I Own a Coworking Space and I Tried to Work From Home

When I started Cohere EIGHT years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a vague sense that people would enjoy working alongside one another (or rather, I felt that *I* would enjoy working alongside them). Luckily I had low risk aversion and $20K burning a hole in my savings account. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how and why people cowork and the main goal for coworkers appears to be the avoidance of loneliness/loss of social skills.

_MG_6893The EXPERIMENT

Periodically, I choose to work from home instead of heading in to cowork at Cohere. Today I chose to do that because I knew I had a big gnarly blog post to write for Startup Week Fort Collins and it would require my attention for upwards of two solid hours and that kind of isolation is hard to find when you look up and greet every person entering your coworking space.

I decided to make a note of what my day actually looked like. Now mind you, I’ve been in the business of remote work, coworking and productivity for coming up on a decade and goddammit, I fell victim to every trap my home had to offer today.

The FRIDGE

I have eaten 9 times or 12,000 calories today. I lost track after third breakfast. Who can work when you are steps away from all your favorite things? I actually squealed when I realized I could make a sandwich on homemade bread and then marry guac and mayo on it with stacked slices of turkey.

Lunch took LONGER than usual, not just because of my extremely artistically prepared sandwich but because I thought it would be a good idea to watch last night’s Walking Dead episode while I ate. No one walks away from Rick Grimes mid-show even though I finished my sandwich at the 8 minute mark.

The KITCHEN

As much trouble as the Fridge was, the Kitchen gave me more. Was this afternoon the perfect time to clean out the fridge of weird tupperwares and some spoiled sourdough starter? OF COURSE it was. That created a lot of dishes, which took awhile to tackle. Then I got a dishrag in my hand and now my counters are super shiny along with my stovetop.

The LAUNDRY

Today felt like an ideal time to wash all the linens in my home. After the 12th visit to the laundry room, I started to question the wisdom of this choice though the rhythmic banging of comforters in the dryer made me feel like someone else was home.

2015-02-20 15.00.38The INERTIA of PJs

Normally, I get myself put together prior to 8am so I can take my girl to school. Since her grandparents picked her up at 8am, I unwisely decided to make an elaborate breakfast then start my blog post in my pjs. Have you ever done this and prayed that your google video alert on your computer wouldn’t ring so you wouldn’t get busted? That was me all morning as I fretted over my greasy hair and unwashed sweatshirt. I developed a sense of inertia with my pjs like if I didn’t get out of them, I might actually stay in them until the authorities discovered my body. I managed a shower but lost some of my steam around getting my to-do list done.

The INTERNET of FRIENDS

I spent more time on Cohere’s slack channel, Facebook and texting friends than normal because I felt lonely. Lonely after 6 hours. How do you people work at home for YEARS?! However, I spent more time on Cohere’s slack channel because I knew it would be a reliable way to get some quick interaction with my coworkers. Normally, the in-person coworking would fill this need.

The RESULT

I’m not sure I got more or less work done than I do when I cowork (my job is the definition of “highly-uninterruptible”) but I’m certain that I do DIFFERENT work when I’m at home. I crushed my timeline on the blog post today and even managed to write a second one (that you’re reading now) but I didn’t get any of the administrative or earthly space tasks at Cohere done. Luckily, those are always waiting around for me. Next time I need to write, I think I’ll only do a half-day and perhaps I’ll pack that artful sandwich with me to take to Cohere!

 

 

My Favorite Coworking Things: Cobot and Zapier Integrations

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Zapier and Cobot high-fiving… only via the internet… and at night while I’m asleep.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Cobot coworking management software platform. Somewhere around my third year of running a coworking space, I tore a small chunk of my hair out by the roots as I sorted through some sticky notes and google sheets trying desperately to figure out if member x paid a prorated amount back in December or if I owed them money for some reason.

I was DONE. Even with a modest 30 members, I couldn’t keep track of everything. Rather than throw in the towel (laptop), I tried a Cobot trial month and it changed my life.

