Community Building: Beyond the Happy Hour

How to build community engagement in your coworking space without being annoying.
Ryan Chatterton
November 16, 2018
5 min read
Ryan Chatterton

I hope it's not surprising that you have to talk to your members to create an engaged community, at least occasionally. Doing so takes a lot of emotional labor, conversation, and sometimes mind-reading. Question is: how do you get members engaged without driving them crazy?

A coworking friend of mine once told me a story about a workspace in the US. Their idea of community building was assertively passing out whiskey shots, or whichever liquor was available, between 4 pm and 5 pm every Friday.

"It became annoying," he told me. "I'd be right in the middle of a project, and they'd make all this fuss about starting the party."

That is the wrong way to build community engagement.

Sure, parties and alcohol can be a fun way to loosen people up and get the conversation going, but they are not the only method, and they do not make a community on their own. In fact, this sort of thing can turn more people away from your coworking space than attract them.

Consider that some people can become real jerks when they drink alcohol. WeWork recently implemented a new policy restricting the free flow of beer, a longstanding member perk. They've now not only added time restrictions on the beer tap, but a limit on the number of drinks any member can have in a day. The change is likely due to the dataset they built up over the years, that revealed it just wasn’t an effective strategy for community building.

Aside from potential behavioral issues, sticky desks and the residual smell of beer on the carpet, some people just don't drink. If you've ever been to a party as the only sober person, it can be quite weird. Regardless of a person's reasons for not drinking, alcohol-centric events make them feel excluded.

What’s more, constant parties or early events disrupt your members’ workflows. Remember, people are in your coworking space to co and work. Both have to be respected. Constant interruptions, with drinks and food or otherwise, have the opposite effect of that for which you're aiming.

Parties aren't the only culprit of course. Any event, class, or gathering can be a turnoff for a multitude of reasons. I'm not one to knock a good party, but they are the most natural target since happy hours are the default community-building mechanism for many coworking spaces

In any case, instead of relying on blunt instruments like parties and alcohol, or overwhelming your members with constant and unwanted events, consider two best practices below.

Don’t Promote, Invite

Yes, your Cinco de Mayo themed happy hour sure sounds like a lot of fun. However, if a member is busy with work, has other plans outside the space, or isn't interested, let them be. It's frustrating to feel pressured and guilted into going to events.

Additionally, continually pinging members with, "Hey, are you coming to the Happy Hour!?" doesn't necessarily feel very welcoming. It may well have the opposite effect and come off as social pressure or promotion.

Instead, invite people to participate.

As Aimee Holland said in her recent guest post, "Social events such as [the member BBQ] were not compulsory, but they did always start with a personal invitation. There is a huge difference between ‘we're doing a thing, do you want to come?' and ‘Aimee I'd really like you to come to the party on Saturday.'"

The difference is in the intent.

When you promote to somebody, your aim is to get them to the event so that you look good. In other words, you want to have enough people so that the party doesn't feel lame, you get good Instagram pictures, and you don't get fired.

On the other hand, when you invite people, you’re trying to get them to come to the event because you value their presence for its own sake. Inviting members to things makes them feel welcome and makes them want to encourage others to join.

Empower Your Members

What’s on your event plate this week? Maybe you’ve planned a UI Design Class, a movie night, a lunch and learn event, another happy hour, and even more. But why on Earth are you responsible for all these events in the first place?

Instead, empower your members to organize their own gatherings, events, and workshops.

To do this, you must make it clear that the space is their canvas on which to paint anything they want. If a member has an idea for an event, don't just put it on for them, invite them to do it themselves, then help them get it up and running. But make sure they are the one responsible for keeping it going. It's their baby.

Doing it this way has two interesting effects.

First, selfishly, it makes your job much more manageable. Imagine all the extra time you'll have when members organize their own events. It's a game changer!

Second, the events will be organic, emanating from the community itself. That means more people will be likely to attend as members invite one another and plan things together. We see this every day at Coworking Bansko, where I am a member.

This strategy is a virtuous cycle. The more you empower members to generate their own social activities, the more members see that such a thing is allowed and encouraged. The result will be that more people will want to organize more things, which attracts more members to the community and relieves you of the event planning burden.

If you genuinely want to encourage a fantastic community, you have only three jobs:

  • Realize that booze doesn’t build community, it often does the opposite
  • Invite your members to participate, but respect their time and decision not to participate
  • Give your members the keys to the space, a few guidelines, and help them realize their visions.

If you do these things, I believe you'll be delighted by the community that forms.

Never miss a beat!
Want to see it in action?
Ryan Chatterton

Marketing Director, founder at Coworking Insights, coworking maven, digital nomad, lover of wine & tacos.

© 2024