With the number of people searching for coworking at a record high, there’s – arguably – never been a better time to explore the prospect of opening a space.
Starting a coworking community can be incredibly rewarding. But like most things in life the process comes with its own unique challenges.
We caught up with Stephen Wood, Nexudus’ North America Account Lead to learn about new coworking space best practices.
Prior to joining Nexudus Stephen worked in boutique restaurants and hotels before setting up a successful coworking space in Shoreditch, East London.
Stephen’s first top tip is simply…to keep it simple!
It can be tempting for new operators to inadvertently overcomplicate their offering by trying to appeal to everyone and providing every benefit under the sun.
“You can bundle all these things into an amazing package, but in reality it can cause more complexity. If you’re starting out, just keep it really simple,” explains Stephen.
Think carefully about the benefits you’re going to offer; can you afford them? Do you have the staffing capacity? Will your coworking management system support them?
“We said that we were going to open 24/7 because that’s what WeWork did. But it caused complications. For instance, our landlord wouldn’t allow the building to be unstaffed so we had to pay someone to be there overnight.
In reality, members rarely used the office at night but retracting the benefit caused some disruption too,” Stephen admits.
There’s no point offering certain benefits or setting rules if you can’t maintain them. You have to be able to manage them, otherwise they’re worthless.
Stephen says new operators should seriously consider their software options well ahead of opening. “We’ve onboarded new operators who are opening their space in six months time but want to start using our CRM to build wait lists.”
That said, there are also benefits to the ‘pen and paper’ approach to lead management, admits Stephen. The coworking space Stephen ran was driven by the ‘human touch’; the decision was made not to invest in software straightaway.
Research is key.
“If you opt for software straightaway you might actually end up paying for more than you need, or you might buy multiple software solutions to remedy problems that you don’t actually have – or might never have – because you haven't opened the business yet.
“On the other hand, implementing software when you’re in the midst of running a space is hard to do. We implemented our software solution ten months into the business opening and that was really hard.”
Reaching out to key companies within the sectors you want to target can help you establish a solid members base. Like Stephen did when he set up his coworking space, you could offer these members a special founding desk rate.
In turn, your founding members are more likely to become your organic marketing partners, spreading the word to their suppliers and others in their industry. As well as promoting your space and generating leads, they could also help you choose new members if, for instance, you have a long waiting list.
Having a readily available ‘showroom office’ is another good idea, adds Stephen.
Even if the majority of your building is still being fitted out, providing interested parties with a dedicated hardhat tour and showing them what the finished product will look like can be very effective when it comes to creating a buzz.
Of course, tours can also act as a source of content for Instagram and TikTok.
“Don’t think the community aspect will come organically – you need to work at it. We thought that building a community was going to come quite organically as long as we attracted our target market. But it didn’t,” says Stephen.
“We also thought that if we designed a really nice space people would want to hang around after work and socialise. Then we realised that most people want to leave their work premises for a drink. Unless it’s free, of course!”
Building a successful coworking community requires careful planning and effort.
There are so many resources out there that can teach you how to build and sustain a community. Jamie Russo’s Everything Coworking resources are a great place to start, says Stephen. There’s a wealth of content on the website designed to help new and established operators, including the insightful Everything Coworking podcast.
It’s important to choose coworking software that can integrate seamlessly with your access control system. Nexudus, for instance, integrates with 10 access control systems, including Kisi, Salto KS and Brivo.
Connecting your access control to your main software hub will enable you to grant access permissions based on things like membership status. You’ll also be able to control who can gain access to meeting rooms, and when.
“With Nexudus you can even deactivate someone’s account if they go a certain amount of days without paying. That’s something I never had when I was running a coworking space but I would have loved.
“For instance, after 10 days of not paying you can instruct the system to automatically deactivate the members’ account. In doing so, they won’t be able to access the space or connect to WiFi. It really does make it an easier conversation for the team to have with members who haven't paid.
“Also, with WiFi integration, you can ensure that visitors don’t continue to use your space for free after their meeting. Once their meeting is over they won’t be able to access the WiFi. Of course, they can always purchase a day pass if they want to reconnect and continue working in your space!”
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