Last week, team CoLo was having a blast exploring the coworking scene of Melbourne, Australia! While we were there, we had the joy of attending GCUC AU, where we met so many amazing people and learnt so much! With a jam-packed day of speakers and unconference sessions, we left with full hearts and bustling minds — here’s what we learnt!
The Future of Work
The day kicked off with a discussion between Liz Elam & Brad Krauskopf around the future of work, chatting about the latest developments in the wonderful world of coworking. While it was established that the need to work alongside others has been around for a long time already, Brad pointed out that “coworking is really being driven by people wanting to work in a different way.” People are becoming more and more flexible, and expect to be able to translate that flexibility into their work day too. With the rise of freelancers, contractors, solopreneurs, startups and remote workers who don’t prescribe to the traditional 9–5 office structure, this is becoming especially prevalent.
“You need to be as flexible as your workforce” — Brad Krauskopf
Next up was an in-depth look into the idea of productive atmospheres with Intel’s Melissa Gregg. This followed on well from the previous talk as it continued by emphasizing the data showing that the future of work is all about the freelancer, independent and remote worker. Since 35% of the US workforce are freelancing, this is forcing a shift in workspaces, and moving control from organizations to their individual workers. Since these individuals are searching for flexibility, Liz stated that “coworking operators need to be better than home,” as this has become one of coworking’s main competitors.
“Coworking spaces are the new hubs of productivity” — Mel Gregg
How to negotiate with corporations and REITs
We then stepped into the next panel with Daniel Stiffe and John Preece as they discussed how to negotiate with corporations and REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts.) They guided us through navigating negotiations and partnerships with big players and reminded us of the difference between landlords and coworking operators: landlords won’t do anything they don’t have to but coworking spaces do everything for their residents.
Next level community building
After morning tea, courtesy of Team CoLo, we dove straight back in with a panel discussion between Nick Shewring, Conrad Tracey and Tim Mahlberg about next level community building! Kasia Stelmach facilitated the discussion which ended up focusing on four main topics: coworking as more than just a desk, diversity, inclusivity and building good teams.
Coworking is more than just desks and buildings and work.
“Work can be more than just somewhere you go to tick boxes and complete tasks” — Tim Mahlberg
The first main theme of this panel came around to the same ideas: we often get caught up in the inventory of desks available, the solutions we provide, our real-estate and the services we offer, but in reality, coworking is about so much more. Coworking isn’t just real estate, it’s about humans, and it’s about caring about people and their work/life balance.
“Community building is about real connections with the people around you” — Nick Shewring
The next topic of this discussion came from a question about diversity, to which Nick Shewring posed this question in response: “instead of forcing diversity, how do we create an environment that is open and inclusive so that everyone feels welcome?” The panel agreed that being open and welcoming creates diversity and a safe and supportive coworking environment for everyone.
The audience facilitated the next topic of inclusivity by asking, “How do you involve the youth in your community? How can we build, collaborate and work with people of all ages?” Tim Mahlberg told a story of when his space brought in school children, and the energy was electric! He and Nick also shared anecdotes of the elderly and their positive impact in coworking spaces, especially in mentoring other residents! The result was an agreement that coworking spaces should invite and work with people of all ages, encouraging collaboration across generations!
“You have value no matter who you are and where you came from” — Nick Shewring
The team & the importance of community managers
Next up was the topic of your team and how they contribute to the community of a space. Conrad Tracey said he learns everyday from his community managers at Inspire9 and the discussion seemed to resonate with the idea of community managers and their importance. Tim explained that “you need a community manager with real emotional intelligence who strives for world class experiences” because the job of a community manager is so much more than just fixing printers and replenishing supplies — it’s about connecting with the humans in your community, understanding their trials and connecting them to the others around them in your space.
