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Opinion: Why We Need Coworking Communities

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COVID-19 has hurt, buried, and decimated many businesses… but one industry that will flourish post our “new world order: mask or no mask” is coworking and flexspaces.

They are more than just a pretty place for someone to work in — they offer community and meaningful connections. Something people are craving more and more after months of WFH (work-from-home) isolation.

I was first introduced to this new-to-me concept of coworking spaces a few years ago when I was traveling extensively across North America for work. Back then — if I needed a space to be productive, it was usually inside my hotel room, a Starbucks, or the dreaded “business center” inside the hotel. Now there are some really nicely outfitted businesses centers out there, but no matter how many stars the hotel has, you know that these are not always the best place for a prolonged work session and definitely not the best place for a video call.

I was living in Vancouver at the time and had one and a half days of meetings in Chicago and then two days later had to be in Montreal. It made no sense to fly back home only to travel across the continent again in a few days, so I decided to stay and explore The Windy City, enjoy some of Lou Lanati’s famous deep dish pizza I always heard about, and of course get some work done. I was staying at the JW Marriott in downtown Chicago… which has one of the nicest business centers ever (seriously, those chairs and pens were AWESOME.) That said, the day I needed to take some calls, their business center was packed. Apparently some guy named Barack was in town doing something important…

Disappointed and not wanting to work in my hotel room, I went to the concierge and asked if there was someplace he recommended where I could take my calls. He mentioned some place that was in walking distance where people “coworked together.”

My face, while he was describing it, must have made him think that I couldn’t understand him… because I just wasn’t understanding this concept he was talking about. He asked if English was my second language, and I just responded “No, but I am Canadian…”

It just seemed like the strangest concept. A group of random people who don’t know each go to somebody’s office and share that space together for the day?

It just seemed so surreal…and strange.

Anyways, I took him up on the suggestion — as a day pass was actually cheaper than two days of paying for the internet at the hotel. So off I went on an adventure in downtown Chicago crossing a bridge, bumping into or being bumped by many people on the sidewalk, and meeting a not-so-friendly police officer on a segway — which looked so ridiculous no matter how menacing or commanding he might have looked in his uniform, he looked so silly on that two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter. But that day was all about experiencing strange new things… because I was off to my first coworking space.

A coworking space in Canada.
Staples Studio Kelowna

When I walked in, I was convinced that this was going to be just as strange as a cop on a segway — and I am glad that I was so wrong.

Lisa, the community manager, greeted me with a great big hello and warmly welcomed me to her beautiful space. She asked permission to ask me a few questions — getting to know what line of work I was in and what I was looking for. After our introductions she asked me if I had time to meet some folks already in the space.

Next, she enthusiastically walked me around her coworking space, giving me a tour and introducing me to several people where we exchanged business cards and LinkedIn profiles. After I finished my calls, I walked around the space and met more folks who were all genuinely curious about this Canadian dude, who was equally curious about this coworking space. This was not your typical corporate office; this was an eclectic collection of entrepreneurs all committed to helping each other work, learn and/or grow somehow.

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After I left Lisa’s coworking space, I had so many questions.

Did other such spaces exist? What made this one feel so welcoming? And why was everyone so eager to connect, meet, and help me? (P.s. I ended up doing business with two people I met at Lisa’s place.)

A month later, work had me back in the USA — this time in Palo Alto, California and Stanford University. This time, the business center at the hotel I was staying at was not nice at all — small, poorly lit, and it smelt bad. So I googled “coworking Palo Alto” and to no surprise, there were heaps of places all within walking distance.

So off I went and visited two coworking spaces. Both were visually so gorgeous and breathtaking. Obviously, a lot of money was spent on the interior design and decor on these places, but what stood out was the experience. Just like in Chicago, here in Silicon Valley I was warmly welcomed by each of the spaces’ community managers and given a tour. This time, the connections made were just as plentiful with the added touch of everyone pitching me their business idea… like literally, I was being pitched non-stop to invest in their business or provide feedback on how they were pitching.

And just like my experience in Chicago, I was now doing business with folks here in Palo Alto that the community manager introduced me to.

Back in 2017, I traveled to the Netherlands to give my 2nd TEDx talk in The Hague. Remembering my unique experiences at coworking spaces in the USA, I decided to give one a try when I was in Amsterdam. Again — the space was beautifully designed, the chairs were incredible, and the free coffee was EXCELLENT. I had never experienced a caramel waffle cookie in my coffee before. So delicious!

And just like the other coworking spaces, there was a community manager who made it her priority to ensure I was taken care of, engaged, and connected. I met so many wonderful people, and the common thread was that they all wanted to help. I ended up practicing my TEDx talk in front of everyone in their event space before the big day. And five of the guys there all took me for a tour of the city and ensured I experienced the finest Dutch beers.

Now, I run my own coworking space, and even though COVID-19 has made connecting a different experience — people have come back. I make it my personal mission to ensure everyone is warmly welcomed to my space just as I was when I visited those other coworking spaces. As well, I ensure to get to know more about each of my own members and their business—and most importantly introduce them to folks that could help them. And funny thing is, I have introduced my members to coworking members in those other spaces in Chicago, Palo Alto, and Amsterdam and now, several are doing business together as well.

Yes — my coworking space is beautiful, with awesome chairs and great coffee. But you can get a beautiful space anywhere in the world.

What truly makes it different is the community and curating a space where people want to come together and help each other. This mindset is a universal must-have for any coworking space, and it is because of this community building, lift-everyone-up mindset that will make coworking spaces a necessity for small businesses, entrepreneurs, digital nomads, students, or people tired of working from home.

If you have not tried a coworking space, I encourage you to try one. Here’s hoping you’re as pleasantly surprised as I was on how awesome the coworking community really can be.

Original article published on Medium, July 27, 2020.


About Author

Matt Stewart is a Community Cultivator, ‘Den Mother,’ and Executive Coach to entrepreneurs. Find his profile on TED here.

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