people working in a coworking space
Coworking spaces provide ways for both members and nonmembers to network, socialize and collaborate during the workday. — Getty Images/andresr

With the rise of remote work, more professionals are joining coworking spaces to avoid the isolation that comes from working alone. Just over 30% of today’s workforce is made up of independent contractors or freelance professionals; and that number is expected to rise to 40% by 2020. More and more individuals are leaving the traditional office environment for coffee shops, home offices and shared coworking.

Coworking offers a way to network, socialize and collaborate during the workday. Some spaces simply provide an internet connection and a place to park your laptop. The more successful ones, however, foster a vibrant community that improves a freelancer’s workday. Data from one report found that “71% of coworking members report their workspaces positively impact the ways they engage in their work.”

[Read more about choosing a coworking space]

So how can a coworking space intentionally create a community that generates that positive impact on its members’ work? Take these steps to build a community in your coworking space.

Hire a community manager

Possibly the single most valuable asset in any coworking space is the community manager. This person welcomes new members, organizes events and troubleshoots issues that arise in the space. A community manager is the physical embodiment of what the coworking space stands for: Find someone inclusive, friendly and outgoing, and you’ll attract members who respond to that energy.

Take your time in hiring a community manager to find someone with the right people skills and outlook on supporting workspace members.

Create a member wall

A member wall or online directory is a great way to help your members get to know one another. Have your community manager take a Polaroid of each new member and add it to a wall with their name, business, and interests. Some co-working spaces go so far as to add networking details or fun facts, like a member’s favorite food or birthday. Member walls help your coworking clients get familiar with their desk neighbors and new lunchmates.

There are a lot of ways to make your coworking space a hive of knowledge and resources.

Consider your physical layout

Traditional corporate offices have long been tinkering with different layouts in search of a way to improve employee morale and collaboration. Coworking spaces have a little more flexibility than traditional offices in that the space doesn’t need to accommodate an existing hierarchy of senior leaders, managers and team members. A “blended layout” of private offices, common areas and community desks provides a good balance of both collaborative areas and focus areas.

One coworking space added a cafe to their workspace open to members and nonmembers. People come regularly for coffee and informal networking, and the workspace benefits from another revenue stream apart from member fees. Communal kitchens are also great places for members to connect over shared lunch. A coworking space in Canada hosts “Sexy Salad” lunches where each member brings a salad ingredient to contribute to the family-style meal, prepared and hosted in the kitchen. These areas are critical to member sharing, socializing and bonding in between work commitments.

Host events

A regular calendar of open events is an important component of any coworking space. There are a lot of ways to make your coworking space a hive of knowledge and resources. There are some formal organizations that you can invite to your space; or, if you don’t have the budget, replicate some of their ideas on a smaller scale for your members. Popular ideas include:

  • Pecha Kucha: A Pecha Kucha night invites participants to share 20 images each for 20 seconds. This is great for getting new members to know each other or for startup founders to prep their elevator pitch.
  • Lunch-and-learn: For members who don’t have a lot of time outside traditional working hours, take advantage of the lunch break to host an expert speaker, a book club, brainstorming session or member-led presentation about a topic.
  • CreativeMornings: If there are a lot of creative types at your workspace, like designers, copywriters or content creators, host a CreativeMorning. Over free breakfast, an expert in a creative field gives a short talk about what inspires them.
  • Startup Weekend: The formal organization has hosted 1,800 past events in 500 cities around the world, bringing together developers, designers, marketers and product managers to pitch ideas, form teams, build prototypes and launch their startups.

Start a community newsletter

If your coworking space is fluid, with many members coming and going throughout the day, a newsletter might be the best way to bring everyone together. Spread the word about new members, events and “who’s who” without cornering members during working hours.

Some community newsletters feature job opportunities or open positions; others will use the space to celebrate when an entrepreneur raises their next round of funding, for example. Coworking spaces tend to attract a diverse set of professionals working on unique projects and schedules. Your goal is to accommodate their needs while still being inclusive. Seek out ways to tell the story of your space in a way that makes members feel valued — no matter how frequently or infrequently they stop by.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published October 17, 2019