4 Ways To Master Remote Meetings: Key Strategies From The Distributed Teams Book

*This article was first published December 19, 2019 on Allwork.Space. See the original article here.

 

  • The book Distributed Teams: The Art & Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart is a practical guide that provides actionable steps on how to effectively manage remote teams.

 

  • The book, authored by John O’Duinn, touches on everything from why remote teams are good for business to larger social, economic, and environmental benefits or remote work.
  • The book provides key strategies that companies can implement to master remote meetings

 

 

“What if your team or organization could work well together even when physically apart?”

This question is posed on the back cover of Distributed Teams: The Art & Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart. The book, by author John O’Duinn, is a practical guide for anyone working on, managing, or starting a team with remote workers. Basically, this means that the book is for almost everyone. 

As he states in an early chapter, “If you’re not in the same physical location as all of the people you work with, you are all remote from somebody.”

O’Duinn is a distributed work veteran with experience spanning across more than 27 years of working in distributed companies and 14 years of leading distributed teams, from four-person startups to nonprofits to multinational organizations.

As the future of work becomes more and more distributed, understanding how to leverage remote work as a strength is a critical skill, both for organizations as well as for individual employees. 

The book is filled with easy to read & self-contained chapters intended to be digestible in short settings. It touches on everything from why distributed teams are good for business to tactical essentials for how to work on and manage a distributed team to the larger social, economic, & environmental benefits of distributed work culture. 

The “How” section of the book is rich with guidelines and suggestions on how to improve communication when working on a distributed team. The following are some of the top takeaways for mastering remote meetings. 

 

  1. Limit Interruptions

Get in the habit of not making audio or video calls where you can be interrupted.

To set yourself up for success, it is important to ensure that you can be focused and uninterrupted during a meeting. If your workspace is open plan, book a meeting room or phone booth. Don’t take audio or video calls from shared spaces, including cafes or at home with your dog. If you have an office, either at a company or at home, close the door. 

 

  1. Don’t use shared conference room equipment

Use your own equipment. This includes your own laptop and phone. We are most comfortable with the equipment that we use everyday, and thus will be more efficient and effective with it. The author even includes a link with tools that have worked well for him. 

If you are in a meeting room with a shared phone or built-in video conferencing, ignore them. You will be much more effective if you keep it simple and avoid additional possible technical glitches. 

This means that if there are multiple people in the same conference room, everyone should be on their own device – their own laptop with their own headset, microphone, and camera. The idea of this may seem more cumbersome when a single conference phone could be used, but if you have ever called into a conference room meeting and tried to get a word in with ten people sitting around the table in person, it should be obvious how much this can improve that experience. 

 

  1. Lights, camera, action

Another challenge faced in remote meetings is ensuring that not only everyone can participate, but also that everyone does so efficiently and effectively. 

To get the most out of a remote meeting or conference call, the author urges the use of audio/video – always. But to do video well requires a little bit of cinematography. Here are some things to consider to set up the shot:

  • Surroundings: sit with your back to a solid wall, not a window, and make sure there aren’t distractions in the background (such as people walking behind you or a pile of laundry)
  • Lighting: bright, uniform lighting is key to looking your best. You may need to add a desk lamp or close some curtains, but it is worth it to avoid a situation that makes you look like you are in the witness protection program or a film noir horror movie.
  • Camera angle: Place your camera and video window as close to eye level as possible to help make it feel like you are talking in person and not staring off to the side, which could make you appear distracted.

 

  1. Nonverbal Cues

Another huge takeaway of this section of the book is having everyone in a meeting on both audio and video. If you can’t see someone, it makes it difficult to read their reaction or prevent talking over them. With everyone in view, it is then possible to implement nonverbal cues to speed up the conversation even more. Instead of interjecting with a yes, you can use a thumbs up. Or if you would like to speak next, you can raise your hand, either literally or in a group chat used in parallel with the meeting. 

Using all of these techniques can make meetings faster, more effective, and more social, which ultimately means that everyone can be more productive and engaged, no matter where they are. 

The book continues with equally actionable strategies for calendaring, email, and management. 

As O’Duinn states in the final chapter of the book (called The Final Chapter), “Distributed teams are able to hire the best person for the job – not just the best person for the job who is willing to relocate.”

Knowing how to be an effective member of a distributed team is a competitive advantage, and anyone can learn how by starting with small changes and making those changes starting today.

Jamie & John had a meeting discussing distributed work while rotating through workstations at a local IKEA showroom.

What Coworking Memberships to Offer for Your Space

The Takeaway: Avoid Choice Overload

 

Sometimes, flexibility has downsides. 

Are you offering too many membership options for your coworking space? It may surprise you, but that can actually hurt your sales.

When a customer is offered with too many choices, it actually decreases their likelihood to buy. There is a great experiment conducted in 2000 by researchers from Stanford and Columbia that tested this theory of choice overload. 

