Welcoming New Coworkers to Your Coworking Space

You can make new members feel welcome to your coworking space by doing the basic “host”-type duties. Are you doing these things?

If you’re a coworking space catalyst or a coworking space owner, you should probably have a welcome mat in front of your space.

Okay—not a literal welcome mat.
Welcome New Coworkers to Your Coworking Space
I’m talking about making new members feel welcome by doing the basic “host”-type duties in your space: greeting potential & new members, giving tours of the space, introducing them to other coworkers, etc.

While these my seem like no-brainer things to do, I’ve discovered that in some coworking spaces, these things are simply not happening. Although not every coworking space has a dedicated host, for those spaces that do have a host, the following to-dos are musts. I’d venture that it’s a real challenge to get a community to grow—and grow bountifully—if coworkers don’t feel like they belong. The good news is that it’s fairly easy for you to help new members feel welcome.

In my mind, the following actions are musts:

  • Greet potential & new coworkers. When someone new walks into the space, is it clear where they should go or who they should talk to?
  • Provide a tour of the space. No matter how small the space may be, provide a tour to help new members feel comfortable and oriented. Heck, introduce them to the coffee-maker!
  • Connect them online. Provide the wireless name and password…and remind them of the website and any other communication tools available. For example, we use IRC at Cohere…old school geekdom!
  • Introduce new members to current members. With respect to people’s work and time, it’s amazingly helpful to introduce new members to current members—especially between members you think might have skills, profession or hobbies in common. This, too, helps foster community!
  • Orient them to the neighborhood. Do the current coworkers have a favorite lunch spot? Let the new member know what amenities, restaurants and other resources are near the coworking space.
  • Other community connections. Is there a calendar of events for the coworking space? Or a list of local meetup groups & events? Or simply a list of all the members? Show the new member! They can then explore these resources on their own time and get more comfortable with the community they’ve just joined.

The idea is to make new members feel comfortable. Imagine how intimidating it is to be the n00b in a group of people who already know each other and are established in their work and social patterns. This can be challenging, even for the most extroverted of people. Fortunately, it takes only a few simple actions to help welcome new members.

If you’re a catalyst or owner, do you have other or different ideas about how to welcome your new members? What has worked and what hasn’t?

Coworking is Not a Frat House (and the Evidence to Prove It)

There is one particular stereotype about coworking that bothers me. It’s the hackneyed idea that a coworking space is simply a “frat house.” How totally inaccurate that stereotype is. I’ll prove to you why.

There is one particular stereotype about coworking that bothers me. It’s the hackneyed idea that a coworking space is simply a “frat house,” “romper room,” or “social hour” for freelancers and independents.

Yikes. How totally inaccurate that stereotype is.

Not only is the success and level of productivity at most coworking spaces anecdotal evidence of why this myth is untrue, but there’s also hard data to make the case.

Deskmag.com coworking survey

The Evidence

You may have already seen the recent global coworking survey—the first of its kind, seeking to gather data about coworkers and coworking space owners. Deskmag is digging into the survey data and sharing insights about many aspects of coworking. (See the end of the post for links to the Deskmag articles.)

Here are some relevant stats from the survey that dispel the “frat house” myth that often informs stereotypes people have about coworking spaces:

  • Connections: 43% of respondents reported meeting one to three helpful acquaintances within a two-month period, while another 43% have found four or more such connections
  • Income: 25% of all coworkers indicated that they earned more than the national average income
  • Motivation: 85% of respondents are more motivated and have better interaction with other people since moving into a coworking space
  • Teamwork: 57% now work in teams more often
  • Work/life balance: 60% organize their working day better so they can relax more at home

These stats don’t show unmotivated nor unsuccessful freelancers. Coworking isn’t a rowdy frat house.

Community…and Work-Life Balance

The coworking survey reveals that one of the big draws to coworking is the community and collaboration that happens in a coworking space. And “community” doesn’t translate into “frat house” or “social hour.” On the contrary, one of the most powerful aspects of coworking community is to connect with other people while giving—and receiving—value and benefits.

