Last month, I went to my fifth coworking conference and I noticed the same questions about building a coworking community echoing again, as they continues to do on the Google Coworking Group. The same answers seem to repeat themselves (networking, beer:30, meetup groups) with slight nods from the crowds, however if everyone really knew the answer, then they would’ve stopped asking the questions awhile ago. Community building is complicated, but also very easy if you have time on your side and are willing to listen.
Throughout owning & operating coworking spaces for over five years in two countries, I’ve tested most of the go-to answers out with varying success. I’ve hosted networking groups, organized meetup groups, taught entrepreneurship classes, offered plenty free beer, and even hosted a geeky singles night. All of these events get attention and people through the door, but it seems to be the weakest glue in creating a community. The strongest glue is the stuff that is organic and meets the needs/desires of each spaces’ members. I’ve found this stuff to be some of the simplest solutions.
Here is what is working for Creative Density right now:
Take Yourself to Lunch Friday’s
Goal: Regular community gatherings
We vote on a nearby place to go to lunch on Friday together. Friday is now our busiest day and it doesn’t cost the space anything. This event is popular because it is something consistent for members to look forward to and food is an easy topic for people to talk about, even if they don’t know each other. Plus, we have a lot of Denver’s best lunch spots within a 10 minute walk.
Goal: Community participation
People sign up to bring in baked goods once a week. Members get to show their favorite recipes and it provides a more intimate gathering than just sharing morning doughnuts or afternoon beers. We now have members bringing in baked goods twice a week or so.
Yard Games and monthly tournaments
Goal: Integrate new members and start conversations
Yard games are a perfect fit for a coworking community because they often can be done in groups of two or four and take around ten minutes to play. Nearly everyone is comfortable participating so it’s an easy entry point for new members to start socializing naturally with new members.
Last summer we started to keep track of wins and losses for everyone in a month long tournament and it was almost too successful. The slight hint of competition made it a spectator sport so people would gather on our patio to work and just watch others. It was a great community builder and this season just kicked off with anticipation.
Lunch with the Law / Numbers / Your Future Self
Goal: Education on things people avoid doing
We bring in an expert for a monthly roundtable discussion over a brown bag lunch. The guests are lawyers, accountants, and retirement planners. I often bring in people to think about things that they avoid because someone needs to get them to think about it.
Kickball against other coworking spaces
Goal: Build bridges between coworking spaces
We play against other coworking spaces in Denver about three times a year. It’s often held on a Friday night and is something the community looks forward to the entire week. It also starts to build bridges with other coworking spaces
Friends and family BBQ
Goal: Build deeper relationships and a stronger community.
Our community is stronger when we can put faces to names. I started family and friends BBQ during months when we don’t play kickball, as a way for everyone to get together. We want to know people more than just their skill sets and name. We want to know who is important to them and this is a simple and fun way to connect people.
Assume ‘Yes’ space management
Goal: A sense of ownership and willingness to explore
I want this to be people’s work clubhouse. A place they go and take care of and use as a tool to better themselves. I don’t want to be a barrier as a community manager for people to do things themselves because then they rely on a mediator to take actions. I want to fade away and for people to be creative, take care of themselves, and trust everyone is a responsible adult. We have never had a problem.
Goal: Saying ‘Hi’
It goes a real long way.
Ideas I liked from GCUC
Members gather once a week for a 5 week sprint to get a project done. It’s an accountability group.
Members use it as an adult study hall if they are taking a large online course.
Members teach each other a skill that they specialize in.