Is Your Coworking Space Sending Mixed Messages About The Community?

Catalysts/owners: when a potential member visits your space or a traveling coworker stops in via the Visa Program you’ve got to take it up a notch…you’re the face of coworking for the entire community as far as visitors are concerned!

Just like a laptop or lucky suit, coworking spaces have to be cared for or they won’t perform.

In their attempt to create “friendly atmospheres” and “comfortable workspaces”, some coworking facilities have strayed far from (what I hope was) their original goal of creating a professional space in which the mobile workforce can be at its most productive.

Catalysts/owners: when a potential member visits your space or a traveling coworker stops in via the Visa Program you’ve got to take it up a notch…you’re the face of coworking for the entire community as far as visitors are concerned!

Here are some unsavory practices that could affect their impression of coworking and cost you a member:

  • The door is locked: There is nothing more confusing and off-putting than not being allowed to enter the facility during hours of operation. I once showed up well past 9 am (on a day that I’d informed the community manager I was coming) only to find the doors securely locked, with no one in sight. The only reason I eventually entered was because a member heard me rattling and opened the door. This member didn’t know me, and it wasn’t his responsibility, so he promptly returned to his office with a door (which he closed) and resumed working. I was left standing in the lobby, wondering whether I had the wrong direction. Which leads us to item 2…
  • No host on duty: I’m tired of arguments that the community can thrive without a manager, curator, or host. I don’t care what you call this person, but they need to exist and be located near the door during business hours. This smiling face should be available to show new people where the coffee pot is located, and where to put their coat. It’s also helpful if this person can get a few of the members to also smile, wave, and say a sentence about what they do. This makes people laugh, feel comfortable, and understand why coworking is so great. So do it.
  • A dirty bathroom: I hear you snickering already…”Thanks ‘Mom’ we’re all aware of how to clean a bathroom.” ARE YOU? In my travels, I’ve encountered coworking spaces with empty toilet paper rolls, hand towels that looked like they’d assisted in the open heart surgery of a car engine, and soap dispensers that made me want to skip the hand-washing all together. Think to yourself: if I were a member bringing my most important client in for a meeting, is this the bathroom I’d want to offer?
  • A cruddy kitchen: If you’re going to entice new members with kitchens or breakrooms in which to enjoy their lunch, for god’s sake, keep it enjoyable. I’ve seen kitchens with signs that say “please be courteous and wash your own dishes” with what looked like a 90 year-old sponge lurking in the sink and nothing but a dingy towel on which to place your “clean” dish. Unacceptable. We’re all adults here, so let’s nix the signs and act like it. Space owners, I’m pretty sure if you provide your members with soap, a touchable cleaning implement, and a rack in which to place them, the clean dishes will follow.
  • Weak power outlets: Freelancers are designed to travel light. Give them an outlet and a Wifi connection, and they’re happy. That’s why it shocks me that I’ve been in spaces where outlets are inconveniently located or missing altogether. If you want people to pay for a membership, they shouldn’t be forced to cross their fingers and plug their beloved computers into a scary tangle of extension cords and power strips.

Let’s face it people, even the most resilient community will falter and die if you can’t master the basics. Let’s not become so concerned with using our 30,000 foot lofts and cool-looking furniture to attract new members that we forget to care for the ones we already have.

Image Credit:

Why Bigger Coworking Spaces Aren’t Always Better

Should coworking spaces strive to become the Wal-marts of the mobile workforce, or should they resist growing for the sake of growth? Some surprising results from the Global Coworking Study.

Is a bigger coworking environment always better for members?

Humans are hard-wired to want the biggest and the best, whether you’re talking about burgers or boats. Independents are no different, and we often push for growth without really thinking about what’s best for our business or clients.

As interest in coworking increases all over the world, many space owners will be tempted to move the community out of its loft or small storefront, and into larger warehouses or standalone buildings. While expansion might allow space for more members, it could actually have a negative affect on the level of comfort and collaboration.