I love Cobot because it makes me efficient on tasks I DON’T NEED TO BE PRESENT FOR and gives our now 62 members stability. They always know what to expect from payment and how to reserve a conference room. I’ve become a bit of a Cobot power user as of late and boosted my efficiency by integrating Cobot and Zapier to automate even more tasks in my coworking space. Cobot asked me to tell you about the zaps I like best.

By far and away, automating the new member welcome email has changed my life. I no longer have to remember if member x got the door code or if member y will know where to park on her first day. All that data is in the welcome email. Zapier “watches” my Cobot and every time there is a new member, Zapier sends my gmail template email to the new member at midnight on their first day of membership. I love the consistency in experience that each new member gets from this integration.

Zapier Task History

A couple month’s worth of automating the new member email.

My second favorite integration is automatically adding new members into our slack chat room. It’s like a little instant gratification ping for a brand new member to instantly find themselves in our digital sharing/joke world.

My third favorite integration is adding new members to a google sheet where we mainly keep track of our capacity and when peoples’ birthdays are. My goal for this quarter is to reverse this process and delete cancelled members from that same spreadsheet to save even a little more time.

When it comes to Zapier and Cobot, I’m sure you can think of at least one task you can automate that will have no impact on the strength and sense of connection in your community. Between Cohere and Cohere Bandwidth I have nine “Zaps” automating anywhere from 10-50 work tasks a week. I always feel smug when Zapier sends this out:

Zapier weekly tasks

Zapier did 49 things for me this week.

Here are some more examples or you can find them yourself at http://zapier.com and then type Cobot into the search bar.

Zapier Popular Cobot Zaps

Some of the most popular Cobot integrations with Zapier.

If You Don’t Have These 7 Types of Members, Your Coworking Space Will Fail

It takes all kinds of people to make a coworking space go ’round. Does your coworking community have all SEVEN  types of critical members? If not, you better manifest them in a hurry!

  1. The Connector: Forget 7 degrees of separation. This person probably had lunch with Kevin Bacon yesterday. Your super connectors take pleasure in connecting two people together on a theme. The more bizarre or remote the connection, the greater the thrill for a connector. Question you are most likely to be asking a Connector, “do you know anyone who (jumps rope while singing, used to work at that one company that was over on Riverside?)…..??”
  2. The Attentive: This member knows a little bit about any topic. You’ll find them frequently scrolling social media platforms and reading a wide variety of headlines (they probably don’t read the actual article). That thing you mentioned about baby pigs in passing? She stored it for later use. An Attentive makes a wonderful community manager because she remembers all the small details about members (and who hates coconut on their donuts). Question you are most likely to be asking an Attentive, “Hey, do you know anything about LED bulbs/composting/SEO/best chocolate….?”2015-06-26 17.05.52-1 (1)
  3. The Sarcastic: The eyeroll and upside down face emojis are this member’s best friend. They are extra quick with the quips. Any new member who can survive a day coworking next to Mr. Sarcasm will be a member for life.
    Notable: The Sarcastic usually pairs well with a Counselor (if you’ve got one in your space).
  4. The Extrovert: You don’t need very many extroverts to make a coworking space work. In fact, I recommend a max of 3 and never in the same room at the same time unless you like to hear 3 people talking at the same time all day. Your Extroverts are perfect for social events and getting conversations started. Disclosure: I’m an extrovert and banned from our quiet coworking areas.
    Question you are most likely asking the Extrovert: invalid. They will ask YOU the questions.
  5. The Caretaker: Sometimes referred to as a “Work Spouse,” this person attends to the earthly tasks of the space. Taking out trash, changing lightbulbs and tightening door handles all come with the territory. Some Caretakers actually enjoy this (mindless) work as a way to take a break from the hardcore analysis/thinking of their day job.
    Statement the Caretaker is most often telling you, ”people aren’t washing their dishes again.”
  6. The Empath: It’s hard to find an empath that can actually function in a coworking space for long periods of time since they can be quite drained by being around a lot of people all day. If you are lucky enough to have an Empath, love them hard while they are there. The Empath will sooth nerves and validate the other members’ emotions. They’ll see your soul with merely a glance and are easy to talk to.
    Question the Empath is asking you: they will ask you about the thing you least want to talk about at that moment but you need to.
  7. The Catastrophizer: Arguably my favorite type of member, the sky is always falling. Changing a lightbulb? According to the Catastrophizer, you’ll probably drop it, it’ll shatter and we’ll all inhale some carcinogen. Launching a business? This is the member to buy a six pack for and let him run down all the ways you’ll be homeless by next Tuesday if you do anything. The Catastrophizer is great with safety checks, emergency plans and alerting someone when the toilet paper is low.

