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Policies Should Be Replaced by Higher-Level Systems

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You cannot manage your coworking space with policies alone. In this article, we’ll go over the inherent limitations of policies, some example systems that replace or enhance policies, and the rules for a good system. First, a short story to illustrate the limitation of policies.

Imagine you’re playing a game of capture the flag in a big field. As a group you determine that the boundaries are the tree on the west hill, the street lamp to the north, the road to the east, and the broken down car to the south. Congratulations, you’ve set a policy!

Now, later in the game, one of your teammates is making a quick break to home base when a player from the other team, who’s chasing your teammate, yells out, “OUT OF BOUNDS, OUT OF BOUNDS!” Your teammate won’t fall for it, he keeps running and claims to have scored the point. Argument ensues.

One side says the runner went out of the boundaries of play and the other says that’s not true (after all, the runner knows he didn’t step outside the lines). How do you decide who wins?

This is exemplary of the conundrum of policies. Policies are often flawed because they are:

  • Inclusive of gray area
  • Up for interpretation
  • Take time to enforce
  • Must ultimately be enforced by an authority
  • Are easier to set than they are to change

While policies are a form of system, they are not very effective systems for coworking spaces. Policies are what we use only when we have not or cannot implement a higher-level system (for whatever reason: finances, technology, time, etc.). For the remainder of the article we’ll use the term “systems” to refer to higher-level systems as opposed to policies.

Systems can be many things. What follows are a few examples.

Member Access

Using a keycard activated system, route guests (who are not given key cards) through a publicly accessible door (visitor’s entrance). Anybody who comes in through the visitor entrance is checked in by a front desk associate. Physical barriers (ropes, walls, signs, etc.) are erected to indicate that anybody coming in through that entrance ought to check in.

Members (who are given key cards) can enter via any members-only entrance.

Benefit: this reduces the mental load on front desk staff. They know that anybody coming in the visitors’ door is either not a member or lost their key card. Guests, who are informed with proper signage, know where to go and how to check in.

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A way to do this with only one entrance is to install a turnstile of sorts (similar to what you see in the subway or at fancy corporate offices) that only allows people through with an active card. They are a little expensive initially, but the reduction in headaches and confusion at the front desk will be a dream. (I really want to implement this particular turnstile system somewhere, so if you’re interested or have done it, please get in touch.)

Timely Payments

Instead of chasing members for money, have your member management platform set up to only allow resource bookings for paid invoices. Integrate your access management system with your keycard system so that key cards are deactivated if a member’s account is past due.

Lost/Stolen Items

Create ample, lockable storage for members to reduce theft. Include fixed bike rack locks for your indoor bike rack.

Dirty Dishes

Make this a part of your front desk associate’s or community manager’s job to take care of every hour or two.

While not environmentally friendly, some spaces get rid of reusable dishes altogether to eliminate the hassle of washing dishes. Poor planet. 🙁

Furniture for Events

Buy furniture on wheels, ideally that folds to save space.


Those are just a few examples, but for others keep the following in mind. In general, systems:

  • cost more to implement than policies, but should pay off over time
  • should only be implemented if they are scalable, within reason (they should work as well for 50 members as 500 members, but maybe not for 5,000 members)
  • should reduce the need for decision making
  • should free up time to focus on other important tasks (reinforcing community, expansion, improving other systems)
  • should start as MVPs (minimum viable products), validate, then be fully implemented if they are effective (the point is to do the least amount for the most impact)
  • should entirely replace policies or make their enforcement much easier

Think back to our game of capture the flag. The boundary policy you implemented helps everybody play the game better, but there’s still confusion. What if you’d built a fence instead?



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