To Front Desk or Not To Front Desk
I’ve worked at/with many coworking spaces. Everybody does things a little differently. In this article I’ll share my opinions and experiences about whether or not your space needs a front desk, how that front desk should operate, and what costs you’ll incur staffing that desk.
At Impact Hub we had a front desk. At PARISOMA we had a front desk. I think most coworking spaces have some form of a front desk, though the methodologies with which they are staffed and run vary wildly. Some spaces have a dedicated person who sits at the desk. Some use volunteers or work-traders to staff it. Some spaces rely on their Community Manager to serve both the role of Front Desk Associate and Community Manager, which means the desk is more of a physical barrier hopefully causing strangers to stop until they receive assistance.
Personally, I think you should have a desk (though in the next section I’ll present a counter argument). The front desk exudes professionalism. Even if your space is fun and funky, a dedicated front desk allows you to enchant the inbound traffic arriving at your space, enticing them to love your brand. It allows your staff to delight and guide and can deliver a great first impression, so long as the desk is managed well. When the desk is not managed well, or staffed with a negative or incompetent person, it does exactly the opposite, presenting an unprofessional or inconsiderate image of your brand.
The front desk reduces friction. People, despite their insistence on choice, do not like to make decisions. They don’t want to guess as to whom they should talk to about a tour. They don’t want to feel awkward. Your space is there to make them feel comfortable and plug in seamlessly.
In my opinion you should have a dedicated front desk person if you can afford it. Reduce your business hours if this isn’t possible on a full-time schedule. Relying on a Community Manger to do both roles can result in a quick burnout if you haven’t clearly outlined the expectations of both roles. In a small space (perhaps less than 40 or 50 members) having your Community Manager serve both roles is less of an issue.
To Not Desk
One of my clients doesn’t have a front desk, yet, because the space is rather small. At StartupHouse, there wasn’t a front desk because it was also a coliving space and the front door was always locked. The reasons to not have a front desk mostly comes down to cost and culture.
If you can’t dedicate somebody to work at the desk, it’s really serving no purpose. It just looks like your staff is slacking. In that case perhaps it’s best to not have one at all. With that comes a new set of parameters for managing space access of course, probably resulting in the front doors being locked 24/7, member-only access, and appointment-only tours.
Culture is the other reason you might not want a desk. Yes, desks exude professionalism in most cases, but they can also be stuffy and corporate if done incorrectly. Additionally, staff members at desks are typically treated as secretaries (for lack of a more PC word) by at least some members and nearly all visitors. Even if the founder or director of the space is at the desk, they better put on the secretary hat.
You may want your members and team to feel more equal, so nixing the front desk can be a great way to say, “we’re all in this together.”
If you do decide to have a front desk, be sure to staff it properly with a friendly and confident person. Their #1 job is to be the friendly and helpful person at the front desk. Other work should come at a distant second. Headphones are not allowed.