A co-working space is not just a bunch of great people in a cool space. A co-working space is a community.
I have been running The Bridge Street Collective for over four years.
In that time, I have often had building owners approach me about either expanding the concept into their empty space or asking me for advice on how they could do something similar.
It seems there is a common (mis)conception that a co-working space is a license to print money – find an empty space, fit it out and make it cool, and fill it up with lots of people.
The license to print money part refers to the thought that because you are filling up a building with lots of “tenants,” it must be bringing in huge rent compared to a single tenant.
People look at a busy co-working space and see a thriving community and they think that’s what they want for their space.
But they don’t don’t, really. They simply want tenants. They want their vacant building to be occupied so it’s bringing in rent.
They do not realise that a co-working space is a community of people. People who happen to share a space. And it’s the people that make the space great. Not the furniture or the fit-out, or the colour of the walls.
Building a community is infinitely more challenging than simply fitting out a space.
It takes a lot of energy and time – something that is almost impossible to shortcut. Something that’s impossible to buy with money.
It takes time to build a vibrant, creative, self-sufficient community.
It takes time to attract the right people and to develop a culture.
No matter how cool the space or how trendy or funky the fit-out, it’s about attracting and retaining people. Not by clever advertising or cheap prices. But because they want to be part of the community. Part of the culture.
We have an amazing community I the Collective. But, after four years, we are only just getting started and still finding our groove.
The community is thriving and growing, and we are contemplating expansion – but expanding has some of the same issues as creating a space in the first place.
The expansion cannot just be about making the space bigger and more awesome. It must benefit, nurture, and grow the community.
Otherwise, we could have a very big, very cool, very empty space.
And there is no culture or community in that.