“At BizDojo, we recruit for empathy: people who give a sh*t about others” — Nick Shewring
It was also highlighted that because of this responsibility that the community managers carry, it’s important to ensure that your team members don’t get burnt out. Create a culture where your team can express their feelings, share their burdens and take breaks when necessary. Being a people-facing person, taking on all of your residents issues and constantly being on can be a lot, so recognise this and look after your team members as much as you can.
Mental health was an important topic throughout the conference, with programmes like Founders Central and other community programmes encouraged to ensure that coworking operators, their teams and their residents are all looked after at every stage of life, work and business.
New Revenue Streams
Michael also pointed out that the industry has changed from being about space to being about people, so focus your revenue streams on people. Think about what partnerships and streams would benefit your residents and how you can empower them in their business.
Some ideas of new revenue streams to think about were:
- Introduce a setup fee for new residents: it takes hours to go through the onboarding of a new resident — try charging them a one-time setup fee to cover this time, energy and resource.
- Monetise your meeting rooms for outside users: consider opening up your meeting rooms for non-residents but charge them an hourly rate to rent the room.
- Charge event clean up fees: Charge an additional fee for event setup and packdown if the organiser would like you to do that for them. Don’t just do it for free!
Coworking Trends in Australia & Beyond
Next up was a chat about coworking trends from Kimberly Patterson and John Preece of Knight Frank. They covered everything from generational views about life and work, to coworking growth, quality, services and amenity, the cost of working and predicting the future of coworking.
Among many other statistics, we learnt that by 2020, millennials will turn 40 and by 2025, will represent 42% of the Australian workforce. By the end of 2017, Gen-Z will start entering the workforce too. This shift towards new generations will require a shift in workplaces to accommodate the needs of these workers who have been raised completely in a world full of technology with new workplace expectations.
Overall, this discussion compared coworking to the hospitality industry and highlighted that coworking is all about providing quality space, exceptional service and ever-developing amenity.
Unconference Session 1
After a lovely lunch break and pitches for the unconference, we kicked into unconference session 1. In this session, Team CoLo attended both the Digital Marketing session and the Community Activities session.
Our very own Connor Finlayson ran one of the first unconference sessions, sharing his tips on digital marketing. As Head of Sales and Marketing here at CoLo, Connor knows a thing or two about getting your product out there, so he shared this knowledge with a room full of coworking operators to help them share their space with the world!
We shared a lot around the benefits of content marketing, its organic reach and what content to create. The main theme was that it is all about your people. Instead of trying to tell people how amazing coworking is and how your space is the best, tell the stories of your residents to enable people to feel connected, relate to your residents and get that FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling!
Writing about your people also means that they will most likely share it with their friends and network, meaning that your space naturally gets out there to the world easier!
A suggestion from the audience was to then split this content into several posts for social media, allowing you to use the same piece of long-form content for multiple pieces of short-form social content with different snippets, images, quotes and more.
The use of Facebook for marketing was a clear question on a lot of people’s minds. Facebook is cheaper than Google Adwords, but since this is outbound marketing (you reaching out to consumers rather than them searching for you), the leads are often less qualified so can have a lower conversion. However, you can make your Facebook leads more qualified by tailoring the content to specific groups of people, and choosing niche audiences in your advertising through their interests and groups that they follow. This will allow you to target a smaller group of people who are more tailored to your space and are therefore more qualified and more likely to convert. Facebook pixels will then do the rest of the work for you, allowing you to retarget people who have visited your site or clicked on your ad before.
It’s probably better to look to Google Adwords when your conversion rate is relatively high to make sure that you don’t waste money. Ensure that your website and onboarding process are top notch and you are able to convert guests to residents through this process before purchasing adwords. Adwords being an inbound marketing technique as guest are searching for you, makes these leads more qualified and likely to convert, however they are often more expensive to gain.
Community Activities in your Space
In this unconference session on community activities in your space, the common theme was that the best activities are organised by the community themselves.