Do you have all seven types? What other types would you add?

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Coworking: Must-Have Supply List

Seven years into running a coworking space in Fort Collins, I’ve finally compiled a list of the most game-changing items you can purchase for your coworkers. From desks to dishes, Cohere has the scoop on everything from power strips to parchment papers.

We’ve had our fair share of desk iterations at Cohere. From highly customized and huge curvy desks with integrated power to bomb-proof dorm desks, I’ve finally found the best option for us and they are $99 each. Sweet. Please raid your IKEA accordingly. (IKEA is not paying me for this post. In fact, I was so wary of yet another desk that would fail me, I only bought two so the coworkers could test-drive them for several weeks).

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The IKEA THYGE desk measures an ample yet space saving 24″x 48″. Its legs attach with some effort but the overall effect is one of total stability and feels high end even though you’ll be giggling over your frugality. The legs ADJUST from 23″ to 35″ making it comfy for even the most stubby-legged members. Once our desk transition is complete, we’ll have 2 short, 2 medium and 2 tall desks for members to choose from.

The smooth uncluttered surface provides lots of spare room for your flex-deskers like remote software developer, Ian, above and enough room for the permanent dual monitor setup of remote software developer, Kevin, below.

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The thing we’ve missed most from the early days of Cohere is the integrated power we had in our custom desks. IKEA finally solved this problem for us by creating a clamp-on mount ($10) and pairing it with their power/usb strip ($14.99). Add their cable storage under mount basket for a nearly seamless office experience. For those of you doing math, that’s just $128.99 per workstation (you only need 1 cable storage basket per two desks).

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Cons: these desks aren’t on wheels but the feet of the legs are smooth enough that they are easy to slide around on carpet. If any of you have found a wheeled desk option that is this high quality for the same price, I’ll eat my bank statement.

Now that we’ve got your members working productively, they’re going to need snacks. Member Laurel casually asked me one day, “hey, for the next version of upgrades, can we get a toaster oven?”

Seven clicks and two days later, we unwrapped this beauty ($24.95). Laurel originally thought it would be a nice supplement to our stocked PB&J bar but I doubled-down on the idea and bought cookie dough.

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I’d love to say that we have exercised restraint and reserve warm cookies-on-demand for Fridays or Mondays but we don’t. Someone bakes goddamn hot cookies every damn day and it is spectacular. I highly recommend these mini break-aparts by Nestle. Pair your new baking members with parchment sheets ($5.89) for easy cleanup and an adorable mini-spatula ($8.99). Ignore the review where the lady says the spatula is “too tiny.” She is absurd.

Last but not least, I give you the thing that a member bought and put on my desk with the note, “Angel, this dish brush will change your life. Trust me.” -Lucinda

We’ve never had a dishwasher at the Old Town Cohere locations so we soldier on by hand-washing; never quite satisfied by other dish brushes, sponges or scrubby things.

The OXO brush not only takes the cake, it obliterates the cake with a swipe of the wrist and the push of a button.

