Tips for Building Community After Opening a Coworking Space

Have you ever gone grocery shopping while hungry?

This comic might remind you of how it goes:

Waiting to build community after you open a coworking space has similar risks.

That’s right, I’m talking about junk food members. Empty calorie members.

The person who pays to rent your space rather than participate in a community. The person who comes to your space for the printer, rather than the people. The person who comes in, puts on their headphones, talks to no-one, & leaves a mess in the sink for others to clean.

Junk food members are individuals who don’t participate, aren’t open to sharing, act only in their own self-interests, and only consume your resources rather than actively work to help replenish them. They bring fiscal capital (yay!), but are a drain on social capital (boo!).

Much like the tasty treats you brought home from the grocery store after shopping on an empty stomach, these kinds of members can lead to unhealthy (community) consequences.

What’s worse, we all know that it’s a LOT easier to put on the pounds than to take them off.

When you’re hungry for paying members because of need for cashflow, or because your beautiful space is full of empty chairs, your definition of “prospective community member” starts to change towards shades of “prospective renter”.

How to build community after opening a space

Maybe your excitement to open a space got the best of you, or you got the “build the community first” advice a little too late.

It’s okay! There’s more than one way to succeed, and so long as you’re committed to building community, you’re already step in the right direction.

I’ve got a few tips to help keep the oreos out of your grocery cart, if you catch my drift.

1. Realize that you’re hungry.

You are more likely to shop smart if you realize you’re hungry. Keep that sense of awareness front of mind until the hunger has subsided.

2. Have a meaningful goal for the community.

My trainer recommended to me that I set meaningful goals instead of weight loss milestones, like “I want to feel better when I wake up.” Remembering this meaningful goal and its impact on my life makes it easier to grab a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar.

Actively sharing your “meaningful goal” will act as a magnet for great community members, and also help keep you from attracting junk food members.

3. Help form relationships that matter, not just more connections.

It’s tempting to flesh out your network with as many people as possible, effectively “casting a net” for potential community members. Now’s not the time. Your focus with every new person who makes it through your “meaningful goal” filter is helping them find opportunities to form a meaningful connection with at least one other member.

  • FarMcKon

    Awesome post. I’ve run into this in several communities I’ve worked in, from Hackerspaces, through Housing Cooperatives.  The ‘well, they are not really hurting the group, and they do pay rent’ can often drag down morale of dedicated members, and lower the bar for everyone involved in the org.  Alex has done a great job of avoiding this at Indy Hall, and probably has some amazing tips on how others can avoid it to…..

  • pixarea

    Great post. I live currently in a big house share (10 house mates), and the everyday problems we face are quite similar to what you describe. Often challenging, but you can really learn a lot about people, communicating… and also about yourself.

  • Guest

    So it’s wrong if someone wants to rent space in a co-working office and doesn’t also want to participate in the community of the co-working office? These individuals who pay you rent are like empty calories you’d rather not have?

  • alexknowshtml

    It’s not wrong, but it does have a measurable impact on the community. One important thing to remember is that just because someone shows up with intent to rent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce them to the community aspects as a part of their orientation. Let them choose for themselves. They might not even know that it’s something they could be asking for!

  • Julio Galván

    I’m starting now with a coworking community and I understand what you mean, in fact I completely agree, but in the beginnig is not easy to reject new coworkers because you need  cash to pay the initial investment. Any advice?

  • alexknowshtml

    I never suggested rejecting new coworkers. I just pointed out that it’s a lot more work to “trim the fat” later :) 

    Focus on building the community core. Even if you’re bringing on the periodic “junk food member”, so long as that community core is growing and strong, you’ll be able to work off those extra pounds easier down the road!

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