A good structure and room layout is indispensable if you aim to help people being successful at their work. Will Bennis, founder of the Locus Workspace Prague really had a thought on how his coworking space can contribute the most to the workflow of it’s members.
REVUE co-publisher Jan Bathel had a talk with him to find out how he deals with the challenges of running a creative space.
Will, what was the purpose for the setup of your project?
The purpose of Locus Workspace was to create a social and physical environment to help freelancers and other location-independent workers do their best work. The group has unique challenges (relative to people working in traditional offices) that often go unrecognized, all related to working on your own rather than with others, and the space is meant to help overcome those challenges.
How do you translate the needs that the space aims to fulfil into social activities, environment design and digital space?
The social nature of the shared workspace itself goes along way toward achieving this goal. But we have a variety of activities and tools. On the virtual side, we have a members’ intranet that shows what everyone does, what they need help with or can help others with, and what their hobbies are. We have a Google group for members to ask questions, introduce themselves, or otherwise communicate with the community as a whole. And we have a Facebook group and a few meetup groups for building the community with non-member, location-independent workers in Prague. In the physical space, we have a variety of regular events to build the social/community aspect (coffee breaks, weekly lunches, movie nights, game night etc.) as well as work/productivity focused events such as a critique-free writers group, procrastination-busting group pomodoro (timed) work sessions, talks and workshops.
What activities do you use to stimulate relationships and collaborations?
We also have a collaborative meetup group with another coworking space to connect our members across spaces since we’re all in a similar situation. We’ll have our first speed-networking event later in the month, so we’ll see how that goes. But most of the real relationship building happens at our coffee breaks and lunches and just talking to one another in the space. Relationships tend to be more authentic and committed when the person you’re getting to know sits across from you every day.
Does Locus Workspace reach the same target group as you aimed at to reach when setting up the space?
I suppose not. Initially I expected the space to target the local Czech community as strongly as it did the international community. Since the language of the space is English, and expats are missing the community or local knowledge aspects more than Czechs, the space has tended to connect more to the international community living in Prague than to the native Czech community.
What advice would you give other people that are about to develop a creative space?
I think a few things are really essential for a successful creative space.
First, it should be active. This might mean that you need to build a community first or have a long-term early large discount on memberships so you can get the place active. An empty coworking space and an active coworking space have incomparable value for your potential members.
Open space is really valuable, but so are options to get away to a private room. Neither option by themselves is ideal. A lot of people who want to be part of a coworking community still want private offices. A lot of people who don’t want private offices when they join, want them later while not wanting to give up access to the wider community. A great coworking space should have private offices connected to the shared work areas. It’s a better source of income generally, but most importantly the two types of space complement one another and allow the community you build to stay connected longer.
There is nothing like good events - and good event space - to promote your workspace. It’s also a great way for added income ones you get up and running. Having the space for that and the time to devote to developing a good event schedule is essential.
What other spaces (have) inspire(d) you? What can we learn from other examples and why?
“The Office” in Santa Monica. It’s almost like a library. Silent. But everyone faces everyone else when they work and that knowledge that you’re with others while still working conveys a powerful energy of productivity. The Impact Hub in Prague is amazing for their events (they have really added value to the city for entrepreneurs and freelancers) and for their interior design (a breathtakingly beautiful space).
How do you stimulate people from different disciplines to get out of their natural habitat and set up new collaborations?
We mostly let people do it themselves through our events, but we also introduce people who may have complementary needs. We don’t try to force collaboration. It happens naturally and a lot of people who want the social proximity with others really aren’t looking to collaborate and don’t want to be pushed into creative collaboration that they’re not seeking. There’s huge social and professional value in working in a shared workspace that doesn’t really have to do with collaboration. A lot of this also comes from our meetings/talks/workshops, where people with common interests come together, get excited by ideas in the workshop, and then network/talk/go out for a beer, and build relationships through their common interests.
I think the media has tended to over-emphasize the “collaboration/synergy” value of coworking, and undervalue the simple value of social proximity and human-to-human sharing of knowledge/expertise. I don’t think much of what happens is the magical kind of creative insight that might come from close work among a team working on the same project or collaborators working together for years, since most of the people are not in fact working together on the same project, and those that are could get that synergy just as well in their garage office.
How does the design of the physical space contribute to the principles and goals of Locus Workspace
It’s very important, but there are many ways to skin a cat and there are kinds of cats to be skinned. :) In my view the best thing is a diversity of options (including wide choice across creative spaces). I think the most important thing is the community of members, and as much as I hate to admit it, luck plays a big factor in that.
How do you translate the goals of Locus Workspace into a digital environment?
Our goal really is NOT to translate it into a digital environment, but rather to use digital environments to help facilitate physical, non-digital connectedness. So we use digital platforms to promote community for real-world meetings much more than the other way around. There are already plenty of very well-developed tools for digital connectedness (Facebook, LinkedIn; email lists and forums, and a million things in between). We’re not seeking to compete with or add a new dimension to that over-crowded and well-developed market, and for the most part everyone in our workspace could get those needs better served by using those existing tools as they need them. We use these tools ourselves to help community members connect with one another as needed/desired.
What is the one-sentence core message of the Locus Workspace, which reflects its values?
Working together makes work better.
Will, we are impressed! Thank you for this opportunity for new insights. All the best for the future of Locus Workspace!
Check out Locus Workspace online – or come by their beautiful spaces in Prague.
Shared Office 1
110 00 Praha 1
Shared Office 3
130 00 Praha 3