...in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. Longfellow

The jam experiment

Researchers set up a table with gourmet jam in front of a high-end grocery store. Customers walking into the store saw one of two set-ups: the first had a limited number of 6 flavors to choose from, the second had a much more extensive 24 flavors. 

The assumption of the experiment is that the more extensive selection would attract more customers, and have more sales as a result. What actually happened was quite different. 

More customers bought jam when they only had 6 flavors to choose from. Even though more people stopped to sample from table with 24 options, they were far less likely to actually buy anything at all. 

Having more choice resulted in lower sales, so no choice at all.

According to psychologist George Miller, the number of choices we can process is seven items, plus or minus two. Presented with any more than that, and we have to develop a strategy to process all the information and make an informed decision. Having to that can lead to us being indecisive, unhappy with the choice we make, or making no choice at all – just like in the case of the jam.

Choice overload & Coworking

To avoid choice overload from negatively impacting your coworking space, it is critical to keep what you are offering customers as simple as possible. Keep the memberships limited, clear, and easy to compare. 

Coworking spaces typically offer some array of the following memberships:

  • Drop-in or day pass
  • Hot Desk, Flex or Part Time 
  • Dedicated of Full Time
  • Private Office

Other variations include:

  • Hourly
  • Half-day, evening or weekend only, etc.
  • Community Membership
  • Day Pass Bundles or Punch Passes
  • Virtual Office or Mailbox Membership

See how quickly this gets complicated?

A new space that starts out with two membership options can quickly grow to a dozen or more as members request special plans for their circumstances. 

Even more options can arise when you offer multiple membership terms. Are your memberships month-to-month or do you also offer 3-month, 6-month, 12-month terms? Some spaces like to offer discounted rates for upfront payments on a multi-month plan. 

All of these options are reasonable, and many coworking spaces have members that would like them. If it works for your customer base, do it. But in addition to keeping the concept of choice overload in mind, also consider the added administrative time or accounting that is required to manage more complicated payment plans. Technology can help with this a lot, but there are still going to be humans involved as well. 

You also want to keep your customer in mind. If they have to track their hours or days on a punch card, that might be an added burden that diminishes their experience, even if they requested it. Don’t make your members do more work. It may be better to offer simple full day plans and make sure they are priced well so someone only working a half day still feels like they got their money’s worth. 

How do you determine which memberships you should offer? Talk to your customers. Yes, they will ask for every option under the sun. You will get a phone call asking for a half day when you only offer full day passes. The goal of talking to them is not to then implement everything they ask for. Your job as the space owner is to take the input, and use it to choose as few options as possible that will serve the most customers. What people ask for is not always what they need. What people ask for isn’t always the best for your business. 

The key is to not offer too much, or too little. Your members should feel like they have enough flexibility with what you are providing that their needs are being met, but not so much that they have no structure. 

Great further reading about how one coworking space revamped their membership plans for simplicity: 

Cup of Black Coffee

How to Offer Coffee at Your Coworking Space

Coffee is a workplace staple.  

There is something about that first sip of hot cup of coffee in the morning – the warmth, the rich aroma, the bitter flavor, the caffeine that helps wake us up. Drinking coffee is a ritual that goes beyond part of a morning routine, which helps explain why it is such a huge industry.

There is some solid science behind our obsession, actually. 

First, how does it work?

Caffeine Molecule

The simple explanation is that the caffeine molecules trick your brain. Caffeine blocks sleepy adenosine by binding to its receptors and allowing happy dopamine to work better.

 

Why do we like it? 

Mainly conditioning. We are conditioned to expect the positive buzz from caffeine when we detect the bitterness in the coffee, even though we are otherwise wired to avoid bitter tastes. This is a good thing as it can help us avoid ingesting icky things like poisonous foods. 

Drinking coffee has also become a social behavior. We get together over a hot cup of coffee with friends, clients, or by ourselves next to a fire in the wintertime. The ritual of taking a break for something like coffee is a healthy one that can help boost productivity and social connection, caffeine or not. 

Coffee & Coworking Spaces

In a coworking space, having coffee available for members is a table stakes amenity ranked as highly as a good internet connection. 

Just as important as having it at all is HOW you provide it. 

We at Jellyswitch believe deeply that the future of work is about flexibility more than anything else. Flexibility should always be put first in any decision making process. 

And – if coworking spaces can demonstrate how well they are able to provide flexibility to their members, in as many ways as possible, it can be a huge competitive advantage. 

Why is it so important for us to have such a range of options? One of the best ways to start off the day with your favorite type of coffee or tea, without having to leave the office to get it. 

You don’t have to start off with a ton of different options. At Cowork Tahoe, I started with just one and expanded from there. By listening to your members and observing their coffee or tea preferences and habits, you can start to add in the options that best suit your community. 

 

What options should you consider?

First, make sure you are providing really high quality coffee beans – this is also a great way to support your members’ favorite local roasters. 

