How to Get Started With Virtual Coworking

How to create a booming virtual coworking community
By Kelly K
September 15, 2023
Getting started with virtual coworking

Virtual coworking is the best of both worlds.

It offers a community of like-minded individuals, authentic connections, and the experience of being part of an office – without ever having to leave your house. 

It also presents an opportunity for you as a coworking operator to drive steady membership and revenue growth with minimal overhead.

In this guide, we’ll share with you everything you need to know about virtual coworking including what it is, why it’s valuable, and how to offer it in your community.

What is virtual coworking?

Virtual coworking, sometimes referred to as digital coworking, leverages technology to create an online community of remote workers. It provides a shared digital workspace where individuals can connect, collaborate, and work together, despite being geographically dispersed. 

Key elements of virtual coworking include:

  • Online platforms: virtual coworking platforms or software serve as the digital hub where members can access resources, interact with others, and participate in virtual events
  • Real-time communication: virtual coworking spaces often incorporate chat, video conferencing, and messaging tools to facilitate real-time communication between members
  • Collaboration tools: shared documents, project management tools, and task management features enhance collaboration within the virtual workspace
  • Networking opportunities: just like physical coworking spaces, virtual coworking offers networking events, workshops, and social interactions to foster a sense of community

Benefits of virtual coworking

Benefits of virtual coworking

Benefits of virtual coworking include increased collaboration, decreased loneliness, diversified revenue streams, and more. We’ll break down the benefits of virtual coworking according to you as an operator as well as your members.

For members

Increased flexibility

One of the most significant benefits of virtual coworking is flexibility. Members have the freedom to choose when and where they work, allowing them to create a schedule that aligns with their personal preferences and productivity peaks. This flexibility can enhance work-life balance and reduce commuting time.

Cost savings

Virtual coworking typically comes at a lower cost than renting a physical office space. Members can save on expenses such as rent, transportation, and parking, which can significantly impact their overall budget. This cost-effectiveness is particularly appealing to freelancers and small business owners.

Access to a professional network

Virtual coworking provides members with access to a diverse and global network of professionals. They can connect with like-minded individuals, collaborate on projects, seek advice, and expand their professional circle. Networking opportunities abound through online events, webinars, and virtual meetups.

Enhanced productivity

Many virtual coworking platforms offer productivity tools and resources to help members stay organized and focused. Shared documents, project management tools, and task lists can streamline work processes and boost productivity.

Reduced isolation

Remote work can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Virtual coworking combats this by fostering a sense of community. Members can chat with colleagues, attend virtual coffee breaks, and participate in online discussions, creating a social and supportive atmosphere.

For owners and operators

Virtual coworking for coworking owners and operators

Increased reach

Virtual coworking extends the reach of coworking spaces beyond physical boundaries. Coworking owners can attract members from different regions or even globally, increasing their potential client base.

Diversified revenue streams

Offering virtual coworking memberships diversifies revenue streams. Operators can generate income from members who may not need a physical space but seek the benefits of a professional community and resources.

Increased member retention

Virtual coworking can enhance member retention by offering flexible options for those who can’t always be present in a physical location. This flexibility aligns with the changing needs of individuals.

Competitive edge

Staying up-to-date with digital coworking trends gives coworking owners a competitive edge in the evolving workspace industry. Offering both physical and virtual solutions caters to a broader audience.

David Bensoussan from Starthub Miami quickly learned that virtual coworking can also boost member acquisition by giving you access to prospects in areas beyond your physical location’s reach. These prospects become highly engaged leads that may upgrade into full-time coworking members in the future.

As David Bensoussan said in his guest post about Starthub’s virtual office services:

We realized that these virtual members were also qualified leads for our coworking space. We were pretty much generating a full occupancy of the physical space as the virtual office was growing.
David Bensoussan, Starthub Coworking

Learn how Starthub Coworking grew their membership by 900% with virtual coworking.

What does a virtual coworking plan look like?

A virtual coworking plan typically offers access to a combination of services, space, and technology. The best plan for your space will depend on the needs of your members and the services that you provide.

Some spaces choose to offer a virtual coworking plan as a completely separate membership option, while others integrate it into their other offerings. 

A typical virtual coworking plan may include:

  • Access to a digital community and tools
  • Collaboration tools
  • Digital events
  • Business address
  • Mail delivery
  • Meeting rooms access
  • Receptionist services
  • Live phone answering

We’ll dive into each one of these offerings in more detail below.

Member and collaboration tools

Give members the opportunity to connect with others, find support, and network for their career through collaboration tools like Slack, WhatsApp, and Discord. 

You can also set up a Community Feed in coworking software like Optix to help service your team’s needs. Learn more about collaboration tools in Optix.

Digital events

Help your members learn and grow with digital coworking events like keynote speaker webinars and Lunch & Learns. This can be a great way to bring people together and facilitate education and connection, without needing to leave the house.

Join the We Run Flex Community for Coworking and Flex Space Leaders

Business address and mail delivery

Empower your entrepreneurial members by letting them use your space as a business address. This helps them establish a strong business identity in your area, take advantage of local directory listings, and send mail to you for easy pick up.

It’s also a huge value add that is often sought out by entrepreneurs when evaluating a virtual or digital coworking membership plan.

Meeting rooms and receptionist services

Yes, your community is primarily virtual – that doesn’t mean some members won’t want to occasionally stop by an office in real life to connect.

In these cases, meeting room access and receptionist services can go a long way in making your community members feel connected. Consider offering discounts on hot desks and dedicated desks for virtual members who want to upgrade their membership plans. 

Live phone answering

Many freelancers and business owners can’t afford reception services, so building it into your offering can be a great value-add. This could include call screening and phone answering with personalized greetings, so no important call is missed.

How do you create a virtual membership plan?

