204 

    Renee Sánchez Leal was in the process of moving her community to a larger space when the pandemic hit. Although they stayed open as an essential business, Renee was already transitioning to a virtual community while their new home was being built out. 

    “I’ve tried them all” she said. “We had a Slack channel that nobody maintained, Facebook, WhatsApp, everything. We found that nobody gravitated to any platform except Facebook, but even that was hard to get engagement.” 

    Renee continued with the Facebook group and worked to build engagement by posting daily messages. During this time of lockdown, she was also hosting Zoom calls multiple times per day. But what really works for Society 204 is the in-person engagement. 

    She has been dubbed the ‘business relationship cupid’ because she knows all of her members personally, what interests them, what they want out of coworking, and what they need. That enables her to make helpful one-on-one connections between members. 

    “Some people say a virtual community works, but I stick to what I know works, and that’s human interaction.” 

    4. Joshua P. Jané – Percolator 

    Joshua Jané came from a software development background. Now that he’s in ‘the people business’ of coworking and entrepreneurship, he is working to bring multiple worlds together. 

    He tried various communication channels including Slack, but for them it didn’t work. “It was like whispers in the wind, nobody used it.” 

    Percolator does have social media channels, but he acknowledges that this needs a dedicated person to keep it moving and to maintain engagement. 

    For day-to-day interaction, they use an in-house tool that was built by a member who works in the healthcare industry – it was born out of a need to communicate more effectively with patients, and it also works with Percolator’s community. 

    It’s a web app interface that works in a similar way to texting, and is designed to enable easy text-based conversations in groups. “We can send out broadcasts to our members, get replies by email or text, and connect with our community. It’s a great way to communicate things like mail notifications and events.” 

    5. Sarah Athanas – Groundworks 

    What’s the most valuable form of communication? A consistent one. 

    That’s Sarah’s key message, and she explained some of the ways Groundworks puts out regular, scheduled, consistent communications on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. 

    “Set up a consistent rhythm for communication,” she said. “Scheduling is extremely helpful, especially for coworking community managers who get pulled in 1000 directions. Consistency helps with this.” 

    At Groundworks, they set a schedule whereby every month “come hell or high water” they send out a newsletter at the beginning of the month, to give members an overview of what’s coming up. 

    This is followed up by a weekly email and daily engagements in their Slack channel. For those who aren’t active on their online channels, they also have a physical calendar and a whiteboard. 

    Finally, Groundworks hosts a quarterly town hall meeting. This, perhaps surprisingly, is one of their most popular events. It is hosted in a consistent format, with pizza and drinks, and provides members with information about what’s happening at Groundworks and invites feedback. 

    “Surveys are great but when you get people at town hall, they really engage and provide great feedback. It’s amazing to me, but it works!” 

    Don’t miss Cat Johnson’s next Coworking Convo on September 24thGrowing Your Business with Instagram. 

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