The classics:

The classic pot of coffee – drip

A classic 12-14 cup pot of coffee, just like you might have at home. Because it is so familiar, many members are drawn to it. A pot of coffee can be shared by multiple people, creating opportunity for interaction. It can be made ahead of time and set to brew first thing in the morning. When members walk into the lobby in the morning, they are greeted with music and the smell of freshly brewed pot. It sets the stage for a productive work day. 

As a manager, you can make sure there is always hot coffee ready when someone walks into the kitchen. Because it is still a small pot, it doesn’t feel like you at a corporate event or a hotel – it is not a giant catering carafe, its more like the pot at the neighborhood diner. Many of our members enjoy preparing the next pot, it provides them the opportunity to contribute and share. This is one tiny piece of building a strong community, one pot of coffee at a time. 

 

The single cup pot 

Options that allow for a single cup to be brewed on demand are great for the person who doesn’t want to waste extra if they aren’t sure more members will be coming out for drip. Or, for the member that really appreciates a super fresh cup and isn’t sure how long that pot of coffee has been sitting there.  While it doesn’t lend itself to creating interactions between members in the same way that a full pot can, its effective at getting what you need, when you need it.  

One recommendation – as attractive as the Keurig types of single serve coffee makers can be, don’t do it. The pods are wasteful. You can still have quick & easy options without resorting to pods.

 

More time intensive coffee preparation:

French Press

The french press is definitely for the more particular coffee drinker. On demand, but enough to be shared if the press has a larger carafe, there is something satisfying in the process of using a french press – slowing pushing down the plunger and watching the water filter through the layer of grounds, leaving a thin creme on top.

 

Pour Over

These take time, and often that time is a welcome break. A pour over coffee feels almost like art. Using a beautiful stainless steel goose neck kettle with water heated to just the right temperature, you can control the flow of water through your grounds and make a perfect and strong cup of fresh coffee – taking anywhere from 2-5 minutes in the process. For the member that likes a moment of solitude from their busy schedule, this is for them.

 

Aeropress

For the french press enthusiast with less time, the aeropress is a futuristic option for making a single cup of incredibly strong coffee. 

 

Automatic Espresso machines

There are a number of really good simple and easy to use automatic espresso machines on the market. The one that we have at Cowork Tahoe allows you to make a shot of espresso or Americano with the touch of a button. There is an attached frother to take it one step further and make yourself a quick latte. 

 

Espresso machines

Unless you can have a full time barista on staff, or are a hybrid coffee and coworking space, its best to avoid having a huge espresso machine in your space. As gorgeous as they are, and as good as a really well made shot of espresso can be, these are a costly and complicated option.

 

Non-coffee options:

 

Tea

Although I am a passionate coffee drinker, sometimes there is nothing more that I want than a nice cup of tea. Many days I will start with coffee in the morning, but then only drink non-caffeinated herbal tea in the afternoon. Or if you are recovering from a cold, a nice cup of lemon ginger tea with some honey really hits the spot and help you keep working away. 

Offer a selection of both caffeinated and caffeine free options, black, green, and herbal teas. For a nice touch, have individual honey sticks right there for those that like things a little sweeter.

 

Iced Tea

If summers are hot, having a pitcher of iced tea in the refrigerator is a welcome sight. 

 

Hot chocolate & Cider

Whether a kid or kid at heart, having instant cider or hot chocolate options (with marshmellows!) warms the heart. When we have a big snowstorm come through, I like to take a few laps on the mountain and then come back to the office for a nice cup of hot chocolate while I settle in to check my emails. 

 

Trendy options:

Cold Brew

Nitro Cold brew – the most exciting addition we made to Cowork Tahoe in the past year was offering nitro cold brew coffee on tap. We purchased a dual keg (the other tap will occasionally have home brewed beer or beer from one of our awesome local breweries, but as a special treat or for events). During the summer months, our space was going through kegs of cold brew faster than the local restaurants. We contracted with one of our favorite local roasters to keep us filled up, and it’s been a huge hit. 

A word of advice – provide small glasses for the cold brew. It packs a punch and no one should be pouring themselves a pint of it at a time. You can purchase really cute tasting glasses and leave them on a tray next to the keg to encourage moderate serving sizes. Otherwise, I’m not sure any of our members would ever sleep!

 

Kombucha

This fermented tea, with a slight fizz and a taste that balances somewhere between sweet & sour, much like apple cider, has hit the trendy workplace by storm. It can be offered by the bottle, but can also be served on tap next to your cold brew. 

 

The alternative to on-site coffee:

The coffee shop next door

Even if you have every coffee preparation option on this list, there is hopefully an amazing coffee shop (or several!) within walking distance of your space. Sometimes, there is nothing better than taking a break, a walk, getting a change of scenery and ordering a custom coffee from the local coffee shop. Maybe a member has a craving for a lavender vanilla latte or a really well done macchiato with a custom foam picture of a bear created by the barista. If you can encourage members to become patrons of the nearby shops and restaurants, that’s good for everyone’s business.

