Since November 2016, I have been supported by an assistant in my role as coworking manager. She mainly helps me in the area of public relations. Like all coworking employees, she is from another career entirely– there are no trained coworking experts. Within the first weeks, however, it became obvious that her true skills would be better used elsewhere. Her greatest abilities were and are her smile and her personal contact with our members.
I have seen only a few coworking employees who interact with other people with such warmth and heartiness. This is something that I certainly was not born with. While I do have a friendly relationship with members, keeping a professional distance is useful when it comes to things like unpaid invoices. Though, I can only do this because I have my assistant as a complementary counterpart.
As it turns out, we employed the right person for the wrong position. Our mistake was our fixed focus on the job profile. The last weeks showed me that the greatest challenge for every coworking space, even before the creation of the member community, is the composition of the team.
Employees are people with their own personality and experiences. The more versatile they are, the better it is for their team and their community. One’s employees are part of the serendipity phenomenon we observe in our open spaces. They help members to find things they weren’t even looking for.
Exemplifying Human-Centered Work With the Team
Professional expertise in hospitality management and the contact with other cultures (e.g. in hotels, restaurants, tourism, etc.) can be an advantage for new hires in the coworking industry. But every employee also has to have a particular personality that works well within coworking. This can be a very hard personal task in an environment that is very little or not at all characterized by hierarchies, structures, and traditions.
Thus, the composition of one’s team and processes, as well as the consideration of what people need at work, are very important. Tracy Brower, head of the department of “Human Dynamics + Work” of the US furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, examined the research made in the last 80 years in the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology focusing on this concern.
The results of her research are six core needs of human beings at work, independent of gender, ethnic background, or socioeconomic status:
- We strive for safety and competence to act.
- We want our status to correspond to our performance.
- We strive for success and are proud of our performance.
- We strive for independency in our actions.
- We want our actions to cause something meaningful.
- We want meaningful connections with others.
As managers of coworking spaces, understanding these different needs has a massive influence on how we lead and manage a team; on the technology we provide our staff with, and on the definition of the tasks themselves. Coworking spaces are seen as examples of human-centered workplaces. However, we often forget that this also applies to the coworking space team itself.
Building on the Values of New Work
At St. Oberholz, the coworking space I manage, we regularly discuss our “task profile” with the two founders Koulla Louca and Ansgar Oberholz. This way, a position can be re-defined within three months depending on the developments in the coworking space, but also the personal needs of the individual employees. The aim is to maximize the value of coworkers by minimizing the costs of the transferred tasks.
In our team, almost all tasks are distributed horizontally and not, as is typical in most organizations, in vertical silo structures. This way, the employees get a general impression of the company and can individually support their colleagues. Tools like Slack, Redbooth, and Trello support this effort by creating transparency within the team concerning what colleagues work on and what they deal with in their roles.
This horizontal connection of the individual coworkers leads to a better understanding of the company as a living organism, the accentuation of individual performance, to collective success, and to the motivation of the individual to contribute with their strengths and individual abilities. Individuality, which is also characterized by personal experiences, is experienced as a special ability this way.
Our actions and our organization are oriented according to the ideals of New Work, as developed by Austro-American social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. The goal is that the work of the staff of St. Oberholz is shaped in conformity with values of self-dependence, liberty, and participation in society.