For most of my coworking life (the last four or so years) I’ve felt at best like a bench warmer and at worst like a spectator of a sport where I’m a fan of all the teams on the field which are all playing at the same time. Imagine cheering for one person’s goal while knowing that it was another’s error or bad luck that allowed for the score. It’s been a privilege to work on some great coworking projects, but never have these projects been a space of my own. Being like “Switzerland” has allowed for a unique perspective of both operator and member alike.
Having a front row seat to the evolution happening to the industry has been exciting, although a little frustrating. Yes, the industry is innovative and growing fast, but a lot of operators are doing the same things (both good and bad). Smart owners are focusing on what sets them apart rather than being the cheapest of “all the other spaces”. And the smarter folks are engaging with their peers rather than avoiding them.
Sure there are plenty of coworking conferences that grant you access to peers in the industry. These industry events are happening in more places more often, but what about your local or regional peers? Are you engaged with the other spaces in your town, city, state, or country? Do you know about all the different ways you can collaborate with other spaces rather than compete with them?
Associations, Federations and Alliances, Oh My!
The first way to collaborate instead of competing is through some form of alliance, federation or association. The Kansas City Coworking Alliance (KCCA) is an award-winning coalition of local shared spaces within the Kansas City, MO metro area that meet up and provide passport-like services at multiple spaces. They even hit the world record of the most people to cowork at the same time. Melissa Saubers, Cowork Waldo owner and founding member of KCCA), shared that the spaces witnessed a “rising tide lifts all boats” type result of their efforts.
Upon further inquiry, she shared that all the spaces had an unwritten understanding that if someone wasn’t a great fit for their space, they’d be sure to offer a few other recommendations. Being partnered through an alliance such as this one and by highlighting all the different space offerings and locations helped drive overall demand for coworking in their area and contributed to a sales referral ecosystem.
This isn’t rocket science, folks. I hate to break it to you but hotels, event planners, residential property managers, and similar industries all typically have an industry association with local chapters. Networking with your “competition” is good for business when you realize they are your collaborators. Having a good contact at other spaces increases your ability to capture bookings that aren’t quite a fit for others in your area.
Apps and Communities
In Chicago, the app Deskpass has created a community of both space owners and coworking users. When a space is listed on the Deskpass platform, the owner is connected with other spaces around them and plugged into the local market. When they host coworking meetups, the events are usually at a new location and create a great excuse for users and owners alike to cowork and connect.
Nicole Vasquez, Chief Community Officer of Deskpass put it best: “Coworking is inherently about sharing, so as a coworking space owner, I found it natural to want to share my experiences with other owners, and learn from their experiences. Doing so allows for us to create better workplaces for our members and improve the coworking industry as a whole. I always seem to learn something new or find something unique at each space I visit, and it has greatly enhanced my own understanding of how to create memorable workspaces.”
Scarcity vs. Abundance
People typically have one mindset or the other and you can tell the two apart in an instant. It’s almost instinctual – something about the person you are speaking with. I’ve done my fair share of coworking events and have visited a lot of cities to see the latest coworking trends. Often, spaces are in a scarcity mindset, rather than one of abundance so they opt out of participating in a formal coworking organization, and thus because the organization lacks paid members it struggles to take off.
Besides KCCA, a few other regional/national groups stand out, such as Coworking Spain, European Coworking Assembly and the German Coworking Federation (GCF). Christian Cordes, Director at GCF, acknowledged the challenges in recruiting paid association members “…yes, most of the spaces would want to know how many [new]members they’d get for paying. What they needed to understand [was]that once they paid and joined it was then [that]they understood the benefits of being an [association]member. And those benefits have lead to helping grow their memberships.”
Pretty much, it’s a chicken and the egg situation. There’s evidence of the benefits of being a part of a formal organization, but that requires you to actively participate through volunteerism and/or dues.
To actively participate means shedding your scarcity mindset and embracing abundance – that there is more than enough out there for everyone. Christian acknowledged that while overall dues revenue is increasing, they also provide spaces with ways to volunteer their time if they are on a budget. Don’t let money be the excuse that stops you.
Basically, if you aren’t a part of your local or regional coworking network you need to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal, regional alliance. There are other apps and communities that offer opportunities to connect. If you don’t have anything like the above mentioned in your area then be the change you want to see; do something about it. Also, If that long list of coworking conferences isn’t fulfilling your professional needs or wants, perhaps redirecting that money you’d otherwise spend toward local efforts might change the situation for the better? Save the cash you’d blow on all the travel to an international event and put it towards hosting a local meetup, dinner or, unconference.
While hosting coworking owner meetups in cities all over the world it always surprised me how folks would commit if someone else did the planning. So, if you’re confident in your business and happy with where you are in life, then you have nothing to lose but the opportunity to grow your business by collaborating rather than competing.