While there are moments or afternoons that feel more “social” at some coworking spaces—for example, when coworkers share funny stories, start a room-wide conversation, or head out to grab a mid-afternoon snack—it’s those moments that make a coworking community what it is: a place for work AND social productivity—a place for a balanced work life.

If you want to read more insights from the survey, check out:
Part 1 – 1st Global Coworking Study: What Coworkers Want
Part 2 – 1st Global Coworking Study: The Coworker’s Profile
Part 3 – 1st Global Coworking Study: The Coworking Spaces
Part 4 – 1st Global Coworking Study: Female Coworker vs. Male Coworker

Image Credit: Deskmag

Why Problem-Solving in Groups is Useful in Coworking

Taking a cue from an NPR story, here are some ways problem-solving in groups might be useful in coworking.

by Angel Kwiatkowski

Group of people working

A story on NPR’s program All Things Considered talks about coworking. Okay. Not quite. But it does discuss one of the key components of successful coworking: collaboration.

Key in NPR’s study was the point that equal participation in problem-solving fostered more innovative solutions. The research points to why and how getting a group of people together to solve a problem is not so much about getting the “smartest” people together, but instead is about equal participation and multiple perspectives from people in the group.

A group of people. Equal participation and multiple perspectives. Hm…that sounds a lot like coworking.

Taking a cue from the NPR story, here are some ways problem-solving in groups might be useful in coworking:

  • You—the coworker—have a challenge in your work.
    Can your coworkers help you overcome a client/work challenge? This is especially effective if you ask nicely.
  • You—the coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your space.
    Can the coworking community help you brainstorm solutions to that challenge? Or can you hop on the Coworking Google Group to ask your online coworking community for ideas?
  • You—the coworker OR coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your local community.
    Can coworkers go beyond their coworking space walls and contribute their smarts to a local challenge? This, of course, requires extra time and energy beyond work. But you never know what sorts of beneficial connections could be made in the local community (perhaps resulting in new clients, new work, new ideas!).
  • You—the interesting person.
    Sometimes, it’s simply about getting interesting people together to see what interesting things they come up with. (And if that sounds vague—it should! The possibilities are as limitless when it comes to grouping together independent, creative, community-oriented coworkers.)

Although coworkers tend to be highly independent individuals, problem-solving in groups is where the real magic happens in coworking. This type of problem-solving has so many advantages—seen, for example, in the rise of collaborative consumption. So try problem-solving in a group—and let us know how it goes.

Image Credit: Flickr – Peter Samis

Two Ways to Be A Coworking Alchemist

Coworking is an alchemy of sorts: it takes independent people (who may work on wildly different projects and often do wildly different things) and puts them together in one physical space.

By Angel Kwiatkowski

space by Werkheim | Flickr
Bjark Ingels is an architect. He’s known for designing buildings that are expansive in scope—and that also solve real-world problems. A Ted.com Q&A with Ingels, “On architectural alchemy,” describes alchemy:

What I like about the term alchemy is that you take traditional ingredients that would separately be just ‘normal this’ and ‘normal that,’ and when you combine them, because of symbiotic relationships, you get much more out of the mix than if you were to leave them separate.

Ingels is looking at alchemy through the lens of architecture, but isn’t this definition of alchemy applicable to coworking? Coworking is an alchemy of sorts: it takes independent people (who may work on wildly different projects and often do wildly different things) and puts them together in one physical space.

So, the “normal freelancer that does this” and the “normal independent business owner who does that” can collaborate to create something so much more than if they had been left separate. And it happens because the two people are working in the same physical space.

So how can you, the coworker, be an alchemist at your coworking space? Here are two simple ways:

1. Work in various spaces: If your computer set-up permits, work in different areas of your coworking space. Try doing your brainstorming in the lounge, or sit at a desk you don’t normally sit at. You may spark a new conversation or idea simply by choosing to work in a different location.

2. Opposites attract: Pick another coworker who does something completely different than you—and ask if they’d share their perspective on a project or challenge you’re working on. Offer to do the same for him/her.

