Good Thing Community Building Ain't Easy

Why the difficulty of coworking community building is your #1 competitive advantage.
Ryan Chatterton
October 31, 2017
4 min read
AlleyNYC via Facebook

This is part four of four in a series about my one-year digital nomad anniversary. This article is about my obseravtions on the difficulty of building a strong coworking community, but why that difficulty is actually a competitive advantage.

This is article 4 of 4 in a series about my experience over the last year as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry. The first few paragraphs of introduction are repeated across most of the articles in the series, so feel free to skip it if you’ve read it already!

I celebrated my first digital nomad anniversary recently. It was October 14th, 2016 that I flew from New York City to London, began work with coworking space software company, and officially became a (drumroll please) digital nomad.

Honestly, my one year anniversary has come as quite a surprise. On the one hand, it feels like the year has gone by incredibly quickly. It’s astounding that I’ve done so much in such a short amount of time. On the other hand, it’s strange to think that it’s only been one year since I was back in my downtown Salt Lake City apartment selling or donating nearly all of my possessions in a mad rush, in preparation for an entirely new chapter of life. That memory feels like it happened a lifetime ago.

In the last year, I’ve done all the typical nomad stuff, such as traveling to common nomad destinations all over the world, including Berlin, Budapest, Bali, and Chiang Mai. I’ve ridden to the tops of mountains in northern Thailand. I’ve swum in cavernous jungle pools under a barrage of falling water near Ubud. I’ve basked in the beauty of the Hungarian Országház. I’ve balked at the price of a pint in a quaint Vesterbro bar. And I’ve hiked to wintry mountain lakes in the magnificent Pirin mountain range. In total, I’ve been to 10 new countries since I started my nomad journey last year, and I fully expect to add another ten nations to my passport in the coming year.

Because of this extensive travel and my simultaneous work within the global coworking scene, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the ever-evolving trends for flexible workspaces, digital nomads, and remote work.

This series of articles talks about a few of the things I’ve noticed over the last year and what, if anything, should be done about them. Each is a different insight I’ve gained or reinforced as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry. Some are related to coworking, and some are related to nomad life. If you’re not interested in a particular subject, just skip to a different article. However, I think each is filled with valuable insights for people whose lives relate to coworking or digital nomadism in some way. You can find the links to the other articles at the bottom of this one.

Community is hard, but that’s a good thing.

In this article I put forward the actual reason why community is recounted as the primary asset of a coworking space, but also why cultivating a good community is more difficult than is first perceived.

Ask the average coworking thought leader around the world what the most important thing is that a coworking brand needs to ensure its success, and the reply will almost invariably be “community.”

I’ve started a coworking space. I’ve consulted for and been a member of spaces all over the world. Based on that experience I tend to agree with the average coworking thought leader. Community is incredibly important. It’s the one thing that your competition can’t easily copy. It's a key reason why members report choosing one space over another. Sure other spaces have great communities, but not like yours, not exactly.

However, community is always taken for granted. New coworking managers often assume that a community is far easier to cultivate than it is. They presume that happy hours, member lunches, and online chat will be enough to create the sense of belonging and stickiness that comes with a great community of coworkers. This is not the case.

Communities are hard work because they require human capital and emotional labor. There is no quick and easy recipe. Community managers have to respect and consider each person that’s a part of the community and figure out how they fit into the whole. They have to care. The tactics and systems can help them manage the community, but they won’t help them build it. If you want a great example of the right approach, read about the legendary Inspire9 coworking hub here.

We make it a point to educate our customers on the need to get off the computer and out into the space with their members. In fact, we provide tools to automate the admin portion of coworking management because our primary goal is to let coworking managers focus on the essential things which make a coworking space tick.

But even with powerful technology, there’s still a tendency for many space managers to hide and pull strings from behind the curtain. This can be tantamount to coworking community suicide.

So how do you stop taking community for granted and learn what works?

The best way to move past this issue is to go to a coworking space with great community and vibe. Meet with and observe the staff and member interactions. Be a part of the experience. Then go to a space with a dull or even negative community to make observations there. You’ll see the difference.

Coworking spaces with healthy communities have warm, inviting staff that make it their primary mission to engage with every member. More importantly, they are adept at`` getting members to engage with one another.

On the other hand, coworking spaces with unhealthy communities feel cold and sterile. Often you’ll walk in and not be greeted at all! Upon further exploration, you might find a community manager who will reluctantly give you a tour, and that’s thinking, “who are you and why are you making me work?” No bueno.

Maybe you don’t have time to tour a bunch of coworking spaces or perhaps you’re afraid they’ll catch you snooping and turn you into the coworking police. Either way, I’ll give you a few shortcuts to a rockstar community based on my experiences over the last year and beyond. For new and old coworking spaces in every region on the planet, the keys to a healthy community are: making newcomers feel safe and welcome, reinforcing intra-space social engagement, generously donating social capital to new members, and creating ample social spaces (not just workspaces).

That’s it.

These things aren’t complicated. However, they are difficult. But doing them ensures your success as a healthy and vibrant coworking community.


This is article 4 of 4 in a series about my experience over the last year as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry. Here are the other articles:

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Ryan Chatterton

Marketing Director, founder at Coworking Insights, coworking maven, digital nomad, lover of wine & tacos.

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