Taking the plunge into the world of coworking is an exciting, and perhaps terrifying, experience.
There aren’t a lot of resources on how to get started (outside of the incredible Optix blog), and it can be difficult to know where to look for quality information.
But coworking owners are trailblazers. They embrace doing the hard things, even if they’re not always sure how to get started.
So we asked eight coworking owners and operators, “What is one thing you wish you knew before starting your space?”
From here, we pulled out five valuable pieces of advice that you can apply to building your coworking business. Consider these lessons you won’t have to learn on your own as you embark on your journey!
1. Adopt a hospitality mindset
For Chris Davies, CEO at Uncommon, his best advice for new operators, and something that he recommends everyone understand before getting started, is that you are in the business of hospitality.
Coworking spaces are no longer just physical locations with desks and chairs; they are service-oriented environments that need to prioritize the experience of their members.
Chris compares the experience of running a coworking space to running a hotel in that customer service and hospitality needs to be top-of-mind in order to be successful.
This hospitality mindset will become even more important as the coworking sector matures and the needs of the individual continue to evolve with the future of work.
“I think people need to understand that we are, in many ways, running hotels; we have desks not beds. You will need this hospitality mindset to achieve in this market. I believe this is going to become even more relevant over the next 5 years.”Chris Davies, CEO at Uncommon
2. Put community building first
Lucas Langworthy, Founder at Greyduck Collective, believes in cultivating community over just creating a space.
While product offerings and amenities absolutely matter, what truly sets a space apart is the relationships formed and the collaborative environment it cultivates.
It’s the sense of belonging, teamwork, and the exchange of ideas that make a coworking space really special. They are not just places to work, they’re hubs for shared creativity, growth, and a sense of collective community amongst individuals.
"It's not just about creating a space, but more about cultivating a community. The aesthetics and amenities are crucial, but it's the relationships built and the atmosphere of collaboration that truly set a coworking space apart."Lucas Langworthy, Founder at Greyduck Collective
3. Embrace slow and steady growth
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of competition and the fear of missing out on those elusive market booms.
For Chris Hoyt, CEO at The Pioneer Collective, he would recommend new owners and operators spend their time focused on their own growth instead of the growth of others.
“I wish I would have had more conviction that it was OK to grow slowly and deliberately. I spent a lot of the first few years worrying about our competitors and fearing that we were missing out on growth opportunities during the gold rush of 2016-2020.”Chris Hoyt, CEO at The Pioneer Collective
“Staying small and perfecting the little things turned out to help us in the long run though, as we were better positioned to deal with adversity and to capitalize on opportunities after the pandemic,” says Chris.
Although growth felt slow in the short-term, it ended up benefiting Chris in the long-term. He was able to better equip himself for the unexpected and be in a better position to seize opportunities when they arose.
4. Expect the unexpected and be adaptable
The coworking sector is ever-changing, a fact that can present challenges for operators at times.
Cynthia Dailey, Owner at ScribbleSpace, says if she could go back in time, she would prioritize a different product offering with more private offices.
“One thing I wish I knew before I started my coworking space is that in our market, locked offices would be in much higher demand than open coworking space.”Cynthia Dailey, Owner at ScribbleSpace
Cynthia continues, “It was hard to know even if we’d done market surveys eight years ago, because the population in our area has doubled since then and the newer residents have needs that are different than most that were living here in Horizon West already at that time.”
Similar to Cynthia, Colleen Moselle, CEO at Coco, also wishes that she could have predicted the unpredictable – the future of work.
“One thing we wish we knew before starting a coworking space: that we could have predicted the future of work. Flexible work spaces have so much to offer and we were focused on small to mid sized companies, thinking larger companies would want their own spaces; however, hybrid work changed our view point and the market.”Colleen Moselle, CEO at Coco
“There are so many wonderful, flexible solutions that can lend itself to companies of all industries and sizes. We are now thinking bigger and more creatively about how we can be of service and provide value to a broader audience,” explains Colleen.
Erin Scarlett, Co-owner at The Fountainhead Network Coworking & Media Space, agrees that being able to predict the unpredictable would have been ideal.
"Looking back, I wish I knew just how quickly the landscape could change in our industry. When we signed our coworking space lease in 2020, we didn't anticipate a global pandemic reshaping the future of work."Erin Scarlett, Co-owner at The Fountainhead Network Coworking & Media Space
Despite not being able to predict such radical changes in the flex industry, it’s taught Erin a valuable lesson in how to change and iterate quickly. “If anything, it’s taught us the importance of being agile and adaptive, not just in our business model but also in the amenities and community-focused services we offer,” says Erin.
Staying adaptable and modifying your business as things change – whether that’s changes in your local market or global shifts in how people work – can help ensure long-term viability of your coworking space.
5. Ask your members what they want
When building a community, it’s easy to run into challenges and frustration, especially when trying to get members involved in community events.
Katharine Chestnut, Founder at Alkaloid Networks, learned a valuable lesson – when in doubt, just ask.
“The one thing I wished I knew before starting my community is that I should ASK members the types of community events they want to participate in and when.”Katharine Chestnut, Founder at Alkaloid Networks
Katharine explains, “I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and heartache since it took me a hot minute to dial in what they [members] actually wanted and have members show up for community events. Once I started asking and asking again regularly (since membership changes over time), life is much more enjoyable.”
Sometimes asking feels so obvious, it’s easy to miss.
Alora Daunt, Co-founder at The Pearl Works, would also recommend starting to build community by listening to your members and adapting your offerings to their needs, rather than focusing on what everyone else is doing.
“I wish I knew there is no magic recipe for building community. At the beginning, I was hosting a lot of events like happy hours because I saw other coworking spaces doing it and I felt like I should too. I have been learning to listen to my people and develop programming and events that feel authentic to me and the people I serve.”Alora Daunt, Co-founder at The Pearl Works
Alora goes on to explain, “In our community, after work people want to go home to their families most days. We’ve found that daytime events, especially our member lunches, are amazing. The Pearl Peeps love the opportunity to take a break from their work, eat great food from our local vendors, and connect/meet other members.”
So long as you keep your members’ needs as your north star, you won’t go wrong with what you’re offering.
On that note, Alora leaves us with one final piece of advice.
“There may not be a magic recipe for building community. Through asking, listening, and experimenting certainly are key ingredients.”
Take these lessons from top coworking operators and advance your business today
There is so much value in learning from others. The coworking community is a small but mighty group that is growing rapidly every year. With these lessons from those who have already succeeded in the space, you’ll be setting yourself up to succeed in this evolving sector.
To recap, those lessons are:
- Adopt a hospitality mindset
- Put community building first
- Embrace slow and steady growth
- Expect the unexpected and be adaptable
- Ask your members what they want
Optix is designed to help coworking owners and operators elevate their member experience, stay adaptable in a quickly changing market, and engage their community. To learn more about how Optix can enable your team to succeed, connect with a member of our team today.
Thank you to our wonderful coworking leaders who contributed to the article! We’re so happy to share your insights with our community. Interested in sharing your experience and expertise with the Optix community? Reach out to us at email@example.com to share your story!