Latte with bear design in foam

 

Finally, the cups. Have fun with your coffee cups! While a minimalist design and uniform cups is appealing, we have found that people have strong preferences for what type of mug they like their coffee in. Keep a variety available, both in size and design. Periodically get your members “gifts” by adding in some new cups. See how much more fun the coffee experience can be. 

Coffee cups

The coffee cup drawer at Cowork Tahoe

In summary, every way that you can signal to your members that you not only listen, but also are working to make your space as amazing as possible for them, the better their experience will be. Coffee is an easy way to do this, and a great way to help your members start the work day off on the right foot.

 

Funny coffee cup

Examples of different workplaces within the lobby of Cowork Tahoe

Activity-Based Workplace Design for Coworking Spaces

Creating the right spaces for your workplace

Is your office floor plan helping or hurting your business goals? If it’s too open or too private, too quiet or too noisy, it’s possible that the effect is actually detrimental. Including a wide variety of options, from spaces to focus to places to socialize, can help your members be more productive no matter what type of work they are doing. 

Examples of different workplaces within the lobby of Cowork Tahoe

Lobby of Cowork Tahoe.

When designing a space, it is important to consider not only how people will use individual spaces, but how they move between them & throughout their space. Providing flexibility in how and where people work within a space is a key concept in Activity-Based Workspace (ABW) design, and it can make or break your member experience.

For example, at Cowork Tahoe, our lobby/lounge space is on the opposite end of the building from our focused open desk area. We designed the building this way for several reasons: 

  • The lobby serves as the first entry point, so when potential members or clients walk in, we want them to experience a wow moment seeing modern design, comfortable seating, the smell of coffee, local art, and music playing. It also doubles as a great gathering space for member lunches and evening events. The lobby is filled with natural light & because it is also our lounge seating and adjacent to the kitchen, there are always people there – working, chatting, drinking coffee, etc – the energy is palpable. That is the stage we want to set when beginning any tour.
  • The desk area, on the other hand, is meant for productivity. It is a focus zone, so we strive to minimize distractions there. We do not play music throughout the space, lights can be controlled in each area, including individual task lighting, and we try and limit foot traffic. The design is more clean & muted. Since we do have dedicated desks, members can have their personal belongings and while the area is generally tidy, there is more visual clutter which is not the first impression we would like to set. 
  • Because these spaces are on opposite sides of the building, any noise or foot traffic through the lobby does not impact those working in the desk area. It also encourages social interaction as everyone must walk through the hallways to the lobby to get coffee, snacks, or their lunch. Having that distance be more than a few feet means members are more willing to take a few minutes to catch up with someone and not just dash right back to their desk.

Buildings may be static, but people are dynamic, so the physical design must account for the motion of people through the static space. I know very few people that are able to be productive sitting in one position for hours on end. 

On any given day, I work from half a dozen spaces within the coworking space. I might start my day at my desk in a private office with the door closed to get a little focused work done. Then, I’ll take a video call in a small meeting room down the hall. Next, it is time for coffee and some time standing up, so I’ll set up at the counter in the kitchen. When I’m writing, I like sitting in a comfy chair or on a couch with my feet up. If there is a team meeting, that means we need a white board and a larger meeting space with a door. A quick phone call? I’ll either walk outside to get some fresh air, or jump into a phone booth. Having all of these spaces easily accessible throughout the day means I am encouraged to take advantage of them and can be more productive as a result. 

 

Types of Work to Consider

  • Focus/Creative Work – needs distraction free setting. This could be an open desk area, private offices, or isolated seating that makes it easy to put on headphones and get to work.
  • Task Work – can be in a more general setting, distractions don’t matter as much. Also good for opening desk areas, but also for a coffee-shop like setting with music playing and comfortable seating.
  • Collaboration – needs space for several people to talk to one another, whiteboard space, can be private or in an area where conversation won’t be distracting to others
  • Social – think the kitchen or coffee bar, lunch tables, somewhere that encourages chit chat
  • Audio & Video Calls – needs small, private spaces like phone booths or small meeting rooms for 1-2 people. 
  • Presentations – this is best for larger conference rooms of 8 people and up to full classroom or even larger event size

Other considerations – there should be plenty of options for people to sit down at a desk, stand up, or otherwise change their position throughout the day, and each of these options needs to be available for all types of work. Think sit/stand desks, counter height tables, clusters of comfy chairs, etc.

 

More Benefits of Activity-Based Design

  • Increased work productivity. When people have the flexibility to work the way they need to, and to do so easily with support from the space they are in, productivity is much easier to achieve.
  • More interactions between members = more opportunity for social connection. People moving throughout a building increases the number of interactions between them. This can lead to more conversations and more social connection than if everyone stayed in the same place the entire day.
  • More movement. Its just not healthy, on a variety of levels, to be stationary for too long. Moving around is good for our physical well being. Changes of scenery can be beneficial to our mental health, as well as help to break up the work day.
  • Happier community. By designing spaces well for the types of work that can be done in each, it can minimize frictions between members (ie no more loud sales call next to you while you are trying to do focused writing or coding). 

