By now, you’ve probably heard the “Great Resignation.” Month after month, millions of people are voluntarily leaving their jobs. According to a recent Microsoft survey, around 54% of Generation Z — the newest workforce members — are already considering quitting their jobs.
And the reasons? Money, flexibility, and happiness top the list.
So, if you’re a businesses owner that wants to attract and retain talent, remote work is here to stay.
And if you’re the talent, then you’re in a great position to design the working life you want.
In either case, coworking can be critical to your success. That Microsoft survey calls hybrid work “the next great disruption.”
Now, I might be jaded because, in 2018, I became one of the co-founding partners of District, New Haven. We created it as a coworking community on steroids — a comprehensive ecosystem that helps people and businesses at all stages thrive.
We had a great ride for the first couple of years (which we’ll get into more in this article), but then, like every other public-facing business, the pandemic hit District and coworking in general hard. Plus, even before COVID, there was some lousy press in general for coworking, like WeWork’s IPO disaster.
While work from home has a lot of appeal in terms of safety (both in terms of health and data privacy), time savings, and productivity, it also has its cons, including lack of privacy, blurry work/life boundaries, and endless interruptions. (As a new dad, I know that last one well.)
Plus, remote serendipity is not easy to design. Especially when it’s about meeting someone new outside of your regular business circle. And ultimately, we are social animals, wired to connect.
With all of that in mind, now’s the perfect time for us to collectively reinvent the look and feel of coworking and how it, well, works.
“Co” is for Community
A simple search for “Coworking” reveals community is a critical component.
Notice how within the communal idea, there are also niches. And as I like to say, there are riches in the niches.
Catering to people in a way that goes beyond the basics is crucial, And it’s an audience-first distinction that those of us who operate coworking spaces need to be aware of constantly.
Once upon a time, I was a WeWork member. This is not to bash them — honestly, at first, it was great. A cool aesthetic, free happy hours, coffee, and snacks, plus interesting people doing all kinds of intriguing work.
But what lacked was an organic and authentic feel that helped me naturally find my people. There was a big emphasis on socializing, but that’s not the only way human beings connect. So, although there were community events, they often felt forced. Plus, I aged out of it — going to drinking mixers was great as a young 20-something, but as I became more senior (both age-wise and in my working life), that kind of communing wasn’t so appealing anymore.
What occurs to me about a lot of coworking culture is that it’s often about the place. Back in the WeWork days, for me, for example, it was all about the WeWork way of things.
Now, as a human-centric designer, I can tell you that will backfire quickly. (Which, as noted, it did.) What we do at District is keep the focus on our members. We try to be agile in our approach, continuously finding new ways to respond to and celebrate them. And we foster all kinds of opportunities on all levels — working, learning, and playing — for people and businesses to collide and create together.
Bottom line: a coworking space isn’t just a place for people to plop down their laptops. It’s a community that thrives on connection and collaboration.
“Co” is for Context
Here’s a marketing fundamental that somehow gets overlooked, particularly for those of us who serve a local area: Every market is different, so do your due diligence to understand what your audience is all about — specifically what people are looking for.
And while leading with curiosity and using WHY to illuminate the prism of possibility is the way forward when designing demand for anything, in the case of coworking, WHO and WHERE are primary.
So, in the case of District, which is located in New Haven — a walkable and driveable city with changeable weather — easy parking access was key.
That’s just one simplistic example of how we landed on our campus set-up. By profiling and listening to the market and looking at the experience of our competition, we quickly understood what customers of competitive coworking spaces loved and hated about their experience.
Some of the things we heard were related to the space’s amenities, the security and access controls, and the premium nature of the experience itself. While others had fine experiences, there’s a reason that people stick around twice as long at a Starbucks or an Equinox gym versus a Dunkin’ or Planet Fitness.
The bottom line: Design is critical at every touchpoint.
And then, we drilled deeper into the greater New Haven community for more insight. While I can’t give away all our secret sauce, here’s a great example of what we discovered:
Many New Haven adult residents aren’t necessarily natives. There were a lot of transplants who came to the area as a “tag-along” or “trailing” spouse or partner while their significant other was attending Yale or working as a medical resident. These people were seeking community and a way to meet people outside of their apartment or to beat the isolation of being home alone in newly rented or purchased houses.
And, our local New Havenites aren’t alone — particularly in our post-pandemic world. A cafe or other random locale doesn’t offer the same sense of community belonging that we humans crave.
By finding key behavioral insights like this, we could target and attract people through various points of entry, like our gym and fitness facilities. They’d then authentically gravitate towards our creative coworking community. By understanding the audience (WHO) and their needs and wants (WHY) and then communicating to them clearly and consistently, we were able to keep our coworking campus tours busy — which led to new members.
And once involved, our members find the kinds of things they’re looking for that go way beyond occasional happy hours and free snacks. As experience designers, we think about everything from space to hospitality, and programming to create not just a place to go to but an entire ecosystem that supports productivity, passion, and possibilities.
“CO’ is for Commerce
When you design for the edges (love/hate), you can get a deeper relationship of understanding of what drives people’s ability to “subscribe” and “unsubscribe.” That buy-in is literal: it’s the commerce part of the coworking equation.
As discussed, this is the kind of legwork we did in the pre-launch phase of District. By the time we opened our doors in 2018, we quickly captured market share from the competitors by offering a superior product and experience. We also created new demand for people who never considered coworking by tapping into various forms of online and offline media that spoke to the pain points, particularly for people in creative or innovation-driven vocations.
All of this contributed to District’s success. Our capacity maxed out within the first year, so we added another few thousand square feet to our coworking space to accommodate the demand.
The word “commerce” is specific because it represents an exchange in the coworking ecosystem. It’s value (the coworking experience) for value (monetary investment, including crypto now, because we’re future-forward 🙂.)
And all of that is embedded in our values:
Celebrate Everyone’s Success — We believe success breeds success, and we get better when we’re not the smartest person in the room. Your neighbor’s success is your success, and vice versa because it’s all part of the journey, and we celebrate it together.
Get Sh*t Done (GSD) — We get sh*t done because execution is what transforms ideas into impact. We sweat the small stuff so that you can work on making an impact.
Respect the Journey — We know that everyone is on their own journey and we aim to support and inspire businesses at every level. There is something to be learned as the new start-up in the room and as the established CEO.
Believe in People — District attracts the best talent and fuels community-driven learning and development because it’s the people within the ecosystem that create the collisions that spark ideas that turn into new businesses.
Contribute Where You Can — Small steps make up a mile, and every little bit helps. If you can make something better, do it.
Does that sound like what you thought coworking was all about?
The Great Resignation, in my opinion, is a lot of people saying they’re done with the old ways. Coworking spaces hold the key to unlock new ways of being in the world and thriving. By considering community and context first and foremost, the commerce aspect is less about short-term gain and more about creating sustainable economies — fueled by happy workers — for the future.