Here are some examples of popular activities in the spaces represented at this session:
- Library / Book club / Book exchange
- Dogs in the space: there mustn’t be too many dogs, and the dogs must be social and well-trained
- Community Garden: Some herb plants could be a simple way to get the community interested in this
- Art exhibitions
- Birthday cakes
- Fundraising: one space had a honesty-box cookie jar, with the proceeds going to a local charity!
- Space for children: children who might visit after school or during lunch or spare periods to meet their parents at work benefit from a dedicated space to play, do homework and wait for their parents without distracting other workers.
- Bringing the community together with simple activities such as food and/or drink that they can organise themselves
- Getting involved with the local rotary club
- Quiz time
Unconference Session 2
In the next unconference session, Team CoLo attended the Next Level Design chat!
Next Level Design
This session around the architectural and interior design of coworking spaces kicked off with an interesting observation that after the cubicle era, there was a huge drive to pull down walls and create fully open offices, but now coworking spaces and workplaces in general are seeing a shift towards walls again, using a mixture of public open spaces, and private, closed spaces. This has caused interesting intersections where coworking spaces are working towards private spaces that still feel open, using materials that allow for some flexibility and transparency across businesses and spaces.
The discussion of materials took us towards a conversation around sound, and how these different materials can be used to provide both privacy and openness, flexibility and security and the control of acoustics within a space. How do you create an open space that is suitable for private conversations but doesn’t let sound carry in or out for example?
These many contradictions in the design of space were super interesting. It prompted questions around how we create workspace that allows both transparency and privacy, flexibility and security, focussed work and social engagement, peace from the noise but not an uncomfortable silence and so much more?
Unconference Session 3
In the last session of the day, we headed to the sessions on Branding & Identity Design, and Getting New Members.
Branding & Identity Design for Coworking Spaces
Team CoLo’s Creative Director, Hollie Arnett, lead a group of coworking operators and managers through some practical tips on branding and identity design for coworking spaces.
Branding is more than just a logo. Branding encompasses every touchpoint that a consumer may interact with in relation to your space — that might include posters, videos, advertisements, partnerships, blog posts, events and more. Everywhere that your brand is seen by someone either internally or externally needs to be carefully considered to ensure that it is sending the right message, and consistency is key.
One of the main tips was to brainstorm a series of keywords that your branding should reflect at all stages. Think of the story you want to tell: ff you want your space to come across as calming, reflective, comforting and peaceful, your branding will look very different from a space that wants to appear vibrant, bustling, fast-paced and iterative. Having these keywords will give you an anchor to base all of your branding decisions from.
Have a set of questions to go back to when making these decisions too. These questions might be:
- Does this reflect our keywords?
- How would someone on the street feel if they saw this?
- Would someone who has never heard of coworking or our space be able to understand the message?
Having these questions alongside your keywords will ensure that anyone who is creating any content for your space will be on the same page and help create consistency across your brand.
Getting New Members
This unconference session focused on how to get new members into your coworking space. Here are some tips from the session:
- Consider giving free desk in the coworking space to people who have a good following on social media if they regularly share pictures or content of/about your space
- Check out the WeWork compensation model where they get in touch with local Real Estate agents who will refer you small businesses that want a space, because getting them a real office isn’t worth their time.
- New members MUST take a trial, otherwise they may have a bad experience and give negative publicity. They may also be a bad fit for your space, which could negatively impact your existing residents.
- At all events in the space, the attendants should see some promotion for the space and how they can get a trial. This leads to a lot of leads.
- Encourage your residents to bring their friends and family to your Friday drinks or similar events, then they will get to check out the space and get interested through this.
- Work together with other spaces to refer residents to spaces that fit them the best.
- Your iPad reception app should gather email addresses in order to re-engage your visitors with content about your space
We loved being able to attend GCUC AU in Melbourne and learnt so much along the way! We hope that this roundup provided some practical learnings and tips that you can take away with you to your own workspaces to make coworking even better all around the world!
A massive thank you to the GCUC team for putting on another amazing conference — we can’t wait to see you at the next one!