Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give Them What They Want or Go Home


As an owner of a coworking space I’ve found it both entertaining and enlightening to talk with creative professionals around the world about how they work. My agenda was as simple as it was transparent; I wanted to know what people were after in a workspace away from home. Specifically what would make them ditch Starbucks or their living room and actually pay money to work somewhere when for all intensive purposes they could just work from either of the above places for free? Words were not minced, and the demand for this market has been crystal clear so far. People want the café culture with the privacy of an office. They want to step out of a private room they call an office and mingle with people, share the conference room, network, and so on. Equally important to them is the ability to slip back into that private office whenever they have a call to make, a chapter to write, or an urge to be alone.

There are many parallels I could draw of how coworkers are wanting both ying and yang out of a workspace, here is one that’s fresh on my mind this weekend.

Being in Orlando recently I couldn’t help but notice the gusty winds that only seem to blow this hard in Florida. In Columbia the winds are subtle, often making a meager attempt to push away stubborn bouts of humidity that aren’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon. On the contrary in Orlando the winds are filled with crisp streams of air that invite you to stand in them for awhile, and for lack of a better phrase, enjoy the breeze. So there I was last night in the pool-centered courtyard of my hotel dipping in the hot tub, moving towards the pool, then back to the hot tub every few minutes. What made each so refreshing was the existence of the other. The hot tub was nice because when I was too warm I could hop into the pool and cool off. Conversely, when the pool got icy I’d hop out and spend some more time in the hot tub. All the while the Florida breeze was there to remind me that life outside these water vessels wasn’t half bad either. Coworking, and the relative demand for offices is a lot like this trifecta of fun. You can fully enjoy one because the other isn’t far away. You can be chatty in the common area because just steps away is an office with a door on it, a door will help block out unwanted conversation when it’s time to get down to business.

Rather than push people into membership plans they don’t want, or in other words, be “right” about what was first anticipated as a good way to create a coworking space, I am determined to give people exactly what they’ve asked for.

As I see other coworkers and owners discussing the merits and perils of offering private offices in their spaces I can’t help but cringe a bit at their lack of ability to understand what’s in demand. People will tell you what they want, and a good business will listen intently and respond as close to instantly as possible. A bad business will try to force customers to do things they don’t want, which never works because, in the end, they’re paying you for what they are after. If they want hot and cold, public and private, or anything else, it is the duty of the business owner to give it to them. As these businesses continue to ignore this request from their clients I simply hope others won’t. Coworking is a great concept because it allows people to work more on their terms, but it can be stifling if the powers that be won’t let them have what they seek, as it was in the first place the point of this whole thing to begin with.

Postscript- What does this mean for Clark’s Office? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I’m thinking along the lines of an open coffee shop up front and private offices in the back. For the several locations that I’ve currently been in talks with owners about opening I believe this hybrid model will also fit, if space is an issue look for a office-friendly coffee shop model to emerge. Either way, we’ll do our best to meet the need of those that sign the checks.

No comments: