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the keys to making a coworking space feel like home

12 Jul 2016
by Alex Hillman

There’s this amazing video from Indy Hall’s 5 year anniversary party. People are reveling and reflecting. Some of them may have had a few drinks before the camera turned on. But I love it because it’s so honest, and a beautiful snapshot of what a coworking community can mean to the people inside of it.

There’s one part in particular where AJ (pictured above) talks about mixing up his house keys with his Indy Hall keys, a symbolic “this place feels like a second home.”

I was thinking about AJ’s comment while reading an article that Melissa Mesku posted on New Worker Magazine about her own personal story about keys to two contrasting coworking spaces.

A physical key is inferior to a swipe card in nearly every technical way, but as Melissa so aptly pointed out:

“The fact that the key was a metal one on my key ring and not a plastic one in my wallet seemed to signify a deeper difference: the things in your wallet are used for transactions while the things on your key ring are far more personal.”

Melissa’s story reminded me a lot of AJ’s sentiments.

I even think back to when we signed our first lease, and how symbolic it was to get the physical keys. I literally wore them on a chain around my neck for the first week because they represented such an important milestone in our community.

All of these stories have been on my mind even more than usual as we get ready to move Indy Hall into a new home next month.

In addition to being a blank canvas to invite our community to create that cozy feel we’ve come to love, our new space is a technical upgrade in nearly every way. But among the few concerns shared by myself and our members is making sure that for what we gain in technical improvements, we keep our human, personal touch.

Including the keys.

Similar to the space with the physical key in Melissa’s story, our community-powered approach to access control has made our archaic, metal, keyring-bound keys a token of trust, not just a tool of access.

The system isn’t perfect, but its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses and most importantly, it sends a message of “I trust you” instead of simply “access is granted.”

But what changes when we move to a new space where the building has a front desk security staff, and where we issue plastic swipe cards instead of metal keys?

It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for a few months. I’ve been talking with members and our team, and a few goals have emerged that we’re using as a “guidance system” to help us navigate the inevitable changes.

So over the next couple of emails, I want to talk a little bit about how we are approach these changes, the specific goals themselves, and how we’re going to try to accomplish them.

All of these goals are things that apply whether you’re looking at your first building, your fifth, or your fiftieth.

And as always, we’re going to start with the people.

Goal: Help the building staff feel like a part of the family

I did a recent podcast about the importance of the relationship you have with the people who operate your building.

But it’s not just landlords…including in the rare occasion that you yourself are the owner. Building aren’t self-maintaining – even in the simplest form, they take lots of people’s effort to operate smoothly.

One of the big wins that I recognized early in working with our new building’s staff is how they work together as a team.

How they work together became a clue about how we would work together.

They’re on site to do various jobs including security, maintenance, operations, and cleaning. But unlike contract services where people are in-and-out, the building staff is dedicated for our building. They have their own culture, one built around how they look after the building and the people in it.

It’s different from what we’re used to, but it also felt familiar.

Among my top priorities beyond the logistics of the move is getting to know the building staff in the same way that we’d prioritize getting to know new members.

Short term, this is as simple as stopping to say hello and chatting with them instead of simply breezing by their desk to go up to our space. The interactions are not overwrought or unnatural, I simply show up them the same curiosity that I would to any Indy Hall member. And the results have been amazing.

I’ve learned that the one staff member plays competitive pool. I’ve learned that another is a musician, a writer, a video producer and dabbles in 3d modeling.

It’s easy to skim past the past the service staff and assume you have nothing in common, but like each of us, there’s more to them than their job title.

You can’t force friendships. But you can earn trust, rather than simply be granted access.

So before a key ever changes hands – metal or plastic – we’re going out of our way to help the staff who runs our new building to know that we appreciate them looking after the home that we share.

They’re a part of our family now, and if we do a good job, we’ll be invited to be a part of theirs.

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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.