Implementing Activity-Based Workplace Design

There is no definitive rule of thumb for how many & what types of spaces you need for an ideal office environment. I’ve seen ratios such as 1 meeting room for every 10 workers in a space, but there are so many more nuances to it than that. Partially because everyone is different, and as members come into or leave your space, the needs of the community overall may change. So, how can you implement activity-based workplace design? 

Track everything – tracking how often your meeting spaces are being used, which ones, and also how often there are none available, is critical to understanding how to optimize the use of your space. Also important is tracking your memberships – is most of your demand for private offices, and if so, is that only because you are not offering enough flexible workspaces to meet their needs without having dedicated private space? Are most of your members part time? Is your large conference room sitting empty, or worse, is there often 1 person in there squatting because they can’t focus in the desk space? These are all data points that can be used to adjust the physical space to meet the dynamic needs of your members, and provide a much better experience for them as a result. 

If you don’t have a customer base to track, start with your target customer. Who are they and what will they need? How many members can your space serve? That should give a good starting point for how many of each type of workspace you should aim for.

Whether you are in the early stages of designing a new office space, or looking to improve your member experience by re-designing the space you have, activity-based workplace design should be on your radar as a way to ensure you are meeting the needs of your members. 

Image for blog post Booking meeting rooms at coworking spaces

Booking meeting rooms at coworking spaces

The ability to book a private meeting room on demand is a critical component in any coworking space. Ensuring that members can do this quickly, easily, and when they need it is as important as having the rooms at all. 

For too long at Cowork Tahoe, we used paper sign-up sheets outside our meeting rooms for our members to reserve them. Yes, paper. It worked well enough, a member could walk up to the room they wanted and block out a time slot for a meeting later in the day, or even for right then if it wasn’t already being used. That is, if they remembered to have a pen in their hand.

However, it would cause problems when we inevitably forgot to post the new sheets up on time each week or if someone needed to book a room before they came into the office. It was a terrible member experience and our team spent far too much time helping members make reservations, printing out new sheets, and handling squatters

Sure, there are lots of technology solutions available to digitize room bookings, and we even tried one or two. We’ve since learned that technology isn’t automatically a better solution than an analog approach. 

For example, having an online calendar that members can book doesn’t help someone running late if they have to go to their desktop or laptop first, log in, find a room, book the room, then go to the room. 

Having tablets mounted outside each room with the ability to sign up can be powerful if they sync well with personal calendars, but are no better than paper and pencil if they don’t. And if the calendars they sync with still requires logging in through a website, you may as well not have the technology solution at all.

The ability to book a room with a few taps on a mobile phone has worked wonders at Cowork Tahoe. With our Jellyswitch app, members book their meeting rooms for the day or for the week while they are drinking coffee in the morning, or while they are walking up to the building. They book what they need when they need it & when they think of it. Not when they can get back to their desks. 

My members get what they need without having to ask me. When they talk to me or someone else on my team, it can be about more than something they can’t get quickly on their own.  We talk about their day, about their children, how their work in going. The conversations can be about human relationships rather than transactions because the transactions are easy to take care of on their own. That is meaningful. 

That level of convenience and flexibility contributes to a much better experience. It means that the coworking space is supporting, not hindering their productivity. It is one more way to add value to their membership by removing a small friction. 

It is also one more way for them to actively engage with our Cowork Tahoe brand. The frequency of engagement is multiple times a day. That builds brand recognition, trust, and through that, customer loyalty. 

If coworking is about one thing, its flexibility. That applies to how meeting rooms are used as much as anything else. A mobile first approach is the best way to achieve the level of flexibility needed to provide a seamless meeting room experience.   

Image for blog post Self service coworking doesn't exist

Self-service coworking doesn’t exist.

These things don’t run themselves.

  • Coworking spaces are high touch businesses, so cannot be expected to run without a high level of attention to the customer experience.
  • Technology does not exist to replace human involvement, it exists to support it and better leverage how time is spent on human involvement.
  • To create a premier customer experience, great technology & personal interactions are both required.

About a year ago, I had a number of conversations with a building owner as they were preparing to open a new coworking space.

Many of the discussions centered on basics like what furniture to buy, what memberships to offer, and what brand of coffee maker to get.

But the rest were tough – this owner wanted to be completely disconnected from the space. He wanted the place to run itself and was assuming that electronic door access and independent members would make that happen. He had a true “build it and they will come” attitude, with no intention of investing in actually running the space. Nice ergonomic desk chairs, yes. Human time? No.

One year later and I happen to have connected with several of the people in his community that I’d spoken to because they had wanted a new coworking space. None of them work there. They all tried it out and quickly left. Why? The place feels dead, there is no sense of place, no experience, nothing to keep them there. They did not feel valued as customers.

The input they gave about what they needed to be productive was ignored.

