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Alex Hillman

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Standard Operating Procedures for Coworking

2 minute read
by Alex Hillman

I don’t have a problem with rules, I have a problem with creating an environment that creates rule-following machines.

Don’t get me wrong, the world needs rule-followers too. There are companies that want and need cog-like employees.

The problem is that I see a LOT of coworking spaces where staff and members alike are more worried about following the rules than looking after each other. When the goal is creativity and collaboration – things that coworking spaces often promise – documenting the “rules” and standard operating procedures needs to work a _little _bit differently.

So about 5 years ago, I started this by trying to write down the fundamentals about how I make decisions, so that our community could better understand why things work. The result has been live on our public website for quite a while, broken down into a sort of “plinko board” of actions that we always strive for, and actions we try to avoid. It’s sort of like a hybrid of a SOP and a living breathing action-oriented version of our community values, documented:

We always:

…help unlikely groups of likeminded people form relationships. …focus on people and their interactions, and the formation of relationships. …help people tell the stories of the experiences they have in Philadelphia. …trust people to do the right thing. …guide people to being good citizens of Indy Hall and of Philadelphia. …support people in their goals of building businesses to last, in Philadelphia and for Philadelphia.

We never:

…do anything against our community’s interest. …focus on desks or square footage. …create something only because we think we’re supposed to. …accept the status quo. …accept a “no” at face value. …compromise our core values. …prioritize a transaction before a relationship.

Every day, we:

…keep people at the center of every action, interaction, and decision. …welcome new community members, and make it clear that Indy Hall is theirs, not just ours. …always look for a way to say yes. …teach others in our immediate and neighboring communities how we operate.

I literally use these guidelines for decision making 100x a day, and it’s awesome to watch my team and even members use and reference this when figuring out how to make things work.

…but it’s kind of a mouthful.

It’s not always easy to remember every bit or communicate it quickly, and for some people, it’s more overwhelming than helpful in the moment. So we came up with a simpler, shorthand version that we put on our welcome one-pagers, and include as a major part of our tour.

Success in our community comes most often by remembering to do three things:

  1. Look after yourself
  2. Look after each other
  3. Look after this place

In all cases, we’re SUPER careful in our language choice to make it clear, before providing SOP documentation, that anything documented is meant to help, but not constrain. Any “rule” is open to being adjusted, adapted, or rewritten to help us better achieve our goals working together.

What’s worked for you?

I’m curious if you’ve found ways to balance between SOP and handbook-style documentation, while still allowing/encouraging people to “color outside of the lines” and trusting people to do what’s right? Share your examples in the comments!

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.