Regardless of trends coworking is about fostering openness.
Just because coworking is now over 90% private offices doesn’t mean it’s become all about glass prison cells for workers. As an owner or community manager you can avoid this fate of developing a stale, closed-off environment or an uncompetitive business It’s all about the culture you create.
The BIG TIP: Think Dorms Vs. Apartment Buildings.
This might help: let’s think about something you’ve likely lived through, the difference between dorms and apartments.
I once lived in a dorm called West B while studying at Grand Valley State University. Most dorm rooms are basically two bedroom mini apartments around 350 sq. ft.
Two people will live in these units and share a bathroom. Then there are two wings that each hold around 20 dorm rooms, 10 on each side of the aisle, for a total of 40 dorms per floor. In the center between the wings, there’s a common area students will pass through several times a day. It has a large kitchen, several sofas, an island for people to gather around, fireplaces, and one or two large screen TVs.
So, dorms are designed to be private enough to give each individual their own personal space; however, they’re encouraged to use the common area if they have guests over and want to cook a big meal or watch TV with friends. It’s intentional design that allows people to interact and get to know each other. This is something community-focused coworking spaces can and should replicate.
Figure 1: The features of dorms vs. apartments
Super Small Space (two bedroom, 350 sf)
Comfortable space (550+ sf one bedroom)
Shared amenities in the center of each floor where people walk by several times a day.
Shared amenities tucked away on the first or top
Doors are defaulted to being open, culturally
Doors are always closed. It’s like a hotel.
Message boards or shared digital communication by floor or building
No communication really used, maybe a message board on the website.
RA organizes activities and asks for feedback. Lives in the community.
Leasing agents puts on events but little effort or creativity is present.
Bulletin boards are throughout announcing outside activities and making announcement. Anyone can contribute.
Bulletin boards are locked behind glass. It’s only accessible by management.
People that join are greeted with an introduction to the culture and encouraged to join in.
People are given their keys, a tour, and left alone with a set of expectations.
Apartment are designed to be controlled. This causes people to hide away.
On the other hand, let’s look at the modern apartment building. In reality, they are only a little more personal than visiting a hotel once you get out of your unit.
Everyone lives in a comfortable-sized space with all of the things they need. And the vast majority only leave their unit when they have a clear objective: to go to their car, to the gym, to their job, etc.
Departing, they take one of several exits and perhaps pass by or through an empty lounge space with a dead TV and pool table. This very public amenity in a very large and very private building seems more like a movie set than something people are actually invited to use.
Nonetheless, once a month or so, the apartment building throws a cheese tasting or taco gathering, and typically at a time convenient for the staff yet inconvenient for the people living there, perhaps between the hours of 4:30 and 6 PM.
This culture of silent hallways, closed doors, inconvenient amenities and events reinforce a culture of being closed-off and territorial. At such a large scale, it can be difficult to break.
This is what many executive suites had become before the coworking movement of the early 2000s.
Ways We’re Encouraging Community
At Creative Density, my vision was to put glass doors on all offices and encourage members to keep the door open. Just hearing loud laughter every once in awhile spreads joy throughout the space. I’ve been fortunate that most who join us are open to this idea (and appreciate the decor to boot).
All members get a code for 24/7 access and start to think of CD as another home rather than a commercial office.
For music, we use Amazon’s Alexa devices, empowering anyone to select a station, share a playlist, or ask Alexa a question. Everyone is in control.
We’ve set up a Slack channel where we plan community-wide lunches, share meaningful stories, and ask silly questions. Members also use our messaging boards to post announcements and share words of the day.
Each month we even do an event called ‘We Top A’ that’s a potluck where I provide the base of a meal and everyone brings in a topping or side. Remember, people love to contribute when given the chance.
Have An Open-Door Coworking Policy. Set Expectations. Start Conversations.
Open doors and open policies are an invitation to create community. People hear music and the TV playing, overhear conversations, notice the cool posters and decor and want to be a part.
