Chris Bolman embraced coworking with high hopes. The founder and CEO of tech startup Brightest wanted a turnkey solution that didn’t require tinkering with Wi-Fi, buying furniture or signing a long-term rental agreement. Most importantly, he wanted space to build a collaborative culture that would keep his four-person team engaged and performing at peak levels. So he moved the gang to a popular coworking spot in Manhattan. Although the dedicated room felt a little cramped, it initially seemed to fit the bill.
But Bolman quickly realized building a unique company culture there was nearly impossible. The noise was constant. The never-ending flow of strangers gave them serious privacy concerns. They found themselves on walking meetings in the chilly New York streets so they wouldn’t upset neighbors. Plus, the coworking company’s branding seemed to be everywhere.
“It doesn’t feel like your space. It feels like (their) space,” said Bolman.
The elaborate, artisanal designs that lured him in from social media were relegated to the common areas—while their dedicated room felt cookie-cutter and sterile.
“It felt very transactional” said Bolman. “It felt like (they) were trying to cram as many people as possible into the space.”
Mike Krupit had a similar experience with his startup IntroNet a few years back. After moving his team of six into a Philadelphia coworking space, he quickly realized that company culture was suffering. He couldn’t plaster the walls with his vision and values. He couldn’t put metrics and motivational items on the TV screens. The hallway conversations, collisions and serendipity teams get in a dedicated office space was replaced by conversations with people at other companies, or strangers attending events.
“Outside of our tiny little 10-foot by 10-foot office, we had no control,” said Krupit.
Plus, his space was enclosed in glass, making Krupit and his team feel like they were always on display, and couldn’t let their hair down.
“If I’m living in a glass house in a densely populated area, I’m going to always put on a robe when I come out of the shower,” Krupit joked. “We didn’t get to be natural.”
Your workspace is a physical representation of your culture. It’s the body language of your organization. It’s the difference between attracting top talent and getting grounded in mediocrity. Here’s five ways your coworking space can help promote your company culture—not theirs.
Your brand, not ours
Far too many coworking spaces plaster the walls with slogans and logos. But Punch Today in the Face probably isn’t the sophisticated message you’re trying to convey to your workforce. Trading in the neon lights and excessive, frat house decor for a more refined environment allows your unique culture to shine through.
“If you walk in and the first thing you see is some other brand in a very overpowering way, you can lose connection to your corporate identity,” says Nick LiVigne, vice president of product at Convene. “The brand identity should be clear and speak to the history and legacy of the company. Being in a coworking space, you might lose that connection.”
Space with variety
Let teams move freely from open-air desks to meeting spaces to quiet rooms depending on the type of tasks they’re performing. There’s no reason they should bother the whole team while on a phone call, and no reason they should be distracted while doing heads down focus work.
Ditch the glass fish bowls
Visual privacy is a must. Nobody likes working for hours on a whiteboard then looking over their shoulder to see if a competing company or visiting reporter is snapping a photo. Instead of glass, create spaces that are light, open and airy but not totally transparent.
“It shouldn’t feel like an overpacked fish bowl or a hallway of glass boxes,” says LiVigne. “Once you’re in your suite it should feel like your space, not like you’re on display for everyone else.”
Why does every coworking space seem to offer kids snacks like chips and cookies? We’re not going on a field trip with a third-grade class, we’re adults trying to build businesses. Upgrade amenities so they’re inline with the company you’re trying to build. Replace the fruit roll-ups with hummus and pita—and your employees will thank you.
Deaden the sound
Sound carries, and it’s one of the top complaints about coworking spaces. Those loud neighbors in the next office can hinder productivity, break concentration and foster negative thoughts among your team members. The best coworking spaces make soundproofing a priority—and in the process offer more privacy.
“Constant interruptions can really hurt productivity,” says LiVigne. “Plus, you should be able to get amplified during meetings and brainstorming sessions without wondering if your coworking neighbors are stealing your idea. Audio privacy is crucial.”