I know you are super stoked to read about the features of a dish brush. Here they are in no particular order: it sits up in a stand that collects its own drips (I wish my baby did this), it only dispenses soap when you press the button on the handle, it never gets smelly and it really cleans the dishes!

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Bonus item: a little whiteboard above our sink. This has been the most effective message to date. It’s also a decent reminder to me that even if I have to wash a couple of spoons every morning, I’m doing a job that I LOVE alongside people I LOVE. No dirty dish stands a chance against that kind of happiness.

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How to F^ck Up Your Second Coworking Location

angel gcuc speaker

I recently got invited to present FAILURE at the Global Coworking Unconference Conference in Toronto, Canada. I take spectacular pride in my ability to fail with flourish and since the GCUC crowd always likes a good train wreck among stories of 43 Billion Dollar valuations and epic expansion stories, I indulge them. Below is the narrative of the failure and here is a link to my slides.

 

falling down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/felixtsao/4909753834/

Near the end of 2013, 4 years after Cohere hit the coworking scene in Old Town Fort Collins, I had to start turning away would-be members. We were full, things were great. So naturally, I would make a series of unfortunate mistakes that would lead to the 2nd space’s death in early 2015.

To be clear, I did SOME of the things right. In fact, all early indicators would point to Cohere’s second location being a raving success.  Here’s what went right:

  • I had a wait-list of members who wanted to join Cohere.
  • Cohere was nearing auto-pilot. Systems helped manage the behind the scenes tasks, 3 members had a strong hold on the day to day in the space and I was getting bored.
  • I selected a location that was near to OG Cohere but further south in an up-and-coming neighborhood called Midtown where rents were still affordable and the housing market was blowing up in all the right ways.
  • I took many, many members through the building pre-lease and they steered me away from one suite into 3 other suites they were much more excited about.
  • The members lovingly name it Cothere. It sticks. It’s perfect.
  • Natural light, windows, trees and parking were in abundance.
  • After we got into the space, the Coherians partied to clean up the parking lot and build furniture. It was spectacular fun and had all the trapping us Veterans look for in budding communities.
  • I paint everything, repair broken door knobs and make our entrances more safe. I pour all my love into this physical thing that will allow Cothere to grow and flourish.
  • I met and offered up our space after hours to our brand new Girl Develop It chapter. We love each other so much.

Things start to take a turn for the worse:

The landlords fail to make improvements to Cothere that are in my lease: working windows, safe stairs for our private entrance (my mother-in-law almost falls 2 stories after the railing breaks away during move-in) and cleanliness issues in the common area start to clog my inbox

And A LOT worse:

  • Nearly every day, concerns about lack of health and safety in our parking lots and common area restrooms begin to flood in.
  • My repeated requests for help from the landlords are met with either silence or passive aggressive notes in the common-area bathroom saying, “PLEASE KEEP THIS RESTROOM CLEAN!!!”
  • I become mortified when new members ask where the restroom is. The members say, “this building is dicey but Cothere’s areas are NICE!”
  • I spend 3 hours cleaning bathrooms just to prove to myself that I’m right about how dirty the bathrooms are. I am right. I get pneumonia 5 days later.
  • The restrooms are dirty again. ALL. THE. TIME.  I have to explain WHY we need more toilet paper. Sarcasm floods through my veins. “We have explosive diarrhea!” “All the women are synced up this week!!” “We are STEALING it because we are terrible people!!”

Piper

The last straw:

  • The landlords tell me in an email that goes out to all the other tenants of their building, “you don’t pay enough to have the right to complain.”

I check out. I resent the space. I no longer care about it. I do the bare minimum that an office space rental agency does. Paper towels? Check. Vacuumed? Check. Coffee? Check.

I bring on a friend to help the Cothere community and she tries really hard but we are broken. Midtown is broken, the gross restrooms are broken, our parking lot is an ice skating rink in winter and a mixed-media nightmare of dead squirrels and fallen tree limbs in summer. I refuse to pay more for basic tenant rights.