How to create a virtual membership plan for virtual coworking

There are lots of ways you can structure a virtual coworking plan. A couple of examples include:

  • A truly virtual plan: members receive access to digital services only, like access to your member portal, virtual events, and live phone answering.
  • A hybrid plan: members receive a combination of digital and in-person services, including use of meeting rooms and mail delivery to your address.

As you consider your offering, it can be helpful to research what other coworking spaces are doing and how much they’re charging. Some spaces use a pay-as-you-go model, or even a pay-as-you-can model. Others charge a flat fee.

Depending on your offering, you can also explore a tiered pricing approach. This involves charging a standard fee for using your business address and layering additional services, like mail forwarding or live phone answering, on top as needed.

What is the difference between virtual coworking and virtual offices?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, however virtual coworking and virtual offices are slightly different in what they offer. 

Virtual coworking involves community building aspects, like events and networking opportunities. It sometimes includes traditional virtual office offerings like a business address or call forwarding as discussed above. However, the primary purpose of virtual coworking is to bring people together as an integrated community.

A virtual office includes office services only, such as a business address, call answering, and mail forwarding, and is not typically associated with any kind of community building efforts. Many people view a virtual office as an operational expense, rather than something they expect to provide a sense of community.

How can you engage current members with a virtual coworking plan?

You can also monetize your virtual coworking plan by selling it as an extra service to existing members. This allows you to retain members while simultaneously expanding your market beyond your physical location.

Many companies are eager to claim a business address in another city or even country to reach their customers more easily.

What’s more, adding a plan of this kind can reactivate leads who were interested in your space but ultimately couldn’t afford the cost. At Starthub, David was pleasantly shocked by the size of the untapped virtual coworking market:

The assumption was that it wouldn’t get much return […] Over the past year, we were able to go from 40 coworking members to 400+ clients and we continue to grow every week.
David Bensoussan, Starthub Coworking

A GWA webinar also found that offering virtual mail services alone could net coworking spaces up to 1,000 new customers, bringing in revenue of between $200,000 and $400,000 per year. 

However, as you get started, there’s one key thing you must do – engage your virtual coworking community. While a virtual membership plan is easier to join, it’s also easier to disengage from.

Building a strong connection between your space and your members is crucial to ensure retention of this new audience.

What technology is needed for virtual coworking?

You’ll need technology to help you execute on a successful virtual coworking plan. This could include:

  • Digital event hosting platform like Zoom
  • Collaboration tools like Slack
  • Community feed, directory, and a platform to promote digital events like Optix 
  • Email service provider like Mailchimp

Some coworking businesses are even offering software like FocusMate, which pairs people together as accountability partners to help ensure productivity working from home.

As always, we recommend starting lean with your tech stack and building it out from there. Learn more about building an effective coworking technology stack. 

How to get started with virtual coworking

1. Define your goals

What is the goal of launching a virtual community? Is it to support your existing, physical community in new ways and increase member retention? Is it to acquire new members who you eventually hope to convert into using the physical space?

Taking some time to understand the goals of your virtual community will help you in coming up with a plan and effective promotional strategy to use going forward. 

2. Build out your tech stack

Choosing the right tools and technology to support your community is huge. Optix is a coworking software that is designed to help owners and operators build out their communities.

With a Community Feed for sharing announcements, direct Messaging features available, and a Directory of every member in the space, it can be used as a powerful tool for supporting your growing digital community.

Learn more about how Optix can support your community, both online and in real life.

3. Design your membership offering

Build out an appropriate membership plan that can fit the needs of your community. Perhaps you want to include:

  • Access to a digital community
  • Unlimited digital and virtual events
  • Discounts on meeting room and hot desk bookings

Come up with your first virtual membership plan offering, price it strategically, and be prepared to incorporate feedback into your offering as you go along.

4. Define your promotional strategy

Marketing is integral to the success of any coworking plan, be it virtual coworking or private offices. You’ll want to spend some time thinking about how you’ll promote your virtual coworking plan, both to your existing members and to the community at large.

This may include offering a member referral program, running paid ads, networking in the greater community, and more.

We put together a list of 23 ideas you can use to market your coworking space. You can start here to generate ideas on how to promote your plans to the greater community. 

5. Have an ongoing engagement plan

Like any online community, virtual coworking is not about “set it and forget it”. You will need to be constantly thinking of ways to keep your community engaged, especially in the beginning as you’re still building out all of the nuts and bolts.

Ideas for keeping your community engaged include:

  • Posting polls and asking questions regularly
  • Holding impromptu events or giveaways in the chat
  • Coming up with fun themed ideas, such as Flex Friday where everyone shares something great that happened to them that week

6. Collect feedback and iterate often

No matter what kind of initiative you’re launching, we always recommend collecting feedback from your community and iterating on your offerings often.

Regularly survey your virtual members to see if they are receiving value from the community, and if there is anything you can do to further support them. Asking your audience what they want from you and editing it frequently will help ensure your offering matches what they need precisely. 

Is virtual coworking the future?

Virtual coworking is the future of work

Virtual coworking isn’t as big a leap as it may seem. People are increasingly leveraging technology to interact with others online, whether for work, connecting with loved ones, or chatting with like-minded communities about their interests.

But that doesn’t mean it will replace the need for your physical location. There are still many who prefer in-person interaction and are happier working out of a coworking space.

Implementing a virtual membership plan will simply offer an alternative for those who:

  • Want to work from home, while getting social interaction online
  • Want to work from your space but can’t due to distance
  • Want access to markets in your area but can’t afford to expand their business there

Virtual coworking is a great way to boost acquisition, while creating another value-add for existing members.

Interested in learning more about virtual coworking? Learn how Starthub Coworking grew their membership by 900% with the help of Optix.