Coworking is a great way to inspire communication and innovation. But if you want to encourage networking at your coworking space, there are plenty of different options to choose from.
Before you start to encourage networking in your coworking space, you need to make sure you align with your space’s culture and aspirations. Every space is different, so make sure you tailor your networking strategy appropriately.
With that in mind, here are some tried-and-tested ways to encourage networking at your coworking space:
1. Ask your members what they want
Before you start planning anything, make sure you ask your current members what they want. For example, while some communities may crave a free bar or regular happy hour, others may want you to organize industry-specific events and lectures. It’s also important to ask your members who may have used other spaces what they think works, and what doesn’t work when it comes to networking.
2. Break up your space
The layout of your coworking space can have a huge impact on how your community networks. For example, breakout areas with communal activities are a great way for people to meet and chat informally. You could install a ping pong table or a meditation yurt, or both. It all depends on the interests of your community.
Also, make sure your kitchen is as welcoming as possible with plenty of space for people to chat. Go beyond just offering free tea and coffee, offering plenty of free snacks that will entice people to leave their desks, grab a bite to eat and have a chat.
3. Consider your furniture layout
Providing space for people to meet and collaborate is important. But you also need to make sure your furniture is laid out to encourage networking in your coworking space.
Different seating options can accommodate different needs. For example, small standing tables encourage a flow of people and a space for a quick catch-up.
4. Build an online community
It’s important to create an online community where participants can connect. Social media provides a range of platforms and there are also several collaboration apps that could help encourage networking in your coworking space.
For example, Slack is a great messaging app to get your members talking. But use it with caution. You need to make sure you tread a careful balance between encouraging networking and irritating your members with endless–and irrelevant–messages. Here’s some advice on setting up a Slack channel for your coworking space.
5. Organize informal events
Events are the most obvious way to encourage networking in your coworking space. While work-related events are one option (that we’ll cover later), it’s also important to organize some informal events.
For example, trips to the pub on Friday afternoons, yoga classes every Wednesday, scheduled game nights or a lunchtime run are all ways you can encourage members with similar interests to meet on a regular basis.
You may also want to organize some larger events every couple of months, like a Christmas party or other such celebration, to bring your community together in an informal manner.
6. Organize educational events
Another excellent way to encourage cross-community collaboration is to organize industry-specific educational events. For example, you could ask members who are specialized in the same thing to run a series of ‘lunch and learn’ sessions or give a lecture series. You could also ask external experts to come into your space and share knowledge with your community.
7. Bring in external experts
Networking isn’t just about encouraging in-house collaboration but welcoming in the wider local community to help build connections and bring more people into your space. If you haven’t already, register and speak with your local Chamber of Commerce, community center or Business Development Center. They may provide valuable insights into local connections that can help your members network outside of your space’s walls.
8. Hire a community manager
If you don’t have a community manager, you may want to get one if you want to encourage networking in your coworking space. One of the core responsibilities of a community manager is to organize events and build a close-knit community where people enjoy collaborating while working. They can also help forge connections and onboard new members into your space.
9. Encourage mobility
The flexibility of coworking means your members can change work zones and move around your space during the working day. This is a great way to help members meet new people and start conversations. To encourage such mobility, you could introduce regular breaks, such as a scheduled time to grab a coffee or a beer or encourage your members to move desks regularly.
10. Enable work trades
Research reveals more than 70% of coworking members have collaborated with others in their space in the last 12 months. A work trade with other members is a great way to encourage networking in your coworking space. However, it’s important to make sure you implement some basic rules to make sure it’s used in an appropriate manner to benefits your members.
Networking is a great way to help your members form new partnerships that will benefit them for years to come. If you plan ahead and prioritize the solutions that align with your coworking space and members, you’ll create a meaningful experience that will keep your members coming back year after year.