Danny Spitzberg is interested in “community spaces”, places where people move rom “do it yourself” to “do it together”. He is particularly interested in how to welcome people to the space and the community. He emphasizes the importance of the initial encounter, which can hook someone or turn them away—for ever. Not content to identify the problem, he has developed a “how to” guide, to help community leaders effectively greet and engage people.
I was interested in his work, because it seems to be very much the same challenge as is faced by the leaders of coworking spaces. In this blog and my upcoming book , I write about the emerging cadre of coworking community leaders, with job titles like “community manager”, “community catalyst”, and others. [E.g., Kane, Bacigalupo, Hillman, Kwiatkowski and Buczynski) These folks welcome new workers to a coworking space, and connect everyone through conversations and events. Coworking leaders have developed a pragmatic toolkit, with “how to” materials, and digital tools.
But everything begins with “welcome”. As Lori Kane put it, “If you do just one thing: Say “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!””.
Spitzberg is interested in a broader set of community spaces, but I dare say that many coworking spaces would fit into his vision. Even highly commercial coworking spaces are trying to “sell community”, so they need the same kind of welcome process, even if commercially motivated to do so.
So, what is Spitzberg’s approach? He identifies three important kinds of “visit” to a community space.
The idea is to get as many people as possible to move through these phases, to commit to the community. Of course, it’s not about numbers per se, it’s about helping people learn about and connect with the community and it’s goals and activities.
Spitzberg offers pragmatic advice.
First of all, he offers two principles.
- Find alignment
- Offer affirmation
The trick is to “lift up the vision and values of their community space, without shutting down volunteers who bring new perspectives and capacity“ .
He also has pragmatic advice for developing your welcoming message and experience. Essentially, figure out an elevator speech that tells what the vision is, key examples of what you do, and create “welcome days” events .
Comparing these tips with what coworking community leaders do, we can see that a coworking space is a little easier to “sell” than some community spaces, because prospective members are expecting a workplace. However, the value of a coworking space is largely in the community that inhabits it, so it remains very important to explain the vision and activities of the specific community.
Applying Spitzberg’s principles, we can see that the “welcome” to a coworking space must (implicitly) find alignment and also offer affirmation. In fact, his analysis of the need to put out the values of the coworking community, while being open to new workers is probably good guidance for a coworking leader.
In the case of coworking spaces, many spaces build on the “coworking manifesto” , as well as the growing body of testimonials and guides. As I have pointed out, these materials provide a narrative that adds meaning to participating in the coworking community.
I have characterized coworking as “participatory theater”, in which the worker is invited to enact the role of “coworker” in this play about the new way of work. Viewed this way, the community spaces Spitzberg is interested in offer a variety of such improvisational “plays”, and he offers good advice about how to welcome new people into a role in the (self written) story.
I have noted that this perspective ties coworking spaces, as well as any of Spitzberg’s “community spaces”, to Disney-esque “experiential” spaces. A theme park or other designed experience must welcome it’s visitors, align and affirm—though only in a restricted location and for a short time. But this industry has developed a lot of interesting design tools that might be picked up by any community space. (Ask yourself, “What Would Disney Do?”)
Finally, Spitzberg has designed an app, called “teem”, which helps recruit and sustain a “do it together” project. The app lets you show pictures of the project, sign up for projects, and otherwise connect. Teem is actually pretty similar to Loomio , and both of them are basically similar to many other project coordination systems.
At a glance, Loomio seems to have considerably more experience behind it than Teem, and a broader picture of decision making processes. Teem is mainly oriented to ward ongoing cooperation, which Loomio doesn’t really deal with. Perhaps in the future Teem and Loomio can merge their digital tools.
I haven’t seen any information about how well Teem works. How do people use it? Does it help create successful projects? What criteria define “success”, anyway? It would certainly be valuable to evaluate the tool, and document its value and best uses.
I don’t mean to be overly critical. Spitzberg and his crew have done a lot of good research, and his practical advice seems right on target.
As a suggestion, I think they might want to have a look at some local coworking communities, especially smaller, less commercial spaces. It would be interesting to adapt his approach into the growing practice of coworking.
- Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking” A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. (in preparation), self, 2017.
- Danny Spitzberg (2017) How to Welcome and Engage People in Community Spaces. Sharable, http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-welcome-and-engage-people-in-community-spaces
- Teem, How to Make a Community Space More Welcoming in One Day. 2016. http://bit.ly/your-welcome-guide
- Teem, Welcome: Growing your community space by making it easy to get involved. 2016. http://bit.ly/your-welcome-guide
- The Coworking Wiki, Coworking Manifesto (global – for the world) in The Coworking Wiki. 2015. http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/35382594/Coworking Manifesto %28global – for the world%29
Note: please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming early in 2017.