There are likely many other ways to create “alchemy” in your work. What experiences have you had in coworking where two distinct ideas/people came together to create something bigger and better?

Image Credit: Flickr – Werkheim

Story-Telling – An Easy Way to Build Community

Stories can also enhance the connectedness of coworking communities. We all have stories—whether our own personal story or the story of our business. However you’re involved in coworking, tell your story. Here are a few suggestions.

By Angel Kwiatkowski

Storytelling - An Easy Way to Build Coworking Community

People thrive on stories. Whether fact, fiction or (as is most often the case) a little of both, stories are what bind us together—as friends, families, companies, religious group, political sway or country. Stories can also enhance the connectedness of coworking communities. We all have stories—whether our own personal story or the story of our business.

However you’re involved in coworking, tell your story. Here are a few suggestions:

If you’re a coworker:

Do your fellow coworkers know who you are and what your business is? Tell them! Through your own blog (if you have one), while grabbing a cup of coffee, or by showcasing the work you do. The more that coworkers share their stories with each other, the more that the all-important community elements of trust, openness and collaboration will thrive.

If you’re a would-be coworking space catalyst:

So you want to start a coworking community? Don’t seek real estate and fancy desks as your first step. Instead, start telling your story—within the coworking wiki, at local meet-up groups, with past colleagues and with anyone in your area that might be interested in coworking. Tell the story of why you’re starting a coworking space. You’d be surprised how much more effectively you’ll build a coworking community.

If you’re a coworking space owner/curator:

Alright, so you’ve already helped create a coworking community. Are you communicating the story of your coworking space via your website/blog, through email updates or even within the physical coworking space? Can potential coworkers, current members, and other businesses easily find the story of how your coworking space came to be? Try posting a community calendar of events/workshops, or a list of resources for freelancers and small businesses.

Stories help foster the very things that a community requires: trust of fellow members, shared values, an openness to sharing and collaboration, and a sense of stability.

How about you—do you find it difficult to share your story, or do you wave the banner of your story every chance you get (whether you’re a coworker and/or a coworking space owner)? Even better—share your story in the comments below!

Image Credit: GlobalPatriot.com via Creative Commons License

The Coworking Host – A Freelancer’s Resource

One of the keys to a successful coworking environment is conversation, collaboration and interaction with other coworkers. But have you also asked the host at your coworking space for their help and expertise?

3D Character and Question Mark
Go ahead - just ask your coworking host!

By Angel Kwiatkowski

One of the keys to a successful coworking environment is conversation, collaboration and interaction with other coworkers. Hopefully you’ve tapped into the amazing resources and brains that surround you and have discovered ways that coworking helps your small business. But have you also asked the host at your coworking community for their help and expertise?

Whatever it’s called at your coworking space—community manager, community animator, host/hostess—there are more resources in your coworking space than you might imagine. Whether you have recently joined a coworking space or have been coworking since the dawn of time, don’t neglect the fantastic resource that is your host.

So, what might you ask your coworking space host? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Can you recommend a good (accountant/lawyer/executive coach/etc.)?
  • May I run this (demo/logo design/ad slogan/etc.) by you for honest feedback?
  • Could we brainstorm for 10 minutes about my new project?
  • Do you know any local meet-up groups or events related to my field?
  • How would you respond to a client in this situation?
  • Do you know any other coworkers or people in the community that I could collaborate with on this project?
  • Would you be willing to host a seminar/workshop about (contracting/managing tough clients/easy small business accounting/etc.)?

Your coworking host will bring their own experiences and skills to the table (and likely the feedback & war stories they’ve heard from other independents and freelancers as well!). Although they may not be able to answer all of your questions, chances are good that he or she can point you in a helpful direction. So go ahead—ask your coworking host to help you grow YOUR business!

Share with us: Do you have a story about how a coworking host has helped you in your business? Tell us in the comments!

Image Credit: Flicker – SMJJP

How To: Create a Local Meet-up Group for Freelancers

8 (easy!) steps for creating a local meet-up group for other freelancers and small business owners.

