It’s difficult enough to bring coworkers together when they work for the same company in the same office. So how can coworking space operators bring the people in their buildings together when those people may not have anything in common except an address?
At FlexOffice 2018, hosted by NAIOP and the Global Workspace Association, a panel of three experts discussed the ways their companies are working to unite tenants in coworking properties.
Kyle Coolbroth is founder and CEO of Fueled Collective. He said his company delivers coworking spaces that include social spaces where workers can gather to drink coffee or cocktails, or just to chat. “We are building a place where you can professionally socialize,” he said.
Gabrielle McMillan, CEO of Equiem, said her company helps landlords unlock the value in their building community by connecting tenants to each other. She noted there’s an opportunity for smaller operators, since many tenant companies are fragmented and no longer want long leases.
Dhruv Singh is CEO of Savory. His company is aiming to bring tenants together through providing excellent food. It operates a 10,000-square-foot kitchen in Manhattan to provide gourmet fare.
Coolbroth said his company is noticing that the distinction between “life and work” is blurring. Whether or not that’s a healthy trend, it means property providers need to find ways to meet customers in a human way, to help them both work and live. Singh, for example, said his company will create a top executive to manage “customer experience” and redefine how it handles customers.
The goal, all agree, is to provide hospitality.
“The expectations of the customer are changing, and that’s forcing the real estate industry to do a 180,” McMillan said. To win repeat customers, operators need to think about first impressions, and then what makes the building a great place, she said. Singh added that building operators must “be thoughtful, and always deliver.” Hospitality doesn’t need to cost a lot, he said. It can be as simple as providing bottled water. But it requires being plugged in to what a customer wants.
And what tenants want is changing as the next generations rise. Millennials and Generation Z both have different desires than older generations do, Coolbroth said.
“It’s not enough to provide space. You need to provide more than that,” McMillan said. That means smaller property providers should focus on what they do well. For example, some promote themselves as environmentally-friendly or pet-friendly environments for tenants. Other operators offer tech platforms that dispense health advice to connect themselves to tenants.
Coolbreath said that if properly managed, buildings can move from being “commodities” for tenants to “experiences” for customers. That would transform the work experience for those in the building.
However, providers need to make certain they don’t take the desire to provide an experience too far. Economics should be the guide here, the panelists agreed. Don’t do it if it costs too much or doesn’t help enough. Instead of trying to provide every imaginable amenity, “Start with your customers and find out what’s important to them,” McMillian advised. “Look at what’s successful and what’s not, and focus on what’s really working.”
The world is changing, but not completely. For example, all the panelists agree that that common courtesy, such as a kind front desk greeting, goes a long way – and that doesn’t cost anything at all.
Rich Tucker is Director of Public Policy Communications at NAIOP, where he develops and executes communication strategies to raise the visibility of NAIOP’s advocacy work on behalf of the industry