As part of its ongoing webinar series, the Global Workspace Association (GWA) invited three coworking space owners—Kane Willmott of IQ Office Suites, Bill Jacobson of Workbar, and Scott Chambers of Pacific Workplaces—to share their coworking stories and expertise with members.
As always, this webinar was open to members, and the full recording is also available for members. If you haven’t yet joined GWA, you can join today for access to recordings of past webinars as well as invites to upcoming ones.
Each space owner had a slightly different story for how they arrived at the point they’re at in coworking. Willmott began his coworking journey as a broker, eventually moving into an 11,000 square foot historical building in downtown Toronto. With five locations today, Willmott said each space is different, and that his company makes a conscious effort to choose a building with some unique feature to it that they can then incorporate into the character of the space.
Jacobson started Workbar in 2010 as a side business. At the time, he had a software business, which he kept for two years before eventually selling it and running coworking spaces full time. Now at nine locations, Workbar spaces vary in size and are managed largely at a local level.
Scott Chambers began working with coworking spaces in the 1990s, and managed to stay afloat during both the .com boom and the .com bust. For him, networking opportunities through the GWA have led him to many valuable connections, including those with his partners, with whom he started Pacific Workspaces. He stressed the need to not cross-collateralize any locations in order to prevent a domino effect in the event of a recession—something he learned after navigating both the 2001 and the 2008 recession.
We asked our three panelists about the formulas they use to staff their spaces. Although each was different, they also presented much of their rationale behind their staffing decisions.
Wilmott said he began IQ Office Suites with the intent to expand and tried to develop a staffing model based on that. His eventual model, which he has replicated in other locations, includes a part-time Director of First Impressions, a Director of Operations, and a General Manager. He said he often hired out of the hospitality industry, and always tried to make sure there were two staff members on site at all times. He also commented that as they continue to grow, he is aware that much larger spaces may need more staff.
While he has found allowing staff to operate as almost franchise owners helpful, Willmott did comment that initially, having two locations within walking distance of each other with such a model led to competition. He stressed the importance of communication—and setting up platforms for communication, CRMs, and documentation—as you scale your space. He also said several positions, such as VP of Sales, Accounting Controller, and a marketing consultant are shared at a more corporate level.
Jacobson, on the other hand, developed and licensed a software program for coworking spaces, universities, and businesses that were starting innovation centers. This software creation led to a core development team, but he said most of his staff is local. His business has outsourced some traditional corporate positions—a valuable tool for coworking spaces as they begin to scale.
Jacobson also makes use of regional managers. Since clients often come in unsure of which space would be best for them, Jacobson uses the regional manager position to vet and assign the client to the appropriate community manager—making the salesperson more of a coach for the process, and preventing too much competition between locations.
Leadership and Communication
All three panelists had a number of tips and tricks regarding leadership. From using Slack to having regular team meetings via Zoom or a similar platform—whether that means daily or weekly—keep everyone up to speed and on the same page. Letting employees in on decision-making mindsets of corporate personnel and keeping them informed on company plans for the future not only helps employees make decisions that are better in line with corporate goals, but it also helps create buy-in surrounding potentially difficult changes to the space, such as fee increases for clients. When employees are informed about business data and understand why certain changes are being made, they are more likely to advocate for the business with clients. Similarly, Willmott mentioned that some meetings are less about strict agendas and more about community-building, offering employees a chance to get to know each other and build relationships.
Chambers, on the other hand, said their meetings run on agendas, action items, and transparency. He said setting action items and putting on due dates keeps everyone transparent and accountable, and helps increase the level of discipline across the company. They also incorporate live webinars about once a month and have an onsite annual meeting and teambuilding time each year on Columbus Day—an event that has featured activities ranging from scavenger hunts to wine tastings.
Learning and Growing
As the panelists each relayed their different stories about their journey through coworking, they all expressed the importance of developing a formula or process that works for you. Whether that means finding a sustainable staffing model that you can replicate in other spaces or learning what software platforms keep your team connected and your clients happy, growing and scaling a coworking business is a slightly different process for everyone. For each panelist, growth meant learning, evaluating, and tweaking practices to find the best methods for them.
When describing his learning and growth as a coworking space owner throughout the transition into the world of the internet, Chambers said, “There’s never been a more exciting time to be in this industry.”
The panelists also took a number of questions, which are set to be covered at a later date. Stay tuned!
Coworking Council Series
This webinar is part of an on-going series available to members of the Global Workspace Association. In addition to invitations to all webinars, which allows for participation in the Q&A sessions, members also have access to recordings of all previous webinars. To view the full version of this webinar, with all the examples, explanation, and Q&A, sign up to become a member. You can join the Global Workspace Association by going here.