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Your Team Needs Training Wheels

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Not once have I met a coworking space operator that hasn’t lamented the difficulty of finding and hiring the right candidate for their space. They are either too expensive, too inexperienced, or once you think you’ve found the right fit, they find a better fit somewhere else. You’re probably already rolling your eyes thinking “Duh, Captain Obvious.” Fine, then. Go ahead and roll them. But before you do, hear me out.

It’s been three years since a chance encounter helped me realize the extent of the staffing challenge our industry was going—and continues—to face. I’ll never forget. I’d just finished an impressive tour of a beautiful and dynamic space and stepped into the elevator with a young woman who looked like she was on the verge of tears. Not three floors into our journey, she broke down and shared that she had just interviewed for a community manager role at that very space and felt utterly unprepared for it. She was desperate to learn more about the industry after overhearing a few bits of the conversation I’d had with one of the founders while we were waiting for the lift.

A quick rundown of her work history and experience led me to realize she’d be perfect for the role. The problem wasn’t her. It was the fact that the space had an overly vague job description and little to no hiring procedures. On top of that, when she’d searched “community manager,” she found almost exclusively information about managing an online community rather than a physical one.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in this groundbreaking, innovative, and even, *shudder* disruptive industry of ours, there would be a learning curve for roles and responsibilities that didn’t even exist 20–30 years ago. What is surprising, however, is the fact that operators (both big and small) are creating these pain points themselves simply due to a lack of foundational hiring and training processes. You don’t need a 300-page bureaucratic training manual wrapped in red tape to quickly and easily nip some of these problems in the bud.

It All Starts With A Job Description

Sure, there are plenty of Community Manager job descriptions that you can get from a plethora of resources but are you actually taking the necessary time and attention to customizing them for your space. There are plenty of folks that I’ve spoken to that say, “But it worked for them…” Sure, it worked for them, but do they describe your specific space? This industry is unlike so many others since so much knowledge is shared via the Coworking Wiki or the Google group. We don’t stop to think about how our business is different from another’s space.

The amount of time you put into crafting a good job description will pay off ten fold when you find that needle in the haystack of candidates.

Be honest! I can’t tell you about the space (NDA) that was afraid to list membership sales in the roles and responsibilities section and then got upset when their new hires didn’t embrace that part of their job.

Be creative! I’ll never forget reading some of the original job descriptions from NextSpace way back in the day. Iris, Rebecca, and the team did such a great job crafting the description of each job’s role. What was really impressive was how everyone in the organization had listed tasks like, “Clean up any visible spills or messes.” It really displayed their focus on team spirit and how everyone contributed no matter their title.

Focus On Where You’re Looking

Personally, I recommend that you start your recruiting process by checking out local employees at coffee shops, rec centers, or hotels. You might think you’re hiring for the real estate industry, but you’re actually hiring for a hospitality role. If you witness a barista that goes above and beyond for their grumpy, caffeine-deprived customers at 5 AM or a front desk attendant who is perky and friendly in the middle of the night, you’ve found someone who might very well be a fantastic community manager.

Candidates Are Interviewing You As Much As You Are Interviewing Them

Not everyone has hired people before, and that’s not a bad thing. That said, you need to have some sort of interview process in place before you start soliciting applications. We’ve all submitted for jobs never to hear back from the company again, or worse, to be told months later we didn’t get it. Yeah, no shit Sherlock. In this tight labor market, good candidates (i.e. the ones you want) are getting multiple offers. How you are presenting yourself, your space, and the team is more important than how much they impress you.

With as much sharing as there is in this industry, there’s not a lot of transparency when it comes to the actual interviewing process. That was, of course, until Indy Hall shared their experience. An OG of the industry, anyone who is anyone in coworking knows Alex Hillman, Adam Teterus, and the Indy Hall story. Recently they went through the process of hiring a new Community Manager and OMG! the insights they provided by documenting it are priceless.

Tell: They’ll Probably Forget. Teach: They Might Remember. Involve: They’ll Learn.

Ok, so your job description is spot on. You found a great candidate, and the interview process felt like a match made in heaven. What else is there to worry about? Well, the most crucial part of the process, of course! Training! Henry Ford put it best, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

Maybe you’re just so relieved to finally have someone help you manage your community and oversee your space that you drop them in without adequate training. Perhaps that’s how you learned the business or were hired/on-boarded yourself. Either way, I believe inadequate training is the biggest issue when it comes to employee retention.

During my tenure as a store manager and training specialist for Starbucks, I learned the importance of respecting the training process as much as, if not more than, the hiring process. At every step, each responsibility was clearly documented and broken down into a process that built upon the next one. It makes sense right? It’s easier to steam milk to make a cappuccino once you know how to do so for a latte. Just as it is easier to sell coworking once you understand the different benefits of the memberships at the space.

It’s quite likely that this person has never worked for, or even been in, a coworking space before. Your job is to make them feel welcome and comfortable. Ensure that you have some type of coverage for your space while you’re training your new employee, or communicate to members ahead of time that you’ll be out of pocket for a few hours each day that first week. Far too many times I’ve seen someone come to their first day and sit around while waiting for the owner to “get to them.”

Be sure you have all the admin/HR/login/paperwork stuff ready to go ahead of time. You also want to limit the amount of time spent on training and provide time for them to digest everything they’ve learned. Give them the lay of the land, introduce them to members, and have lunch. After that? Let them try out different parts of the space or send them home with some assignments to prep for the next day.

Go over the basics of the job and not just how it’s done, but why it’s done. Pardon the Starbucks references, but when you taste a bad espresso shot and a good espresso shot it’s way more likely that trainees wouldn’t skip out on steps once they saw the why. Build up to various responsibilities and provide them with tools that help guide them. You shouldn’t expect them to be flying on their own until at least a full week or two on the job.

Without diving too far down the rabbit hole, don’t be tempted to cut corners just because you think you don’t have the time for it now. The takeaway I encourage you to always remember is to put yourself in their shoes. Think back on a time when you had a less-than-stellar interview or perhaps no training on day one. This will help you remember the importance of properly hiring, training, and onboarding your next new hire.

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About Author

Since 2013, Mike LaRosa has researched and studied an array of shared workspaces, leading him to visit over 500 locations in 31 countries. A highly sought after consultant, clients such as Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, The Second City and CBRE have turned to him and the team at Agora RDM to provide expert industry knowledge and know how from design to operations, staffing/recruitment and marketing. He has spoken at events such as Coworking Europe, Coworking Africa, Coworking Unconference Asia, GCUC and Nomad Summit. You can follow him on Coworkaholic, a blog he founded in 2015 dedicated to the location independent/frequent flyer lifestyle.

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