I have seen this so many times – a building owner that wants to monetize their space hears about coworking & thinks its an easy way to drop their vacancy rate. That 1200 sq ft office space on the 2nd floor that you’ve used for storage for the past 10 years? Of course it could be a coworking space! Slap on some paint, add a few desks & some motivational posters and open up the doors. People will show up in no time and you’ll be rolling in the extra revenue coworking can bring. Because its hip, its cool, and it look super easy. It’s just office space, right? Not true.

The thing is, these places don’t run themselves.

Coworking is not just office space. It never has been.

The key to building and running a thriving coworking community? The experience. Coworking is about providing the right flexibility to help members be supported & productive in their professional lives. That requires a heavy dose of customer service – heavy.

Small coworking spaces in particular are competing not just with other commercial office space, they are competing with non-consumption. Why would a remote worker pay for office space outside of their home if it provides no added value? They won’t. They have a desk and chair at home. Coworking spaces must provide more than a place to put a laptop.

Too many people believe that technology can be a substitute for that human touch. It can’t. What it can do is support, streamline, and improve the experience for both sides. But it absolutely does not serve as a replacement for human interaction. What it can do is free up time and remove inefficiencies that are preventing us from connecting to one another in the right ways.

My members use our mobile app to save them time & to interact with the physical space. Technology in this case makes it easy to get things done quickly. They can do things like see what meeting rooms are available and book one while walking down the hallway or waiting for their espresso.

What does that give them in return? Time to do things technology cannot – talk to another member at the coffee pot, take a moment to pet the office dog, focus on their next call, the things that we need to continue to feel connected to other humans and to be productive.

What can technology help me with as a manager? Keeping track of all the human things. Great technology does more than just enable payments and room scheduling. It helps me keep tabs on what my members are doing, what they need, what they don’t like, and what I can do with all of that information to help provide an even better customer experience and grow my business.

If you’re going to run a business, focus on that business, because it’s not going to run itself.

Image for blog post The coworking value proposition part 4

The Coworking Value Proposition – Part 4 (Employers)

The flexible workspace industry has seen explosive growth year over year that will continue to grow. What started as spaces for freelancers & digital nomads have become mainstays for the workforce, including the largest global companies.

Part 4 of this series delves into why larger companies should leverage the flexible workspace movement. If you haven’t read the previous entries, here are links to each:

  • Part 1 provided an overview of the coworking industry and its potential in the future.
  • Part 2 focused on the benefits for individual members & the ecosystem of workspaces that exist today, including coworking spaces.
  • Part 3 was all about the opportunity for commercial real estate to grow the flexible workspace industry.

Large companies & corporations are driving a major portion of the growth in the flexible workspace industry, expected to create 40% of the demand for flexible workspace in the coming years. Flexible work policies & distributed teams are becoming the rule rather than the exception. Professional office space is still needed wherever those employees are, whether its full teams or single remote employees.

Employers & HR managers can leverage the growing coworking industry as part of a competitive strategy to attract, retain, and support talent. The value proposition of coworking for employers is just as strong as it is for individual workers.

What are some of the benefits of coworking for a large business?

Flexibility, not only in schedules, but in how & where work is done, is key for developing & maintaining a competitive & productive workforce. Coworking spaces can play a significant role in helping companies achieve that flexibility for their employees.

For employees that are not on-site at a corporate headquarters, coworking spaces are fully amenitized workplaces ready to go when and where they are needed, in more and more communities across the globe. With flexible membership options and workspaces, coworking spaces are great alternatives to home offices or coffee shops for working remotely.

Additionally, companies can also benefit from the flexibility provided by coworking spaces. The amount of space occupied can be scaled up or down, without the need for a company to manage a complicated and expensive build out. Many coworking spaces can accommodate everything from a single desk user to a large team suite. Companies can lease out only the space they need, even if those needs change quickly.

Why are these benefits valuable to a business?

Office space is a big expense for companies, both in regards to capital & operational expenditures, and is not typically the primary focus of the business. Coworking spaces can help companies not only reduce expenses, but also get more value out of the space that is being used, while helping companies focus more time on what they need to, their business.

They are balance sheet friendly – Utilizing shorter term agreements for coworking and flexible office space instead of managing real estate leases in house reduces risk & complications for a business’ financial statements. With the implementation of new FASB lease accounting standard (ASC 842 & IFRS16), organizations are required to recognize leases as assets & liabilities on their balance sheets for any lease that is over 12 months. This standard went into effect on January 1, 2019 for public companies, and will apply to private and non-profit organizations as well starting in December of 2020.

They are a better use of resources – Many of us have either seen or experienced a large corporate office floor with almost no one using it. The ability to more accurately match real estate needs with headcount needs can result in a direct reduction of real estate expenses. Why pay for the space if your employees aren’t using it? A better use of resources is to pay for the space that is actually needed and where it will actually be used.

What are some of the problems being faced by HR Managers?

Talent attraction – Competition for talent is fierce. Finding & attracting high quality employees requires increasingly enticing offers. Only a portion of that comes down to salary. Many in today’s workforce are looking for flexibility, remote work opportunities, and good perks in addition to competitive financial incentives.