By Angel Kwiatkowski

Hello My Name is... by bump on Flickr
Host a local meet-up group--it's easy!

Coworking naturally creates community—it’s the beauty of freelancers and independents working together in a shared office space. No doubt you’ve benefited from this coworking community goodness. But have you ever thought about having a group that is more focused on a niche you’re interested in? Here are 8 easy steps for how to create a local meet-up group for other freelancers and small business owners.

1. Choose a topic & purpose.

Who do you want to get together and why? Do you want to get freelance web designers together to talk about the latest Adobe Illustrator shortcuts, or would you rather get people from diverse professional backgrounds together to talk about a specific industry? There are limitless themes around which to organize a meet-up. Make it specific, but allow yourself some creativity! (For example, a meet-up named “Freelance Writers”? Boring. A meet-up named “Freelance Writers Who Care About Going Green”? That’s more like it!)

2. Ask two people to join you.

“Two?! Only two people?!” you shriek. Settle down. Ask two people who would fit the niche meet-up group to help you. For example, two other programmers if it’s for a programming group, or two other freelancers interested in non-profit organizations. Not only will having two other minds make choosing a time and venue easier, it will help diversify and grow the meet-up. And even if it’s just the three of you that end up attending the first meet-up, three people can do a lot of brainstorming and sharing.

3. Choose a time.

Check to ensure that your meet-up idea isn’t already happening somewhere in your area. If a similar group exists—great! Offer to join forces. If not, make sure your meet-up doesn’t conflict with other events in the area. Will the event be weekly, monthly or bimonthly? Will attendees likely have availability before, during or after work hours, or perhaps on the weekend?

4. Choose a venue.

Coffee shops, restaurants with private rooms and local community centers are a great place to find free or low-cost space for your group. But y’know what would be even better? Ask your coworking space if you can use the space during an off-time (evenings or weekends).

5. Set up an online event.

There are several online tools that allow you to share event description, time and venue with others. Make it simple for potential attendees to find the pertinent who/what/where/when/why info. Some easy-to-use online event tools include:

6. Share the event with your network.

  • Post information about the meetup at your coworking space.
  • Tell your friends on Facebook and your followers on Twitter.
  • Talk about it on your blog.
  • Announce it at other events you attend (but only if it’s relevant!).
  • Share with your professional groups.
  • Send an email to friends, former colleagues and anyone else in your network that seems like a perfect fit for the meet-up (especially if it’s someone that might not use Facebook or Twitter very often).

7. Be prepared.

If the meet-up group is hosted at your coworking space, do you want to provide snacks or refreshments? Or perhaps you’ll need a whiteboard & markers, a giant brainstorming notepad, or a laptop for taking notes and looking up websites. An LCD project and screen? Nametags and markers? Think again about the topic and purpose of the meet-up group, and ensure you have all the materials and “little things” needed to make it a great event.

8. Have fun!

The meet-up group you’ve helped create should be fun, information-rich and valuable for everyone involved. Enjoy it!

Why have a meet-up? Because it builds community. Because you can share resources, tips & tactics. Because you can help someone else by sharing your knowledge and skills. Because it’s awesome to hang out with other awesome people. (That’s awesomeness squared!)

Have you ever started a local meet-group? What worked and what didn’t? Tell us below in the comments!

Image Credit: Flickr – bump

Two Simple Ways to Build Community

You can help build community in your coworking space by doing two simple things: ask and promote.

Coworking is not just about freelancers sharing desks, chairs, and wi-fi. It’s about connections, interactions, conversations, collaborations. In a word, coworking is about community. Independents working together is a testament to how coworking both fosters and sustains community. And you can help build community by doing two simple things: ask and promote.

Just ask!

1. Ask
Believe it or not, if you ask someone for help in a way that’s respectful of their time and knowledge, you’ll probably make their day! What better way to build community than recognizing the awesomeness in others?