Simply stated: coworking spaces that thrive meet the relationship and space needs of their members. They have created a culture where people feel comfortable starting conversations with strangers,empowered to start events,share news, and learn about others.. Alex Hillman said it best, that he wanted his community to always “assume yes.”
The space is not yours as a space owner, it’s for everyone’, and its culture, policies, and expectations should be an extension of that.
If you’ve already opened up and a space that’s starting to feel a bit stale like an apartment building, you can start fixing it today. Start encouraging communication and putting on internal events. As new people move in, start setting new expectations toward openness.
The longer you wait the harder it will be change.Your community wants you do this.
When the coworking industry started in in the mid-2000s, most coworking owners were against creating closed-off offices in their spaces. Offices were perceived as ‘the man’ creeping into our chaotic perfect world of open and collaborative coworking communities. The mood started to change as the industry learned how to add offices and integrate office members into the greater coworking community. Owners found that offices had many advantages to the business of coworking, as well as benefits for the community as a whole but there becomes a tipping point when offices do more harm than good. To have a successful coworking space, you have to find the right balance between the two environments.Here are examples of office-to-coworking ratios and the effects it can have on the business and community.
0% Offices / 100% Coworking
Everyone appears to be equals
Potential to create a strong community
Accommodate a high number of community members
High potential revenue
Easier to start without much capital
Coworking is slow and more difficult to sell
Revenue could be low for a long time
Chaotic culture could happen
Higher labor costs and monthly operational expenses with more members
Limited audience to only people that want coworking
10% Offices / 90% Coworking
Office memberships provide more stable revenue
Offices are easier to sell providing revenue sooner
Offices bring in groups of community members so there are people at the space sooner
Coworking space can accommodate large numbers of coworking members
High potential revenue
Expanded appeal to coworking members and small teams
Easy to maintain a coworking-like vibe
Higher startup capital required to build out a few offices
Potential problem of create tiers of members
Groups can dominate a culture
Owner is reliant on groups for large sources of revenue
50% Offices / 50% Coworking
Stable revenue with more offices
Revenue is easier to generate
Space can still accommodate a large number of coworking members
Expanded appeal of coworkers and small teams
High startup costs due to build out
Likely two-tiered membership
Limited interaction between members
Culture may be more difficult to maintain
90% Offices / 10% Coworking
Easy to sell packages that generate revenue
Lower labor costs with self-sufficient offices
Still market yourself as having coworking and looking cool
Difficult to stand out from existing executive suite industry
Lack of collaborative culture
Less appealing to the coworking crowd
Low interaction between members
Lower potential revenue than pure coworking
As you can see, offices can be beneficial from a business perspective because it provides a stable revenue source that is easier to sell. Offices give coworking space owners peace of mind. However, when offices dominate the space and culture, it limits the appeal to only small businesses or teams–and doesn’t move the industry forward in a way that the coworking movement likes.
If you’re a new space owner, consider adding a few offices to provide some revenue and get people in the door. But stay committed to the coworking cause. A general rule of thumb to follow? Have enough offices so the revenue covers the rent of the entire operation. This usually happens when 15% of the space is dedicated to offices. That way, the business can stay open while coworking takes off.
Small towns across America yield the highest growth segment in the coworking industry. Owners in some of the smallest towns are choosing to join in their local coworking space. Anticipating it will provide themselves or their staff with a higher sense of community and productivity.
There are over 14,000 coworking locations in the US. The progressing coworking industry is dispersing from large dense cities into smaller rural communities. Members joining in on the movement in these small towns are experiencing better efficiency. With the growing numbers of coworking spaces allowing members to participate in small towns, 22% of owners in small towns believe there is an opportunity for more, while only 7% think there are enough coworking spaces.
The demand for coworking spaces shows a 66% expansion rate this year alone. Many of the larger brands and big spaces owned by coworking companies consume the headlines, yet over 55% of spaces have less than 40 members. In small towns spaces which range from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet are perfect for cultivating the coworking industry.