Productivity & Retention – Once a company has the talent, the next challenge is retaining them and supporting a work environment that contributes to high levels of productivity. For example, a workplace that requires a long commute can reduce job satisfaction in a similar way as a pay cut. That’s before an employee even makes it to the office for the day.

How does coworking solve these problems?

Distributed employees, distributed space –  Recruiting can benefit from a broader geographic pool. Coworking provides office space for a company without the need to set up satellite office operations or requiring employees to relocate. Resources can be redirected from maintaining a large scale headquarters to coworking memberships & digital tools that can support remote & distributed teams.

Use of coworking spaces can be leveraged as a competitive edge for recruiting by illustrating a company’s support for flexibility in how & where an employee chooses to work. Flexible work is no longer a generous perk, but required for companies to maintain a talent advantage.

Improved employee experience, improved productivity – The statistics gathered over the last several years make a clear case for the benefits of working from an alternate work environment like a coworking space, such as:

  • 84% of people who use coworking spaces are more engaged and motivated &
  • 89% of people who cowork reported being happier.

Coworking spaces can help make people happier, which correlates to improved productivity, as discussed in our previous article on the 3/30/300 Rule of Thumb.

Why is coworking the best solution to these problems?

The demand for flexible work arrangements from the workforce will continue to grow. Flexibility and autonomy are what workers want. Companies that can provide that are rewarded with more productive, more satisfied, more loyal employees, ultimately saving money by avoiding lost productivity and employee churn.

If shifting away from the traditional corporate office to alternate work environments is the goal, why not have all their employees work from home and skip the office completely?

It’s not possible to implement effective remote or flexible work policies without providing your employees with the appropriate resources to be successful. Coworking is one of those resources – a professional work environment, others to work around, division between work and home life, and lots of coffee. Not everyone is productive or happy working from home. When workers can work at least part-time from an office environment, like a coworking space, they are more productive.

The flexibility that coworking spaces provide is a benefit to both the employees utilizing the space as well as the companies they work for.

The bottom line – coworking space for business is good for the bottom line.

activation energyg graph

Strive for excellence – its worth the energy.

What can we do to ensure that we are running the best possible business for our customers?

Building a business is a process. It is not something that is ever finished. Building a successful business requires constant time, attention, innovation, and maintenance.

We can get so busy working in the business that sometimes it feels like there is little time left to work on the business.

A major part of this can be from accepting mediocrity in how we operate. The problem with mediocrity is that its bad for business, but we can’t always see it. Mediocre procedures take more time than they should, they are often “hacks”, and don’t result in the best customer experience possible. But because it works “well enough” we accept the pain points rather than putting in extra effort to fix the pain points completely.

Why don’t we immediately put in the extra effort to make our business better?

In physics & chemistry, there is a great concept pertaining to how much energy is needed in order for a reaction to occur. The activation energy is that extra little oomf needed to get a desired result when all the other ingredients are there. It’s the boost that must be added to get things going.

Operational change is very similar. We allow ourselves to continue to do things that are not ideal, or painful, or annoying, because we are afraid of the extra time & effort it will take in order to substantially improve them. We are afraid of the energy required to get over that hump.

However, if we do put in that effort, the result is less pain, less annoyance, less time, and most important, a much better business.

To find that extra energy you need a catalyst.

What should the catalyst be for making improvements to how your coworking space is run? It all goes back to your members.

What quality of experience is being provided to your members if you are accepting operational pain points instead of fixing them? If you are spending time battling with your technology stack, or pulling together all of your data from multiple sources, how much time and attention do you really have left to focus on your members? And as your customers, spending time focusing on them should be your top priority.

Sometimes the catalyst is things getting too awful to put up with anymore. But it should not get to the point that your business is suffering as a result of not fixing things.

The catalyst should be your near obsessive attention to what your customers need and committing to do whatever it takes to make sure that you are providing them the best possible experience.

Strive for an amazing member experience over anything else. Make every decision, including a decision to fix any pain point in your operation, about improving that experience.

Strive for excellence – its worth the energy.

Image for blog post The coworking value proposition part 4

A Reflection on Cowork Tahoe – Before & After Jellyswitch

Our mission at Jellyswitch is to make coworking better – for members as well as for space owners and managers. We want to see the coworking industry grow & thrive. Coworking spaces are vital to supply the distributed workforce with the flexible workspace it needs now & in the future.

This week, I saw with clarity that mission being achieved in my own life as a coworking space owner.

The Tour

I love giving tours, it is one of my favorite parts of the business. I’ve given them hundreds of times. Tours serve as a way to highlight the space, but also to get to know my future community members.

All coworking space managers know this drill. The tour lasted less than 30 minutes. As we walked around the building, I gave my pitch about the benefits of joining, I asked questions about what kind of work they did, what they were looking for in a workspace, how their move to town was going, etc.

By the time we had circled back to the lobby, I had his timeline for joining, he had the Cowork Tahoe mobile app downloaded & created an account. I made sure he knew how to contact me, we shook hands & they left.