  • Ask another member to join you for coffee. Grab coffee or lunch with another member—perhaps someone you don’t yet know very well; snack breaks never hurt anyone.
  • Ask another member for help or feedback on one of your projects. And perhaps offer to treat them to the aforementioned snacks in return for their time!
  • Ask other members for some funny. Does that sound kinda silly? It should! Ask your neighbor if they’ve read a funny blog post or seen something funny lately. Laughing is always a great way to connect!

2. Promote

Fistbump lion
Promoting is like fist-bumping.

We’re not talkin’ about smarmy self-promotion. Oh no. We’re talking about promoting others. As you grow your own business, you can contribute to your coworking community by helping to promote others—in small and big ways. It’s kind of like a community fist-bump.

  • Comment on fellow members’ blog posts. Many freelancers members have blogs, whether personal or business. Pop by every once in awhile to leave a comment.
  • Retweet or share on Facebook another member’s latest website design or their latest article. If you think a fellow freelancer is doing interesting work, share that work with your networks.
  • Refer work. You’re writing content for your client’s website, and they mention that they need help with website design. There’s probably another member (or four) that you could potentially refer work to.

The great thing about asking and promoting is that it works like community karma: if you ask and promote others, in turn they will likely do the same for you.

Image Credit: Flicker – otama | sarah sosiak

Coworking: A Generational Thing?

I recently read a post about coworking being a generational thing for the millenials.  True, maybe?  But for those of you hanging out in the coworking places, is everyone a millenial?  Not even close.  The founders of most of these coworking sites are smart entrepreneurs who are beyond the millenial age, at least chronologically.  Just look at the photos from events at places such as IndyHall and Citizen Space and you notice that coworkers have embraced a common philosophy regardless of birth age.  At Cubes&Crayons, we have coworkers, coworkers with young kids, and coworkers whose kids have long out grown our space.

What occurred to me is that coworking is generational if you change your definition.  Coworking is about this “generation” of people altering the perception of “professional,” “work environment,” “colleague,” etc.  It is about hip people writing their own ticket for work.   Coworkers are skilled individuals who are prepared to be part of the global community.  They are interested in programs that are developing like PACTFund, where they can exchange their skills with other people’s skills.

And businesses need to be aware of and adapt to this changing workforce. I have been researching this avenue quite a bit and as much as “coworking” is hip and trendy, it is smart and necessary in our changing economy.  When software engineers end up doing business with colleagues halfway across the world, what’s to motivate them to come into a traditional office?  Isn’t it more interesting for them to be in a coworking space where they can meet people in all walks of life?  Businesses will be getting educated if they want to survive and stay competitive.  It is just a matter of time before this “generation” of coworkers changes the way businesses do business.

Coworking with a twist

Cubes&Crayons, my brain child, launched a little over a month ago and is essentially co-working with a twist. We offer a fantastic co-working environment – lots of different offices and places to work, a lounge, kitchen, library and conference room, flexibility in rates. We also have childcare on site and down the hall for those who need a place for the little ones while they work. You drop off your kid, walk 5 seconds to an office and are blissfully at work. And if you don’t have kids, no worries. You never have to see them if that isn’t your thing. The children don’t disrupt the work, co-workers get all the great benefits of co-working whether they are parents are not. It has been absolutely amazing to see people enjoying this vision. I have met great people online and in person and am loving the adventure of it all.

Our campus is in downtown Menlo Park, near Stanford University, which is great for work and to grab food or do a little shopping. We don’t have as many just straight co-workers i.e. sans little ones as I would like, but that takes time. I am still working on reaching that community in the Silicon Valley. I know they can’t possibly all be sitting up in SF. Where are all you rails software engineers and web 2.0 people? Come network…can’t wait to promote the business you create while hanging out at Cubes&Crayons. Comments always appreciated on this…

So, this is the first of what looks to be a long and heartfelt blog. My six month old daughter is snoring on my lap as I write this and I wonder what she will think of all this as she grows up. Will co-working be the norm and not the exception by the time she and her 2 1/2 year old sister are in the work world. I hope so. Only way to work in my opinion. Keep you posted on all…