Many small towns have existing structures which hold great potential for coworking. Spaces incorporated into old downtown buildings, retail locations, strip malls, lofts, or traditional office buildings are very adaptable for the coworking business and its members. It is reported that 58% of workers transitioning into coworking come from a home office. Providing these members with a hub which brings the community together and out of isolation brightens spirits and enhances their business.
Reported Member Benefits
75% feel more productive
96% have stronger social connections
80% leverage business network
77% of people express knowledge sharing as an important and critical benefit
Working within your community and getting out of your home office is proven to provide higher productivity. Small towns are no exception and owners are flooding the coworking industry to reap the benefits.
We have two offices becoming available in our main campus in Uptown. They are good small team offices for people from one to four people and they rent for $750 to $850 a month. The best part of claiming one of these offices for your Denver team is that they are part of our larger coworking community with over 50 designers, developers, hikers, startups, bikers, rock climbers, financial consultants, and world travelers. Your team will instantly be part of a larger collaborative community that will invigorate you every morning.
So besides the awesome people, price, and availability what else is there? Everything.
Regular food events (see picture)
Free conference room space every day
If you would like to book a tour then contact us today for a tour.
We are excited to announce that Craig Baute, Creative Density’s owner, has helped launch a new coworking passport in Colorado called DeskPass. It’s a new mobile coworking membership for people that are coworking curious or need to be able to access spaces all around Denver and the state because of work or travel. Plans start at $49 a month and is a good entry way for people to discover coworking and to find the right community for them.
‘Creative Density is about the people and we want people to cowork here because they really enjoy the people and the relaxed atmosphere. It’s important to try out several spaces and have access to different spaces because of location. DeskPass allows more people to discover our awesome mentalhealthdrugs community but also work here when it is most convenient for them during their travels.’ explains Craig on why Creative Density was excited to bring DeskPass to Colorado.
DeskPass has been described by BusinessDen and the Denver Post as the ClassPass for coworking. It is. People sign up for a plan that lets them cowork a 4, 8, or unlimited number of days but they are limited to visiting each space 4 times a month. If people love a Creative Density or another space then they will likely join that space on a regular membership. If they travel a lot then DeskPass allows them to enjoy the benefits of coworking across the state and the other markets DeskPass is in (Chicago and LA right now).
Friday lunch time is an important time for new members to get to know each other and it has been a foundation of our community for over five years. Every Friday morning people starting jockeying on where they should vote to go for our group lunch. If you don’t vote, Craig is going to suggest SliceWorks Pizza (great salads) or some place with BBQ.
On Friday’s there usually a group of ten or so members that go and it’s just a friendly environment that it is where more recently moved remote workers learn the ins and outs of their new city, make friends to play tennis with, and just chit chat about their favorite ski hill or coffee shops with board games. No matter where we go you’ll have a good time, but if you want to have influence on where we go then follow this guide for lunch on Fridays and any other day of the week. An educated voter is the best voter.
This is a guide to our favorite lunch spots in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood:
Bonus: Lunch combo for a under $10, there is always room for us
Negative: Sometimes it feels too far away, a limiting but delicious menu
Slice Works Pizza
Bonus: Great salads, huge slices of creative pizzas, $.40 garlic knots, good beer prices
Negative: Limited seating for large groups
Tycoon Ramen and Sushi Bar
Bonus: Available seating and affordable sushi
Negative: People have to be in the mood for sushi or noodles which can be tricky.