Then it hit me! The tour itself was nothing out of the ordinary, but I had this awestruck feeling as I realized that Jellyswitch really and truly has changed my business for the better. I had given a very different, remarkably better tour than I would have a year ago.

Walking through the building, I now pointed out different aspects of the meeting & workspace than I used to. I honed in on what it is like to walk in to the building for work each day, where to grab your coffee and the options available to get to work, and to get to work. I asked new questions directed at how he likes to work instead of just pointing at all the different seating options. I began guiding the discussion to find out whether he preferred a coffee shop vibe or needed to be distraction free and made sure to spend more time in the parts of the building he would like. The conversation was about the type of flexibility he needed to be productive day to day.

Why was this a change?

This tour was a much deeper dive into my customer’s needs. Zero fluff. I don’t think I gave bad tours before, but I know what I did this time is much, much better.

Jellyswitch lets me know exactly how my members use the space (at a level I could only guess at before). I know which meeting rooms are the favorites, when people are in the building, and even what their favorite snacks are. My members now quickly notify me of issues, often anonymously. I hear the good and the bad and respond immediately after seeing the push notification on my phone.

Jellyswitch illuminates the data behind my business. I have a deeper understanding of what my members need and I know what to highlight to a potential member. Now they can see how their needs will be met when they join my coworking space. They can picture themselves as members before they even sign up! And, having them download our app & sign up before the tour is finished means there are less steps remaining to close the deal.

This is not an incremental improvement – it’s a completely new experience. I never anticipated how much Jellyswitch would improve my day-to-day behavior. I expected my business to improve, but because of better tracking of memberships & invoicing, an easier sign up process, and by streamlining our operations. But, surprisingly, I am a much better operator now. The tech enables this.

This is the true power of great technology, when the tech supports you in such a way that you can leverage it to make improvements on the human side of the business, without even realizing it. It doesn’t replace the human side, it enhances it. This is what Jellyswitch has done for me. My coworking business, my community, and myself, are all stronger for it.

 

Image for blog post with people in a coworking space

People & Portfolios

How the commercial real estate and coworking worlds differ in the words they use for the occupiers of flexible office space.

Often referred to as a total disruption of the office leasing model, the coworking movement is an evolution of the use & leasing of physical space for work. Part of this comes from the coworking world speaking a completely different language than the world of traditional commercial real estate (CRE).

The coworking world & CRE have more in common than not, with both contributing to a modern ecosystem of workplaces. The flexible space movement is about providing people a better place & a better way to work. The way that CRE & coworking talk about people is one of the biggest separators between the two camps right now.

The customer:

Members – In the majority of coworking spaces, the customer is called a member, just like a member of a gym or social club. A membership to something implies belonging. This is a critical component of the community-focus of coworking spaces. Embedded in the term “member” is an expectation of the community experience that is more than just being inside physical walls.

Tenants – CRE, on the other hand, traditionally refers to their customers as tenants. This term implies occupancy, but nothing beyond that. The trend in coworking has been to stay away from calling customers tenants. “Tenant” doesn’t include anything beyond a transaction with a landlord. There is no relationship, no expectation of community.

The office owners & managers:

Landlords – These are people that lease space to a tenant. There isn’t an assumption of involvement beyond a responsibility to make repairs, or whatever maintenance is dictated in the lease contract. Again, its a transaction relationship, nothing more.

Operators – Coworking space owners aren’t called landlords. While they do rent space to members, it is assumed that they are deeply involved with the business & their members. Operators run both the space and the business, they cannot be separated.

Property/Facility managers In CRE, particularly for larger buildings or portfolios of buildings, there will be a person or team of property managers and facility managers. These managers are in charge of the maintenance & operation of the physical space, including everything from custodial services to landscaping to ensuring the heat and cooling are keeping everyone inside the building as happy as possible (and this one is a tough task).

Receptionists/Office managers – These roles are more common on the traditional CRE side of the office space industry. These are the cheerful faces that greet everyone walking through the front door, help check-in guests, manage the office supplies, coordinate with the landlord or maintenance, and generally help people in the space with small tasks as they arise.

Community managers – This is much more of the norm in the coworking industry. Community managers are responsible primarily for the people in the space, whether that’s showing a new member how to make coffee, to setting up and running community events, to providing tours for potential new coworking members. The community manager role is diverse, but very people focused.

Traditionally, CRE has focused upon the physical space first, who occupies it second. The driver is transactional. Coworking is the opposite. The focus is on humans first. The physical space is second and in the service of their needs. Rather than transactions, the emphasis is on experiences.

Both approaches have their benefits and place in making the coworking industry strong and sustainable. That can only happen if the same language is being spoken first.

 

*While we’re on the topic of terminology – a reminder that it’s coworking, not co-working. Coworking is recognized as the correct usage, sans hyphen, by the AP Stylebook as of 2018. Much like a secret handshake, coworking industry aficionados know you are not an insider if you let that hyphen sneak in there. Why does this matter? Check out Cat Johnson’s article on the subject.