The One-Week Coworking Space
Widespread change is afoot that is giving underperforming neighborhoods back their own GDP. Take, for example, Cincinnati’s Westwood, where we are developing an investment plan for its emerging commercial center. We started our engagement two months ago, asking some simple questions in an empty storefront. One of the most common themes was that no place existed to go work from during the day and that the daytime population was not strong enough to support any type of retail scene except sparingly on nights and weekends.
This is where our Demand Discovery process kicked in. We asked ourselves, how could we test the viability of an active daytime use this month, instead of on paper in our final report? We found a willing partner to test a coworking concept in West Side Brewing. This is one of those places that could not justify opening the doors before 4 PM because of that same lack of daytime population. So, we tweaked the hours (8 AM); brought in coffee, donuts, etc; trained neighborhood volunteers how to work the till; and conducted on and off-line engagement to broadcast its availability to those just needing a space to work.
Twenty to fifty people came in each day, setting up a mini office on the long taproom tables, holding meetings, using the party space as a conference room, and grabbing food and even more coffee at a nearby cafe. At the end of the week-long pilot, the owner of West Side Brewing had seen enough to keep it going into subsequent weeks, each week continuing to tinker with the model to find what suits the demand best.
From our experiment, we learned the following:
1. Find the right space that is most ready to go
Great spaces are often hidden in plain sight, you just have to look. For coworking to be effective, the infrastructure needs to be in place or brought in. Tables, chairs, high-speed Internet, power, restrooms, decent lighting, and some light fare all are essentials. None are overwhelming to activate for the trial but it is much easier, as was the case in West Side Brewing, if they are already in place. And no boring buildings or spaces. It has to have some life to it.
2. Supportive programming is key to driving traffic
Coworking should offer something different than working at the kitchen table. Find times in the day where unique refreshments are brought in; have a short speaker series; or even sponsor a DJ on a Thursday afternoon. Whatever you choose, do not overwhelm the people who actually do need to work but provide little opt-in rituals that bring people together.
3. Don’t assume people know about what you are doing
Get the word out. Have a group of friends that you know have flexible work schedules? Target them. Know one or two people who work at home regularly? Get this on their radar. Are there neighborhood retailers that can help make the experience better? Partner with them. Create a Facebook event, target the audience you sense demands this product, and proactively invite them in.
4. Build something useful
Use the work space to build things that the neighborhood needs. The neighborhood wanted street furniture such as seating, a bike rack, and some signage. Using simple patterns from WikiBlocks, we worked with neighborhood residents to build each of those items in a day for use in the commercial district. More places to sit, bike racks, and directional signage all make sure that whatever success is had in the West Side Works CoWorking space, that it can grow into what surrounds it.