The coworking movement is demonstrating the way community can foster great things. It’s successfully helping businesses to grow, by creating nurturing, supportive operations and true serendipity. In my other work, as a workplace strategist, I see that many corporations need to build a workplace design and culture that breaks down silos, enables collaboration and makes the workplace experience more positive – in order to support greater innovation, productivity and earnings.
What I’ve learnt from supporting CambridgeSpace’s great community can benefit corporate offices. A new approach is required where managing the space is more akin to that of concierge, where you curate the interactions for an atmosphere of positive engagement and community.
What is community, why is it important, how do you do it and what’s the ROI? This is a big meaty subject! There’s a plethora of great work I could comment on (instead of source). Instead, I'm going to write about my recent experiences, and to make it an easier read, it's done as a 'Top 6 things', with examples.
1. Shared etiquette unifies
Workplace etiquette is the great foundation for unifying a group’s culture. Having an agreeable and well-published set of behavioural protocols creates important shared ‘norms’ that make it easy to know what's acceptable.
In our coworking space we want to encourage chit chat, so we tell people it’s OK to talk or have phone calls, so long as it’s not too loud. This is particularly useful in helping new joiners get integrated and feel welcomed into the community; if you want a private call then there is space outside the main work area. We have 3 zones with different protocols and notices on the wall reminding everyone.
Staff in business centre I visited once led me to my desk, in a small room with two others, without telling me any protocols. Within a few minutes I took a call; my neighbour shot me a disapproving look, so I left the room. Afterwards he sternly told me that phone calls weren’t allowed in the work area. Not a nice vibe in the room for the rest of the day!
When people don't know the community’s conventions it can stress both new and existing people. That's why:
2. First experiences matter
Chip Heath, from Stanford University, wrote in his great list of ‘elevated sensory experiences’ that the first day experience is only effective if there's a nice welcome. A well-prepared introduction to a team on the first day can make a huge difference to retaining new arrivals, therefore reducing your churn costs.
Digital agency ‘Th_nk’ welcomes new employees with an induction and a (ready-to-go) laptop, welcome card, vouchers for local eateries, a welcome guide to the workspace and a buddy system to shadow you for the first few days.
All too common experience of turning up on your first day at the office to find there’s no induction for a few days, your PC is not set up, there are no instructions on how to use anything and pretty much the opposite of the good example.
3. Meaningful events build community
These are a key catalyst for a shared experience and foster a greater feeling of connection. It’s a key source of new members for coworking and is a great way corporations can unify culture. Yet, to be effective, you need to think carefully about what events are appropriate to ensure good attendance. This can be done through ensuring the event’s subject matter adds value, either personally (through social events) or professionally (through informative key note speakers).
At one of my corporate jobs, they put on a series of engaging speakers who enamoured us with their inspiring achievements, such as Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer. It received positive media coverage that helped attract new employees.
Team building, away days and social events are always valuable provided there’s a valuable outcome that boosts morale. Again, I’m sure there are numerous examples of team building disasters, but I heard of one unloved boss who took staff on paintballing day – the boss returned bruised and battered after being targeted by everyone – staff happier, but boss vengeful.
4. Chat is good
Creating an atmosphere where it’s ok for quick conversation makes people feel relaxed and supported. It could be friendly chat about the weekend or a quick question about how to do something on Excel. However, too much chat can be disruptive to work, so you need to ensure your etiquette deals with this.
There are many negative corporate examples I could give, so here’s a coworking one: At another coworking space I visited, I was greeted with lengthy introductions with the other members and regularly interrupted within the first couple of hours. This, while seemingly very welcoming, caused discomfort, as I needed to work!
5. Positive support goes a long way
In the corporate office setting, it seems common practice to unpick negative aspects of colleague’s work but unusual to thank, praise or give encouragement. In a coworking setting, positive support seems to come naturally.
Another boss asked me to complete a job that normally took 3 days in 2, so I worked nights and delivered in record time. No thanks, but an expectation that I should do that all the time! It didn't take long for me to look for another job.
6. You can be professional and nice
This is related to number 5 but it needs its own section. A strong community thrives on being nice to each other. In my experience, this seems hard in large organisations, perhaps because people relate being 'professional' with zero empathy.
Jordan Kostelac, from JLL, when introducing himself to coworking members, found that there was a great deal of interest in his job.
In summary, it's not easy to create a great, sustained community. Nor can its ROI be easily pinpointed. Surveys and technology can help to show you value (in fact, there’s some great solutions, that I’ll write about soon).
We'd love to hear if you share similar experiences or add to the list.