Five best practices for coworking spaces

40, that’s the number of coworking spaces in Greater Boston today.

And the number is only growing. With so much competition in the space, how can a coworking space set itself apart to attract and retain members? Based on my experience at my own coworking space, I have identified five best practices to follow.

Best practices

· Ensure a desirable physical environment

· Create activity-based zones & matching behavioral guidelines

· Foster social cohesion & trust

· Cater to specific professions

· Ensure behavioral & cultural fit

In terms of space, it is important to allow plenty of natural light, to offer standing and sitting options, and to create spaces for people to socialize. For more depth on such physical elements, including personal storage, I recommend Usher’s The Elemental Workplace. Another key to success is to create activity-based-zones, each optimized for different types of work (e.g. focus, collaboration). Hand-in-hand with creating such zones is to create matching behavioral guidelines, and to actively ensure compliance. Such explicit guidelines help establish behavioral predictability, making it easier for members to choose a space that will maximize their productivity.

In terms of community, coworking spaces can drive retention by fostering social cohesion and trust. These desirable characteristics arise when coworkers get to know each other well. Hence, the key is to create moments to socialize. One way is to host social events, such as lunches and happy hours. The other is to create spaces away from workstations where people will spontaneously gather, e.g. kitchens and coffee machines. The effectiveness of such spaces grows as incentives to visit them arise. Hence, putting out snacks at specific times, or offering complimentary coffee goes a long way to foster social cohesion. Similarly, the effectiveness of social moments in creating trust can be increased by facilitating icebreaker activities.

Another key opportunity that coworking spaces should consider is to actively target specific user groups. Among several benefits, hosting a critical mass of a certain type of professional increases the viability of offering targeted services for a fee. We can imagine, for example, offering a workshop for copywriters on pitching content to prospective clients. Such content can be arranged by community managers, and delivered by external service providers, who are sure to be attracted by a group of target clients assembled together. The potential to make revenue is there. In my own efforts to launch a mastermind group at my coworking space, the majority of my participants were willing to pay a fee.

Another benefit of a coworking space tailored to certain professionals is member retention. Retention in this case is driven by multiple factors, one of which is a match in behavioral & cultural profiles. Hosting groups with similar working styles minimizes the potential for behavioral conflicts, in turn driving productivity. Another factor driving retention is the value of the community itself. As members of related professions get to know each other, they are highly likely to support each other. In my case, I have asked my fellow writers for advice on pricing a proposal, and have received help from visual designers on converting graphic files. Belonging to such a supportive group is a great incentive for members to stay at a coworking space.

Now, for many spaces it may not be financially viable to focus only on a specific type of professional. There may simply not be enough of such people to fill a space. Nevertheless, coworking spaces should actively build sub-communities of related professionals within their larger coworking ecosystem. Better not to leave this completely up to members. Not all people are naturally outgoing, neither will all immediately see the value of connecting. The true value of communities of professionals can be realized only when actively maintained, ideally by the community management team.

The best practices above have been identified through my experience coworking at Workbar, primarily from the Central Square location. In the eight months I have spent here, WorkBar has greatly contributed to my ability to get things done. Read more about my specific experience on Medium.

*This article was originally published on LinkedIn