Seat capacity of Coworking Spaces in Europe (Source: Entreprise Globale & Tech4i2)

The recent Global Coworking Study found that over 50 percent of coworkers prefer to share a workspace with less than 20 people, and at least 21 percent say they work well in a space with fewer than 50 other coworkers. Less than 4 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to work in a workspace with more than 50 users.

There are a few reasons why these findings make sense, both for coworkers and space owners:

A More Intimate Community

When a coworking space maintains a small to moderate size, the members are more likely to get to know each other on a personal level. This facilitates more comfortable conversations and productive collaboration. A massive space with hundreds of members might be lucrative, but it’s likely to lose the intimacy and spontaneity that makes the coworking community so special. Members become ships passing in the night–with no knowledge of the struggles or successes of their fellow independents.

Higher Desk Utilization

It might seem counter-intuitive for a coworking space owner to limit the growth of the community, but as the Global Coworking Study points out, there are some interesting reasons for doing so. In addition to a less connected community, bigger coworking spaces usually see a lower the desk utilization load factor, and fewer full-time members. Members of smaller coworking spaces know that desks are limited, and they’re more likely to sign up for permanent desk space so they’ll be assured a space no matter when they decide to work.

What do you think?

Do you prefer a coworking space to have fewer than 50 members? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in a comment!

BizDevHouse: Oakland, CA

Open House tomorrow

grand opening in 2 weeks

Did the Mayor declare this coworking week in Oakland or something while I was outta town? East Bay spaces in general and Oakland spaces in particular seem to be proliferating all of a sudden. 

There’s not just Derby Creek Coworking Cooperative on Telegraph Ave. in North Oakland at the Berkeley border fresh on the scene (where this past Monday’s orientation meeting featuring a Concord coworking space creator and a Berkeley Coworking founder is a topic for another post). It’s much more than the meeting last night at a co-creative incubator-esque social-venture shared space that’s been together since 2003 just two blocks from my home, NextNow Collaboratory. What popped up today on my radar is another new coworking space in Oaktown

BizDevHouse coworking in Oakland, CA
BizDevHouse coworking in Oakland, CA

BizDevHouse is in the lower Oakland hills/Glenview area, in what looks like a house (a la Cambridge’s BetaHouse) a block off of the neighborhood’s community-oriented commercial strip (Park Street), close to the Montclair neighborhood and MacArthur bus corridor (with frequent 24-hour AC Transit trans-bay service to San Francisco) and 580/13 freeways, one exit up from Grand/Lakeshore business district and Lake Merritt/downtown, near Piedmont and the Parkway Speakeasy theatre with sofas, and also close to the Dimond District and upper Fruitvale neighborhoods. A couple of miles from the BART subway, with a little hill-climbing involved; a similar trek from Berkeley or the downtown Oakland/Oaksterdam, Piedmont, or Rockridge neighborhoods. 

One of the BizDevHouse workspaces
One of the BizDevHouse workspaces (photos on CL)

I first learned of BizDevHouse via a MeetUp alert this morning. It officially opens September 2 (please remove all playa dust before bringing in your laptop), and seems to feature iPhone app developers and seeks Mac developers and “creative tech folks” in general. Another listing adds marketing people to the list, promising a “great place for people who can work virtually but understand the value of creative collaboration.”


BizDevHouse sites

BizDevHouse WordPress blog featuring just the obligatory “Hello, World” post so far: 

BizDevHouse MeetUp group (featuring tomorrow’s open house): 

Open House event listing: 
Tomorrow (Thurs.), 4-8 PM 

Craig’s List ad, including photos:

I’m looking forward to seeing the space and meeting the people behind it. Based on certain clues embedded in the sites linked above, I think I already know some of ’em. 

Raines Cohen, Coworking Coach
Planning for Sustainable Communities (Berkeley, CA)