Workplace collisions are happening all around, and most people would love to chalk them up to serendipity.
After all, it’s easy to think that meeting the talented person who fills the work space niche nearby is just a happy accident. Few suspect there’s a space manager working behind the scenes to ensure that the owners of fledgling startups crash into software designers, coders, graphic designers, packaging engineers and lawyers at just the right time.
What's the secret behind creating helpful and profitable serendipitous collisions? My company, turnstone, a furniture manufacturer, has spent years working with and observing incubators and co-working spaces. Here are seven best practices that are relevant across industries:
Gone are the days of walking into an incubator or co-working space and anonymously pulling up a chair. Managers are organizing days to teach new member classes the ins and outs of their facility and its office culture. Passwords and keys are handed out right after discussing rules for tapping the in-house keg.
Most important are the introductions made: They are regular and intentional. Büro Miami does this masterfully, laying the foundation for future collisions in its co-working space. Small business owners can mirror this kind of welcome by hosting a new-hire orientation with a team lunch or happy hour after work.
Next Space, San Francisco, uses blackboard paint to create a celebration wall in the entrance of its co-working facility. Members hang a square photo of themselves along with their name, Twitter handle and an “about me” sentence and then go crazy with chalk art. Intentional spaces such as this tell visitors, “These are our people. This is our community.”
Green Spaces in Denver is a co-working space especially for companies with a green-living focus. Some of its clients and sponsors include ZipCar, Clean Energy Collective and the Open Source Beehive. Green Spaces founder Jennie Nevin says the five-year-old space has hosted events that feature green initiatives in the community and bring together environmental leaders from all over Colorado. This shows that regardless of a co-working-space company's size or industry focus, it doesn’t take a lot of cash or a tremendous amount of planning to host meaningful events that create a sense of belonging.
Another technique for creating serendipitous collisions is bringing in big-name speakers guaranteed to draw a crowd. Grind in New York is bringing in Susan Salgado of Union Square Hospitality Group to speak at an event only for members to speak about hospitality. Not only is this a smart recruiting technique, it offers additional opportunities for entrepreneurs to gather and network on relevant topics.
Businesses can leverage this idea by hosting lunch-and-learn opportunities with key thinkers in their organizations, opening the door to cross-pollination and new relationships.
This is especially appropriate for co-working spaces with open-floor plans and benching, such as Indy Hall in Philadelphia. Members are taught during orientations that upon arriving in the morning and sitting down, real work shouldn’t begin until after introductions to the person adjacent. Period.
The goal is not the chatter of a coffee shop but rather an effort to build community and move toward organic collisions. While people in small-business settings don’t need to make daily introductions, honest conversations foster authenticity and acceptance: two keys to great office culture.
Whether this is prescribed as part of the guidelines of the office culture or facilitated via a new floor plan, sitting next to a different face sparks serendipity. Austin’s Link, a co-working space and a turnstone client, does a terrific job of forcing entrepreneurs to sit somewhere new by rearranging furniture for special events and then putting it back differently each time. Similar to muscle confusion at the gym, this keeps a community on its toes -- and happily out of its element.
Capital Factory in Austin, which is a co-working space, incubator and accelarator, has more than 600 members, which can prove daunting for even the most social.
That’s why smart managers make purposeful introductions, especially for introverts. These managers know that entrepreneurs might well be sitting next to someone holding the solutions to their problems. Being intentional makes their startups successful and positions managers as benevolent parents watching over their honor-role children.
Whether the workplace is an incubator, a co-working facility, an office of 100 people or a startup meeting in a garage, these best practices reinforce the fact that great relationships are the foundation to great business. With intentional programming and a little effort, it's possible to create the kind of culture that makes top talent sign on the dotted line -- and stay.
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to correct the description of two co-working spaces. Informal networking events at Green Spaces in Denver have an environmental focus. Open Source Beehive is a client renting space there. In New York, the speaker at Grind from Union Hospitality Group will be Susan Salgado.
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