La Pasadita Inn
Bonus: Affordable mexican, two blocks away
Negative: Difficult seating arrangement for groups larger than 8
Kitchen Table Cafe
Bonus: Awesome Kansas style BBQ, good options for vegetarians as well meat lovers
Negative: It’s a bit far away, difficult seating for larger groups
Bonus: Great outdoor patio, a wide variety of American comfort food
Negatives: It can be busy at Friday lunch time and require a wait for large groups
M Uptown (former Hamburger Marys)
Bonus: Right down the street, a big menu, large patio and fun decor
Negatives: Service and be slow, it’s a compromise space when the group can agree
Marczyk Fine Foods
Bonus: Amazing deli, huge sandwiches, get grab and go
Negatives: Expensive deli, no sitting so you have to take it back
Bonus: Great for vegans, lots of seating, right next door
Negatives: Overpriced, slow service
Freelancers choose freelancing as a lifestyle choice in which there’s no boss, a flexible schedule and can more easily blend their daily activities around their work schedule. It’s a freeing lifestyle but freedom can also mean loose and chaotic. Freelancers are not given the standard three weeks paid vacation and sick days that many traditional workers enjoy. It often means that freelancers aggressively save up the month before a vacation to make sure they can pay their rent, cell phone, and loans while they are away. Some opt to rack up credit card debt to cover expenses, but many freelancers just never take a week or two long vacation in fear of losing too many billable hours.
With the right preparation, it doesn’t have to be this way. Freelancers chose a flexible lifestyle and with that comes extra responsibility and planning. I created a helpful vacation calculator to help freelancers determine how much they need to save each week in order to have their desired vacation. All you need to input is how much your annual salary is and how many weeks you’d like to take off. Once you input those numbers you’ll see how much you need to stash away each week you are working!
Creative Density has been around for over five years and our focus has always remained the same; to be a friendly community and productive space for remote workers and freelancers in Denver. It sounds so simple but it takes intention. Here is how we stay the best coworking community for nomadic workers.
We started with a friendly and smart group of coworkers. It set the tone that has lasted years.
On Day 1 we had friendly people coworking here. Designers, developers, creatives, project managers, translators that made the place a welcoming and outgoing place. This core group attracted other welcoming people that are excited to make coffee in the morning for everyone, chat about their favorite new dinner spots, and help each other out. If people are just looking for a space to put their headphones on and not say ‘hey’ then they might be better in a traditional office or a coffee shop.
We’re flexible and we don’t not have too many rules. It’s OUR space.
Are you a bad person reading this blog? I doubt it. Neither are the people that seek out a coworking space, so we don’t have too many rules. We trust people and it really makes working here a space that fits around you. It’s our coworking space so everyone can come and go as they please, host Meetup groups, park in the spaces on the weekend, and bring in their cool art prints to hang up. Our goal is to get out of the way so you can get work done and have great conversations.
We don’t cram people in.
People join to be in an active environment but they don’t join to play a game of chair roulette or having to schedule specific days to come on in. We will stop membership at some point when it members start to get a feeling of it being too crowded. We don’t define crowded as being every spot filled either. It’s probably when we have around 80% of spots taken in a given day. I like room to breath and I bet everyone else does too.
We reinvest to improve the space based on what the members want.
Every few months we give put up a vote on how we should spend a hundred to a thousand dollars. Last year we voted between a dishwasher, a new TV room, a game console, or a heater for the patio. The TV room and game system with Mario Kart won out because people wanted a gathering spot to chill for 10 minutes in the winter. This spring we voted to increase the professional cleaning schedule and get a new coffee maker. This summer we built two new phone booths. All of this was decided based on feedback from the community.
We have friendly gatherings and not networking events
We wouldn’t want to join a space just to have 10 new business cards show up at my desk every week. Ew. We want to have potlucks, help each other with our websites, have a month long tournament of outdoor games, and have a weekly lunch ritual out to restaurants in Uptown. These types of events help people become friends and learn about each other in natural and more impactful way than networking events.
These are five simple elements of Creative Density’s traditional coworking culture that makes it a great place to work. The members have set a tone of openness, friendliness, and collaboration that is hard to find in spaces that open up today. If you are tired of working from home, coffee shop, or another coworking that leaves you longing for more than schedule a free day right now. You’ll be welcome with smiles and candy.
Yahoo was in the news last week about an alleged government program that scanned Yahoo’s email. The Denver News 7 team stopped by our coworking space to get reactions from small business owners and remote workers. Craig was interviewed at the big table to get his thoughts and how he would secure his email in the future. It was a good piece and exciting to see members of our coworking community on the news getting exposure.
