More and more companies of all sizes are moving to coworking spaces to foster collaboration, flexibility, and a work environment that, they think, will contribute to a positive team culture. Early-stage startups often choose coworking spaces because they support agile teams with lean budgets—allowing for flexible lease arrangements and the potential to scale to bigger spaces when needed. Increasingly, landlords now act as service providers, working hand-in-hand with coworking space operators to deliver amenity-rich spaces.
However, coworking and flexible spaces aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, two or more companies working inside the same room can often be complete opposites—both in their approach to work and their company’s mission. For companies that are striving to create a cohesive product, client, or user experience and build a cohesive company culture, doing so in a shared space can prove challenging.
The good news is, many companies choose coworking spaces because they’re mission-oriented and have a community-based culture; even if two very different companies work in the same space they typically have a collaborative mentality and want to learn from and encourage each other—therefore, a coworking space often complements and contributes to a positive, collaborative work culture. There are also specific actions leaders at companies can take to consciously build the kind of culture they want, within a coworking space.
After consulting with hundreds of coworking spaces that use Kisi, we’ve seen how important the role of physical space is and how it plays into a company’s culture. Below are effective strategies you can use to create a unique company culture in your shared workspace.
Let the community manager help you support your company’s culture and vision
A major highlight of working in a coworking space is the support you receive from the community manager or their office management team. Amenities that have become synonymous with the startup and coworking environment—like snacks, catered meals, and cold brew and beer on tap, will be handled for you so that you can devote more time to your employees and building a strong work culture.
An effective means of finding the right coworking space for you and your company is to have one-on-ones with the community manager of your coworking space. Tell them about your company’s culture, what’s important to you, and what your individual employees want to gain from the space. Finding the right space is crucial to your workplace culture and you want a community manager who will be proactive and check in on you and your team to make sure they are adjusting properly and getting the most out of the space.
Working in a shared space can inspire and empower your team to have more pride in their tasks and accomplishments, as well as to collaborate with other members. Having an extremely small team can feel isolating at times, so having neighbors in the shared space often has a positive impact on small companies.
If you’re sharing a space there will likely be limitations on your ability to decorate it. Instead, take advantage of technology, which can function as both an extension of your brand and a business tool. For example, installing a Geckoboard, or a television monitor, that displays your company’s KPIs is a simple way to stay on track, make sure your team members are all on the same page, and share your accomplishments and progress with others in your space. Your neighboring company can celebrate your wins, as milestones are reached during the month, and the extra support will have a positive impact on the big picture and keep morale high.
Set up, layout, and personalization of your space
The set up of your office space is extremely important. If you don’t have control over decorating the walls it becomes even more important to add personal touches that display your company’s mission and make the office feel like home. This allows you to get creative with your seating arrangement and should inspire your co-workers to decorate their desks.
The open floor plan of coworking spaces are the antithesis of traditional office cubicles, which can be isolating, boxy and claustrophobic; but also have less space to customize. You can take advantage of the open space by putting desks in a configuration where communication will thrive between team members. Atmosphere has a lot to do with culture and there are plenty of easy non-permanent ways to brand your space. This can take the form of team photos and employee polaroids on desks, as well as company gear, like sweaters, draped on chairs or branded hats on the coat hooks. You can further customize your desks you can order inexpensive additions for employee onboarding, like branded notebooks, stationery and company stickers that can decorate desktop computer monitors and countertops.
Participate in building-wide events, amenities, and services
It’s important to use the coworking amenities to the fullest—this way you can save on overheads and leverage the assets that you pay for with your membership fees—like high-end gadgets and conference room equipment, catered lunches, happy hour opportunities, free speaker events, and built-in networking days. To bring your company more exposure, and to create a great sense of community, participate in building-wide events and host some of your own.
If your company produces technology, hardware or a physical product, you can keep it out on the desks for neighboring companies to check out. Many coworking spaces have PR departments, or work with an advertising agency, and they may extend these services to members. Create a strategy to utilize those press opportunities to spread the word about your company, services, and job openings.
Organize events outside of the space
Organizing culture-building activities that are outside of your workspace will help your company form its own culture—and won’t make your culture overly reliant on the coworking community, which is crucial if and when you move out to your own office. In addition, it’s fun to have monthly activities with your co-workers, where you can eat a meal together and do an activity near your office. In addition to regular social outings, plan bigger annual activities, such as a company holiday party. Create protocol for employee birthdays and incentivizing milestones by planning fun gear or activities when they’re met.
Culture is more than space, it’s built on the routines and traditions that people share. Set habits in your office, like daily standups or company-wide check-ins on Fridays, to promote your mission between remote workers and different office locations. If possible, put up a nest cam so that foreign office branches can participate in the company-wide culture and see each other working.
Amenities at a coworking space can attract talent, but they don’t build culture. Knowing your team well will ensure that you plan events they care about and allow you to better understand their needs. Down the road you’ll be happy to bring your routines with you when your company moves into its own space.
Communication is key
To help clarify and focus the values that are at the basis of their culture, companies should draft a mission statement or coherently, succinctly explain their vision, and reinforce this mission regularly throughout all company activities. To bring your mission values into your workspace, even if you don’t have your own walls to decorate, list your company’s values and mission in an employee handbook and communicate the mission during your daily standup or weekly check-in meeting.
Coworking environments can be extremely distracting, especially if you work in a space without walls or partitions. Communication channels are an important tool and help keep everyone looped in. Even if your company consists of five people, whose desks all touch, don’t underestimate the necessity of a social app dedicated to your company.
To communicate effectively, use a chat channel that’s separate from that of your coworking space. Depending on the size of your coworking space, hundreds of members may be chatting daily, general channels may be filled with building-wide announcements, and each company may be promoting their events, which can mean your company-specific announcements can get lost in the chatter. Using a different app or starting a dedicated Slack team for your company will ensure that your workers are tuned into each other and can build your workplace rapport and the community at large. Creating different themed channels helps you build culture—you can have one channel to share personal shout-outs, kudos, happy announcements, and another channel to recommend books or movies, or discuss after-work plans. In addition, if you move on from a coworking space and into your own office you’ll be able to take your chat channel with you.
Coworking and other flex spaces imply a certain mobility—to grow and change as your company’s needs shift. Communicate with your employees, build a routine, and listen to their feedback—that way both you and the physical coworking space can provide the flexible solution that supports the evolving demands of your workers and contributes to a positive workplace culture.
To assess whether coworking is the right option for your company and more insight into how coworking spaces operate, you can download a free, comprehensive guide to coworking from Kisi. To further strengthen your workplace culture, no matter where your workspace is based, check out “Creating a Great Company Culture” from Managed by Q.