Why does anyone pay for coworking?

Some people make an impression on you right from the start. In that first conversation, you realise they’re going to be important to you. Their values match or complement your own, they challenge you, they fill your mind with potential. And, hopefully, you do the same for them.

These connections run deeper than the typical supply-demand links that we create in the professional world. And the shallow, shared interest friendships that come and go with every new hobby. These are the relationships that help you discover yourself, the ones that make you grow.

Often such meetings are serendipitous, made possible by the simple fact that some aspect of similarity brought you to the same place at the same time. Occasionally that serendipity is engineered by a mutual connection.

That’s my job – I’m a community engineer.

At the moment, I’m exploring community within the world of coworking. It’s an environment where we create both the physical spaces and the opportune moments for serendipity. And that’s a pretty remarkable achievement.

BUT DOES IT MATTER?

It seems, however, that this community side of coworking is fairly low down the priority list amongst London coworkers. For the past four months while working at Huckletree, I’ve been pondering the needs of real and potential coworkers. This chain of thought led me to recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, my favourite of the theories we studied in first year psych.

I discovered this morning, through a bit of research, that this comparison has, in fact, been drawn before. And by none other than Eric Van den Broek – one of the cofounders of Copass and Mutinerie, the Parisian space that made me fall in love with coworking in the first place.

When I visited Mutinerie in 2013 and spoke with Eric and Sophie about their startup, Copass, I knew that their influence on me would be significant. There was something about their views on global communities and the future of work that resonated with me, and opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking.

Despite being published four years ago, Eric’s article in deskmag remains pertinent in the fast-moving coworking industry. In a competitive startup city like London no amount of free beer will make up for unreliable wifi, uncomfortable seats and high prices.

Each coworking space has to focus on providing some basic services before being able to deliver the true value of coworking.

WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION, WHAT ARE PEOPLE WILLING TO PAY FOR?

STAGE 1: THE INGREDIENTS

For most, the initial drive to start looking for a coworking space sits at the bottom of the pyramid. They’re looking for business critical inclusions like wifi, desks, and a toilet, generally within a strict budget. It’s about the things they know they need. In reality, these needs could just as easily be satisfied by a managed office, a big coworking chain, or a little independent space.

  • Inclusions: wifi, desks, chairs, printer, storage, meeting room, water, tea, coffee, toilets
  • Motivation: a fixed workplace without the responsibility of renting and managing your own office
  • Questions:
    • does it have capacity when i need it?
    • is it within my budget?
  • Investment: money, as little as possible
STAGE 2: THE MIXING BOWL

The need to put some separation between home and work makes some people seek out a nice place where they can be around inspiring people. For others, the feel of a space surfaces as an important factor only once they walk through the door. The best spaces are a little different, they have personality, and they give a business credibility.

This comes from two key factors – the people in the space (both the team and the members) and the aesthetic quality. In this stage, people think about the potential of the space, considering whether they have room to grow, find clients and advisors, and reduce or increase their usage.

  • Inclusions: team, useful network, atmosphere, credibility, flexible membership plans
  • Motivation: an inspiring environment that can satisfy your changing business needs
  • Questions:
    • can i be productive in this environment?
    • am i interested in the other members here?
    • can i change my membership if business doesn’t go to plan?
  • Investment: money, willing to pay more for coworking than managed office
STAGE 3: THE OVEN

Once people become accustomed to the community nature of coworking, they start to grow into their space. It’s especially evident on those tough days, when dealing with troublesome clients and venting to someone who gets it. When looking for advice on activating early adopters. Or coincidentally sharing lunch with a coworker and discovering a shared hobby. This workplace isn’t just about business, it’s about people and personalities.

  • Inclusions: events, introductions, friends, partnerships, collaboration, understanding, sense of belonging
  • Motivation: a community of people who share your desire to live with purpose and do things that matter
  • Questions:
    • are there events that interest me?
    • are there other members i want to spend time with?
    • are people supportive when things are going wrong?
    • do i feel at home?
  • Investment: time
STAGE 4: THE ICING

After finding their place in the community, people open up to the idea of giving back. Increased security in their environment fills community members with the confidence to share their ideas and expertise, thus strengthening their position in the group.

  • Inclusions: feedback, early adopters, platform for events, reputation
  • Motivation: a receptive and appreciative audience to share your expertise with
  • Questions:
    • do i respect the opinions of the community?
    • is it worth giving my time as a mentor or advisor?
    • do people know and understand what i’m good at?
    • are people interested in what i’m doing?
    • do i feel respected?
  • Investment: expertise
STAGE 5: THE CHERRY ON TOP

And finally, members who fully immerse themselves in the community will feel that they’ve stopped pretending to be anything they’re not. They come to work in the morning and it doesn’t matter whether they’re wearing shorts or a suit that day, they’re themselves no matter what. Beyond that, the people around them are inspiring them to constantly grow in the ways they want to develop. This combination of factors leaves them free to pursue their purpose.

  • Inclusions: freedom to be yourself, inspiration from community
  • Motivation: a life filled with purpose and pleasure
  • Questions:
    • am i inspired and productive?
    • am i happy here?
    • am i learning from the people around me?
    • do i know what i’m doing here?
    • am i being myself?
    • am i living by my values?
  • Investment: energy

YOU GET WHAT YOU INVEST

I’m trying my best not to pull out a cliché here, but it’s true that if all you’re investing is money, all you can expect is a flexible workspace. If you’re willing to put some of yourself, your time, your expertise and your energy into the community, you’ll see a far greater value in coworking.