Embodying a Hospitality Mindset with James from Hello Friend

Learn how James Sledmere, Co-founder at Hello Friend, is growing his community by taking a hospitality-first approach to coworking.
By Kelly K
February 24, 2024
Hello Friend Leadership Blog - Embodying a Hospitality Mindset with James Sledmere

James Sledmere knows a thing or two about hospitality. 

Before co-founding the Australia-based coworking space, Hello Friend, he operated a cafe in Sydney, Australia for over ten years. It was here that he was able to hone his people skills and learn the true value of providing a service-minded experience.

Hello Friend became a natural extension of the cafe – a slightly different product offering, but with the same sense of community and great service.

This is what people have come to love about Hello Friend. They know they’ll have a beautiful place to work, a community to support them, and James onsite to greet them each day.

We sat down with James to learn more about his approach to coworking and what it means to truly be hospitality first. Here are five key takeaways about embracing hospitality from our conversation with James.

1. Coworking is long-form hospitality

Similar to a cafe, people expect a certain kind of experience when they come to a coworking space. They want the smell of coffee in the air and soft music in the background. They want a kind face to greet them by name and ask them about their day.

Unlike a cafe where patrons tend to come and go, people stay in coworking spaces for a much longer period of time. You don’t just have to provide a great experience for fifteen minutes. You have to curate something memorable for the entirety of the morning or afternoon.

That requires you to think about every aspect of the coworking experience you’re providing, from the moment someone walks through the door to the moment they leave several hours later. 

James calls this, “long-form hospitality”. He instills this philosophy in his staff and encourages his team to do whatever they need to do to help their members. Because they’re there all day, it’s even more important to build relationships, exceed expectations, and be proactive with meeting member needs.

With this mindset, James is able to create something special that every member feels when they walk through the door.

“Coworking is long-form hospitality. Members are there all day, and if you're in there too, they're with you all day. Meeting expectations for people and trying to predict what they might need all links together with hospitality.”

2. Your space can impact how people feel

When you own and operate a coworking space, you have the power to influence how people feel with the way you design your space.

James has always had a thing for calm environments. Even in the chaos of having his first child, he ensured his home was calm and serene, complete with low lighting and soft music playing in the background.

This calmness has become an essential part of the Hello Friend experience. James has intentionally created a space and an environment that is light-filled, airy, and generally calming. Members feel settled the minute they walk through the door, and they take this feeling with them when they leave Hello Friend. It is this feeling that ultimately stays with them, long after they’ve left the physical space.

3. Become a home away from home

Hello Friend Coworking and Community is a home away from home that connects community

A common phrase that you’ll often hear in coworking is, “you’re not competing against other coworking spaces, you’re competing against the home.”

While working at his cafe, James overheard displaced remote workers complaining about the woes of working from home. It was something he personally connected with – he had experienced the challenges of working remotely himself earlier in his career, where distractions abound and loneliness can creep in on you quickly.

This inspired James to turn Hello Friend into a home away from home. His goal was to create a space that would feel like home, but with more productivity and less distractions. 

He then leaned into this with his marketing tactics, creating Facebook ad campaigns that focused on the pains remote workers felt, and offered a solution with Hello Friend coworking space. The whole journey was thoughtfully designed to support the notion of being a home away from home, and using hospitality to make a coworking space feel like the better option.

“Hello Friend is about working near home, not from home. It’s somewhere you can go where you know it’s going to be calm.”

4. Your community will take on a life of its own

One of the things that James has loved most about running his coworking space is watching his community grow and take on a life of its own.

The coworking space is simply a place for people to meet. Once inside, what happens is all up to the people who occupy the space.

James enjoys having conversations with new and interesting people every day. He enjoys celebrating their differences and bringing people together who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily spend a lot of time together. He helps bring about this sense of community by putting himself in a place of service and being a friendly face that people know they can rely on.

The Hello Friend community proves that you don’t need to have a big space to have a big impact on the lives of the people in it. Connecting a few people over a cup of coffee is more than enough.

5. Technology can enable a hospitable experience

Hello Friend coworking space and community using Optix to promote hospitality

Something that we often hear from our clients is how they’ve used technology to automate their mundane everyday tasks so that they have more time to focus on building connections with their members.

For James, his biggest motivation for using technology was to create a better experience for his members, and to free up his time to build connections with others in the space.

By using Optix as his coworking management software of choice, James has been able to spend more of his time on the human part of his job – and less time on the operational part. In turn, this has helped him grow his small but mighty coworking community to full capacity.

“The easier it is to use and the more appealing the look of the platform, the more likely it is that people will spend money.They're not tangible things you're buying, but they kind of almost are. I think it's quite clever.”

What’s next for James and Hello Friend?

Now that Hello Friend is at capacity and their reputation as a community-driven organization is thriving, James is exploring the possibility of opening another location.

When it comes to Hello Friend, the one thing James wants people to leave with is knowing it’s a welcoming environment where you can do your best work. It’s created in a way where people can come together and do things better than if they were to do it alone.

That is the meaning of community – a collective unit that is bigger and more impactful than the sum of its parts. And that is exactly what James is trying to enable.

As James continues on his Hello Friend journey, we’re proud to be supporting him every step of the way. Learn how Optix helps James automate the mundane tasks so he can focus on supporting his community.