I stop coworking at Cothere. I repeat. I STOPPED COWORKING AT COTHERE. <—-really important warning sign

I spend all my time at Old Town Cohere. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I cross the threshhold and see the man that takes care of our lawn. I run into the landlord and he inquires about my well-being and asks if everything is okay in the building. He compliments Cohere, the members and how proud they are to have us as tenants. They are always a text away. Quick to fix and utterly un-involved in our day-to-day ops.

I get out of my lease free and clear on their breach of contract. After an extremely polite email exchange requesting the termination of my lease and having them agree, I feel this:

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Down from a high of 20 members, the 3 remaining Cothere members join Cohere and love it. Just. Love It. “It’s so happy here!” “Everyone talks to me!” “I thought I wouldn’t like Old Town but I DO!” Several private office members at Cothere REMAIN in Cothere’s space after we leave. <—-this blows my mind.

So Really. WHAT went wrong?

As a veteran of the coworking community, I was raised up to always put the people first and see the physical space as a useful container that merely facilitates connections between people. Sure, I always made sure that Cohere’s container was lovely, cared-for and well-tended but none of my spaces until Cothere had ever existed inside a larger shell of a bigger building that I had no control over.

I began to think like a member as I approached the larger shell of Cothere’s space. Unkempt parking lot, dead bugs and leaves in the lobby, outdated decor in all the wrong ways, a soul-less, colorless hallway and then finally, the mecca of entering Cothere’s suites.

But sometimes the journey to mecca is just too far.

Post-hoc, I realize that Cohere has a really important value as a company and as a community that I had never said out loud, never consciously thought about and never wrote about. And this value includes the entirety of our physical container from the grounds around the building, to the entryways and all the way to the inner sanctum of our coworking areas.

To BElong to Cohere you must BE eager to help everyone feel proud of our space and the people in it.

Because Old Town Cohere has always had a loving landlord (we actually call him the Innkeeper) who tended to our grounds and common areas we had never truly felt the pain of a building owner who literally could not hold our container with positive regard. That, in turn, caused me to spend all of my Cothere energy trying to help the landlord learn how to hold the container that held US! He made it clear that he couldn’t hold the container. Won’t. Wouldn’t even pick it up and try.

As the community manager, I had nothing left to give the people of Cothere. My usual zest for connection and energy to give and listen was tapped out. My arms, my heart, my brain, were overwhelmed by TRYING to figure out how hold a container that didn’t actually belong to me. To us.

After asking the members what I should do about Cothere, all but one say a version of this, “we’ll follow you where ever you take Cohere (as long as it’s not in THAT building). Do what is best for you.” So I laid down the container. Permanently. After 14 months I gleefully get out of my lease and bring everyone back together at Cohere. The community is overjoyed that the saga is concluded.

As if the universe was bulging with abundance while it waited for me to sort out my shit, its fabric rips open and pours forth a rush of people who want to join Cohere. Tours are joyous again, filled with people and introductions and I don’t have to make excuses for the common areas. Each day we border on being full. Full of members, full of laughter and connectedness, donuts and lunches out together.

Cohere Social Event Hotdogs

A hot dog potluck marks the closure of Cothere and the revitalization of Frank Friday

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I immediately refine and add our values to our membership page:

BE yearning for interaction

BE willing to introduce yourself, make friends and help

BE ready to participate in impromptu and planned events

BE eager to help everyone feel proud of our space and the people in it

BE prepared for abundance (work, laughter, goodwill, and more)

Key Learnings

When considering expansion, don’t look for a building. Look for people.

  • Look for a community helper who is invested, excited and willing to put in the hours needed to bring people together.
  • Look to your existing members for feedback and talk about what expansion means for both communities.
  • Find a commercial Realtor who can add very specific language into your lease about maintenance and responsibilities.
  • Look for a landlord who is capable and willing to hold a container for you. MEET your landlord(s) in person before you sign.

Brave enough to share your epic failure? Post it in the comments or email it to me!

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