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The Coworking Weekly Show : The State of Community Management

On July 3rd, 2017 Ryan Chatterton came live from Tuesday Coworking in Berlin marveling at the architecture of European coworking spaces. He and one of the pioneers of the coworking world – Alex Hillman, hosted an online event together to share their observations about current coworking industry and find answers to some burning questions in this field.

They started with giving a brief introduction about themselves. Ryan of Utah came into this business four years ago, just because he did not want to go for traditional education and was looking for something more useful and valuable. He has seen the coworking industry as an outsider, a member, a team member and now a consultant, and thus holds a unique perspective on things in here. Alex, on the other hand, is one of the “dinosaurs” of the industry as he said himself because he came into this 11 years ago and started a space in Philadelphia.

They kicked off the conversation with what is the role of a community manager in a coworking space as of 2017. It is hard to define the job with limited points, but mainly they should be dynamic, Ryan said. According to him, they are the glue that sticks together the members and the business side of the space. They should also be able to be involved in effective personal communications to make sure the bond and the efficiency are there at the same time. S/he should also keep in mind that community comes first and then the business.

Community managers should not be people who just follow a checklist and does not create reciprocal dialogues with somebody coming through the door, be it a new member or an existing one. They always need to be listening, learning, evolving and including with others. Also, these people not only need to have particular skills but also need to know when to apply them and when not to.

Alex mentioned his team has the freedom to say that they do not have a standard operating procedure for many things because he is not willing to create a scenario where they cannot take considerations for people walking in the space. Additionally, people hired should be trustworthy with making the right judgment calls. So, a community manager should know how to handle delicate situations gracefully and efficiently.

A viewer called Antonio raised a question regarding the ratio or balance between the tangible and intangible components of a coworking space. Alex commented that the physical infrastructure does not need to be perfect if the community staff is excellent. When they are thoughtful and considerate of people, most of the imperfections in the space become negligible. At the same time, Ryan commented that if someone wants to open a space, they cannot skip on things like uncomfortable furniture.

He then mentioned the real estate development people are coming into the scenario for business opportunities and how it is opening up new partnerships. However, these people often make the big mistake of not involving people from the start. Ryan advises them to start hiring for community staff at least a few months before opening the space.

Alex then talked about how members should be taking care of the staff too. No one should join a coworking space with the mindset of a job. It is about having a connection with all the people working in the space while also having an entrepreneurial role. That is, if you see something in the space that can be made better, you should vocalize it and help implement it.

Ryan does not appreciate the idea of appointing interns for a coworking space because it does not necessarily bring any success to the community. You can just provide them educational experience, but you cannot expect them to give you marketing plans, increase your sales or manage all the events. That would be just safe labor, and that is unethical.

The staff should also be prepared to see both the best and the worst days of people around them. When it affects them, they need to take a walk to recharge their emotions to do their job well.

Then Alex mentioned one of the most underrated skills for a community manager and staff – written communication, especially emails. If any member is misbehaving, they should be able to convey the message on an email in the right way. They need to be precise, honest and considerate at the same time to let the member know that s/he has done something wrong, but s/he is still being considered as a person. Ryan mentioned, besides communication, a community manager should have knowledge of basic digital marketing and computer troubleshooting.  Proactivity is another trait the manager should possess because all tasks will not come with clear instructions in a coworking space.

Responding to several Q/A from the online audience, the duo expressed that while hiring a community manager you need to know what the interviewee wants to accomplish in the next few years. Many times the best candidates do not have a plan for it, but the coworking space can push them in the right direction by giving them a lot of ideas.

In an area where coworking is a new concept, you should not offer theoretical knowledge first. Rather, bring them in the space and let them see for themselves what the experience is like. Regarding pay structure, Alex said community manager is a valuable position, and so the payment figure or model depends on the combination of what are the long-term goals or aspirations for the manager, the founder, and the community. Ryan mentioned these managers are notoriously underpaid even in cities like New York and San Francisco. He recommends the payment should be $55,000 at least in New York.

Ryan and Alex parted ways after reminding the audience of the key ideas of the session which include – be great to your staff, do not take them for granted, provide them opportunities to grow their skills, encourage people to look outside of themselves and remember the world outside coworking.

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