This is a warning to everyone. If you want to be secure and use a free email service from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or others then make sure to encrypt your email from end to end. You can usually do this by searching for it in your security or privavcy settings.
I have described how coworking communities can usually be started anywhere as long as an engaged community agrees on it. Spaces are adaptable and the physical demands of a coworking space are not that high. However, many of your new community members will take location into consideration with over 54% saying that location was their primary reason for joining. With less than $20,000 to spend on starting Creative Density I chose an 1920’s 3,500 sq. ft. house in an urban neighborhood to start my coworking space. After five years of being open with an additional location added I thought it would be helpful to describe how I turned an old house into a coworking space.
Where is the house:
The house is near a main neighborhood street lined with restaurants and about 9 blocks from the central business district and the capitol building. The building is a quarter of a block off a busy street next to a residential house. It’s very walkable and fairly quiet with free parking readily available compared to just a few blocks away.
Cost of a converted house:
In many cities there are old two story large houses that have been converted into dentist offices, law firms, and massage spas. This is one of those houses and in commercial real estate terms it’s a Class C building that costs less than half of a new construction office. My rent is $12 / sq. ft. so it s a very reasonable rate in Denver to start a new business in. Plus, I deal directly with the landlord which is common for converted house and I don’t go through a bureaucratic property management company and keeps costs low.
The layout of the house:
The building was a former duplex that was combined about 40 years ago for a business that could use all of the space. There are two entry ways in the front, two stairwells right next to each other, and 15 rooms varying from 220 sq. ft. to 80 sq. ft.
On the main floor I combined two smaller rooms on each side of the building by taking down the large french doors. I closed one of the entry ways by adding a wall and converting the entry way into a telephone room. This converted the main floor into the main coworking area by having two larger areas that are each 500 sq. ft., a telephone room, vhealthportal.com/product-category/anti-diabetic/, a small bike room in the back, and a private office.
The upstairs is also 1750 sq. ft. separated by the stairwell but connected with a hallway. We have 3 private offices, a kitchenette, a lounge, conference room, vhealthportal.com/product-category/anti-diabetic/, and another 400 sq. ft. coworking space.
Outside we have a yard that is plenty big for a BBQ and for yard games. There are two small patios out front with enough room for four people to work. It’s a nice set up.
Cost of buildout in this house:
I bought paint, cleaned the carpet, and built a wall to create a phone booth for a total of $3,000. That’s it. Since there were already smaller rooms that made great offices and the other smaller rooms could be combined by taking off the french doors the costs were minimal. The low cost of transforming it into a coworking is a big reason to go with a house.
How we made old feel cool?
Great people gathered on day 1
Bright colors that have a story for our branding. Green represents healthordisease.com community, red is energy, and blue is collaboration.
Modern furniture from Ikea, Turnstone, and The Container Store
Lots of fun prints and odd stuff on the walls
Yard games in our yard
The negatives of running a coworking space in an old house:
Cables and outlets that would would usually be in a drop ceiling are an eyesore as they are installed against the wall
Wifi signals get absorbed in thick plaster walls
Rooms can’t be changed easily compared to traditional office buildings
It’s not for everyone. Many small business want to be in a regular office because of the perception it gives to their clients.
Overall my old converted house was served our coworking community well and is a differentiator from other coworking spaces in Denver with a homey feel. This doesn’t appeal to everyone but it does set us a apart that is a bit polarizing, and that’s a good thing. We have enough small rooms to convert into offices that give us financial sustainability, it didn’t require expensive upgrades to fit our needs which is great for a young entrepreneur, I deal directly with the landlord that loves the idea of coworking, and it fits our community.
If you are looking for an affordable option to start a coworking space in then consider an old house. Make it part of the branding and part of what attracts your community. Don’t shy away from it but embrace it and make it the work home for your new members.
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