8 steps to building a successful coworking space

I spent a few days in Tulsa last week where I spoke with Aaron from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Taylor Potter from OU’s CCEW and Jessica Flint with the coworking space the Forge about how to build successful coworking spaces that become part of the fabric of the local business community as well as engines for creativity, growth and jobs.  Based on my experience working in and visiting a large number of coworking spaces in the United States and Europe, here are the elements I find important.

Cafe for everyone

republikken Cafe

Cafe, Republikken, Copenhagen

A cafe open to the public is the heart of a coworking space.  It provides the perfect introduction for members of the community who want to drop by and work and is a natural meeting space.  Also, it is an incubator for paying members of the coworking space, as people who start their business in the cafe graduate to paying for a desk as their business grows.

Coworking – desks in an open layout

betahaus coworking space

Coworking space, Betahaus, Berlin

When people think about coworking, I guess they think about rows of tables or cubicles with people working.  Members normally get a desk that they come back to everyday.  Members generally pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to their space plus other amenities, like lunch with their co-members or access to conference rooms.

Offices – closed spaces for bigger/growing companies

WeWork offices

WeWork offices, New York City

As a company grows from one person in a cafe to two or three people sharing a coworking space, the next step is a closed office.  WeWork does a great job of providing office space in all manners of shapes and sizes while still retaining the community feel of a coworking space.


3rd Ward wood shop

Wood Shop, 3rd Ward, New York City

Makers are the new rock stars and my favorite place to see them in action is the 3rd Ward in NYC, which sports a wood shop, metal shop and textile studio, to just name a few.  See all the rest on their site – https://www.3rdward.com/workspaces. Laser cutters are popular in many of the places I’ve seen too.   A lot of coworking is people on their computers and it is great to have a creative making component in the mix.  Places like Republikken even make most of their own furniture and decorations in house!

Cooking + lunch for members

I predict the next step in entrepreneurship and incubation is the kitchen incubator.  Hungry coworkers are a perfect test market!  3rd Ward is working on one and Hot Bread Kitchen has one in uptown NYC.  I’ve never been in one myself though, so if you have any experience with a kitchen or cooking incubator, let me know in the comments.  Besides feeding the locals, a food entrepreneur would find a kitchen incubator as a good first step to a food truck and then onto a restaurant.


Class at General Assembly, New York City

Class at General Assembly, New York City

This is the way that I experience most coworking spaces, through my digital marketing, lean startup and customer acquisition courses.  General Assembly is a great innovator here and provides classes on an endless variety of digitally-focused topics.  3rd Ward also has a plethora of classes related to making things in their different spaces.  I believe education is the foundation of success for all the companies working in these spaces.  Rather than outsourcing a project or bringing in a new team member, it may be more practical to simply learn a skill yourself.  I find that colleges and universities are not teaching all the skills that are necessary to thrive as a small business in the digital age, so people are turning to coworking spaces for their business-related learning needs.

Meeting spaces and conference rooms (can also be rented to outsiders)

When a small business takes a meeting with a partner or client, it’s great to have a space to use that be closed off to outside sounds.  Conference rooms are also a great way for a coworking space to generate extra revenue and build ties to the surrounding business community.

Embedding in the community

This step, while important, is also a little harder to clearly define.  To me, it means the coworking space needs to develop partnership with local businesses and government.  For example, that means hosting teams from local businesses for brainstorming sessions or skunkworks projects, to give them a “coworking” feel.  Or it could mean being active with local government efforts to promote jobs in the area.

A short soliloquy to coworking

I love having the ability to work with clever, motivated and creative people everyday at coworking spaces around the world.  I’m inspired by the passion and excitement that a good coworking space creates.  Above all, I love the community that is created by these types of folks working side-by-side.  Because coworking is where working together meets working alone.

working alone working together


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