Born and raised in Lisbon, Aimara Geissler first studied politics and international relations before landing a job in event management while studying, After graduating, Aimara continued to work in the tech and startup space that she discovered as a student, eventually moving abroad and becoming a regular user of coworking spaces. Learn more about Aimara’s journey to becoming the manager of WOOD — where “Work is Good” — in beautiful Lisbon in our latest interview below.
How did you discover coworking?
I moved to Berlin in 2016 while working for a Portuguese company, to open the German market. Being half-German myself, I had been in Germany on several occasions but never to Berlin, and I didn’t know anyone there. The first few months, I worked from a very small coworking space or from home, but it quickly became a very isolating experience, with long working hours and no time (or even knowing how) to have some social experience.
As I raised this to my manager as a challenge to my wellbeing, he suggested I check out a coworking space with which the company already had memberships in London, and, if it felt right, that I should sign up for a membership there. I felt right at home the moment I walked in, so I got the membership and it transformed how I experienced my day-to-day.
The community team was very attentive, and I met people, made friends — many that I carry to this day — networked, and made business connections. I fell in love with the coworking way of life and community mindset that comes with sharing a space with other entrepreneurs or people trying to make a brand happen. It made my one-woman team feel less lonely and energized me to “got get it” each morning. A year later, the coworking space offered me a job to manage that exact building, and I have loved it ever since.
What coworking space do you manage? How long have you been the manager there?
I manage WOOD — Work is Good — in the heart of Lisbon. I was hired straight from my previous job in Berlin to open WOOD in my hometown. It was certainly a challenge to create a space, operations, team, and all of the processes from scratch, but it’s a smaller building than my previous one and I felt it was a challenge I could take on. Also, being in the startup scene here previously, my network helped me a lot in getting started. I started at WOOD a little over a year now.
How would you describe the community at WOOD?
Our community is quite techy, since we have a few teams of developers in our space. But you’ll also find the freelancers, business advisors, designers, marketing & advertising professionals, investors, and many others. Our community actually became more eclectic (in terms of how engaged members from different backgrounds are) with COVID-19 and online happy hours. Many have become quite the tight group and meet outside of work now.
What other unique elements make your coworking space stand out from all the rest??
One of the most unique elements of this space is indeed the quality of construction and the comfort that it brings. We had a very unique architectural project and the final result makes for a beautiful, cozy space, but I have to say that efficiency and comfort come before beauty.
We invested a lot in having noise-free, isolated offices with individual climatization, generously sized desks, and a set of services that actually takes away from the client the small worries of their day-to-day. We have an all-inclusive kind of pricing (with only a few exceptions) and that makes for a seamless experience for the customer.
What challenges did your space face as a result of COVID-19?
We definitely had a decrease in occupation, but this was largely caused by one major customer that was already planning on leaving. COVID-19 just made it harder to re-rent their space.
All in all, the main difficulty I’d say is keeping the community spirit the same, although we resorted to online yoga and meditation, online happy hours, and game nights—and that has been quite successful. The new health and safety measures limit the amount of members in a given space, which goes against the community spirit. But we’re all handling it rather well I believe.
How else did you navigate these challenges?
We aligned measures as stipulated by WHO and the Portuguese Government. Between social distancing marks, acrylics and protections, disinfection stations, an isolation room in case someone feels unwell, and hourly disinfection of surfaces that are recurrently touched, we made quite a lot of changes and implemented new house rules, which are plastered all over the building. We tried to make the whole thing as humorous and light as possible, considering the circumstances. Members adhered well to all new rules and understand that everything is for the well-being of us all.
What are three key ingredients for operating a successful coworking space?
1 – Knowing your customers. Not just who your audience is, but who is in your building. Talking to them, understanding what is going on with them, their teams, their company. You get an awful lot of feedback from informal conversations, the casual beer after work or coffee break. This helps you keep your space as their first choice, but also knowing who is growing, who will need more space, who’s thinking about leaving, or some small things they’re not happy with but never took the time to formally “complain” about. It’s also important to know what their business goals are. Is there someone in the community or in your personal network you can introduce them to? Are they looking for funding and you know a VC? It’s not a quantifiable value you add to your business, but it changes the whole experience.
2 – Having good quality solutions, hardware, software, and operations. In a coworking space, companies are hiring an all-in kind of service. While they’re paying for an office space, cleaning, and utilities, it’s the service and the experience that will keep them long term. Invest a bit more to ensure that the systems are simple to use. Most members don’t mind paying €5 more per person to have free coffee, water, and tea. Remove any day-to-day worry or mental math that you can.
3 – Hiring the right people! The team that operates a building is facing your customer each day, they’re a part of the experience you’re offering—of the feel-good atmosphere. They carry your company’s message and brand, so it’s important that they’re aligned and understand what that is. Every person in the team becomes a part of the community. We’ve even been incredibly lucky with our cleaner who supports us during the day: Amélia. She became a part of WOOD right away and I’d dare say she’s the most adored person in the building. The entire community wanted to pitch in for her birthday gift and came down to sing her “Happy Birthday!”
What is your favorite thing about coworking?
Definitely seeing the community come to life! Watching members interact and enjoy the space, seeing them make connections amongst themselves, bringing friends along to join the space which is, in itself, the biggest compliment we could receive. The improbable reasons why two people end up striking up a conversation and getting to know each other, when they probably wouldn’t in another kind of setting.
What is the most challenging part of operating a coworking space?
Everything that is outsourced. When something goes wrong or breaks down and you need to get external parties in to fix it. It’s particularly challenging in Portugal where the SLA’s are, let’s say, more flexible… In general, but especially when you’re selling a premium product, it’s not the experience you want to give your members and it can be frustrating to feel that you’re under delivering.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a coworking space?
Be a member in a few coworking spaces and really see what you would like to have in your own, what you definitely don’t want to repeat, and why. It takes a village to operate a space like this and you want to know that what you offer is adding value to your client. So try some spaces out, be critical, and research the costs of having a space that offers what you would like to have.
How would you like people to remember your coworking space?
Our motto is “Work is Good,” it’s where the name WOOD actually came from, so I’d definitely say a space where people are happy coming to work, being in the office and with their fellow members, whether they’re in the same company or not. We have a huge focus on wellness with free yoga and meditation, so also to have members dissociate work with words such as “stress,” “pressure,” “anxiety,” “tired,” and start associating work with “happy,” “productive,” “relaxed,” and “cooperative.” Achieving this, I feel my work has been successfully done.
For more information about WOOD in Lisbon, visit their page on Coworker here.