Reviving community at Workbar Cambridge

Two people

That’s how few attended the most recent community event at Workbar Cambridge. It’s indicative of the recent lull in community engagement we’ve been experiencing at our coworking space. I can’t point to exact causes, but there are several recent developments that have correlated. We’ve had turnover in organizational occupants, the arrival of a new community manager, and the departure of a few well-connected members (myself included). Now that I’m back at Workbar though, I’m invested in turning things around!

This spring, I’m advising the community management team at Workbar Cambridge on its event offering. We’re aiming to provide value along two key areas. On one side, we’re looking to boost community engagement. On the other, we’re looking to provide professional value. Read on to learn more about our objectives, challenges, and the methods we plan to use along the way.

Objectives: Increase engagement and deliver professional value

Our main driver behind increasing attendance at socially-minded events is to enhance social cohesion among our members. There is a clear rationale for this. Feeling part of a community is one of the main elements that enable coworking users to thrive. At our coworking space, the social ties can be placed in two categories. In the first are social ties among people who work for the same company. These ties are quite strong and are formed overwhelmingly by working together. In the second category are ties between people who work independently, think freelancers and remote workers. These ties have formed organically and exist in a loose network. Through our events, we are striving to connect more independents to each other, and to build bridges between independents and those who work for companies.

Another key value we can provide is the opportunity to grow professionally. Research has shown that professional ties within a coworking space are a significant source of help and guidance, and of valuable business referrals. At our space, members are already unlocking this value through serendipitous encounters and informal connections. Our space has also hosted formal events that have been good opportunities to learn. We are aiming to take it to the next level by better targeting our professional events for our community.

Methods: Optimizing timing & targeting content

As I mentioned, we are aiming to better target our events to our community. There are two key event components we want to optimize: timing and content. In terms of timing, most Workbar members work on completely independent schedules, which makes it challenging to find suitable times for events. This is especially important for social events.

Social events can conflict with the ability of our members to get work done. I’ve experienced this myself. There have been several 4pm happy hours that I have passed on because I hadn’t yet completed my work for the day. To reduce this conflict, we plan to test out later start times.

For our professionally-minded events, there are a couple key methods we plan to use to offer more relevant content. The first is to review our communication history. Currently, members actively send emails to the community when in need of expertise, e.g. for PR or web design. These provide hints as to the content that would be of interest. We can build these suggestions into our second method.

The second method we plan to use is a questionnaire. It will ask members about the content they would be interested to learn. We can pre-populate this list with hints from the community emails mentioned above, and with additional topics we identify as relevant to our members, e.g. SEO. We plan to include a fill-in field for members to suggest their own learning topics, which future visitors can vote on. The questionnaire also allows us to ask for optimal times for our workshops.

In addition to well-worded prompts, we’ll need many responses to make our questionnaire successful. The key will be to maximize its visibility. We know from experience that our internal social network Wobbe is not the most active, so in addition to posting it there, we plan to host the questionnaire on a kiosk at the entrance to our space. This makes it visible to all passersby, and gives our community manager the opportunity to nudge members to respond. With a high response rate, we can get a better sense for the desirability of different types of professional events.

Let’s do this!

With our objectives and methods well outlined, I’m looking forward to further partnering with the community managers at Workbar Cambridge to shape the Spring events calendar. And guess what, we have a great opportunity to test our assumptions coming up: our community manager Sam is hosting a sushi-rolling workshop. It’s starting later than usual, at 5pm, and a good number of members have already signed up! Stay tuned to see how it goes :)., which