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How to Design a Co-working Space Aimed at Collaboration and Creativity

For years, Austin has been known as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Willie Nelson statues adorn the streets, over 2,000 bands perform at...

For years, Austin has been known as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Willie Nelson statues adorn the streets, over 2,000 bands perform at the annual SXSW Music Festival, and local musicians serenade you while you’re in downward dog. While this motto absolutely represents the Texas capital, some of us are working to establish a second global identity: one that symbolizes entrepreneurship, purpose, and creativity.

Enter the new Austin: the "Social Innovation Capital of the World."

This self-dubbed designation was born from conversations at Center61: Austin’s first and only co-working space specifically designed for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Co-working is a cost-efficient, shared office space model that provides its members with access to traditional office amenities and connection to like-minded individuals. Located in East Austin’s budding "Social Profit Village," Center61 is the physical destination for changemakers at the intersection of social justice and entrepreneurship. We are home to Urban Roots, a youth development organization that uses sustainable agriculture to transform the lives of young people; Esperos, an apparel company that provides children in the developing world with access to education through the sale of premium bags; and East Side Compost Pedallers, a community-based composting program powered by bicycles.

For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as Center61’s Community Manager, a role that grants me the opportunity to connect with people that are actively making the world a better place. If you’re interested in establishing a co-working space that’s aimed at fostering collaboration and creativity, here are a few key ingredients that I’ve learned along the way...

Make It Beautiful & Functional

The visual elements in your space will greatly influence your members’ behavior and emotional state. Ask yourself, what do you want your community to think, feel, and do in your space? Vibrant colors like red and orange are great for generating ideas, while cooler colors like green and blue might evoke feelings of tranquility and steadiness. Try using a refreshing color on your walls, like mint green, coupled with a pop of color in your furniture, like bright red. Then sprinkle a few live plants in there to give it that earthy feel.

In addition to making the space beautiful, it’s also important to make it functional. At Center61, our members love workspace variety. You’ll rarely see one person sitting in the same spot for eight hours straight. To inspire creative minds, it’s important to offer your members diversity in spaces. For instance, lounge spaces with comfortable couches are great for reflection and casual conversations, enclosed conference rooms with whiteboards are perfect for collaborating and roundtable discussions, and standing desks allow your members to feel less sedentary and more active.

Put Community First

At Center61, we have a community-first mentality. This means that every decision we make, from changing business process to re-designing our website, goes through our members before we broadcast it to the world. For example, when we wanted to lower the cost of our packages as a means to increase membership, we held meetings where our members could openly air their thoughts and concerns before any decision was made. This degree of transparency will build trust, create an open dialogue, and allow your members to take ownership of the space. When you set up shop, be sure to treat your members as more than just occupants; think of them as partners. This type of relationship will foster a healthy workspace where all parties are equally committed to the space’s values and vision.

Amplify Your Members

Our members do great work and we want the world to know about it. Brainstorming creative ways to amplify your members’ causes is a fantastic way to connect to your community. In order to maximize our physical space, we created a clipboard wall where our members can hang photos, event posters, and news articles as a way to visually communicate who they are and what they do. Located in our entryway, the member wall is eye-catching, inspiring, and serves as a great talking point for new visitors.

The physical wall is just one member awareness initiative. Over the next six months, we’ll start to publicize the work of our members through our social media outlets; develop a “have/need” board where our members can request or suggest specific resources, such as a bookkeeper; and create a stronger internal communication system so our members are continually abreast of the work of their neighbors. We’re exploring social media platforms like Thunderclap where voices are amplified via simultaneous tweets, Facebook shout-outs, and blog posts about a specific cause or effort. HootSuite is another fantastic social media tool where you can manage and measure your social networks through an easy-to-use dashboard.

Create a Hub

Co-working is so appealing because it offers the one thing we all crave: human interaction. There’s that healthy buzz you get from having spontaneous conversations with new people over your third cup of coffee. To keep that buzz going and the energy high, open your space up to the greater community and make it a destination for more than just co-working.

Activities such as educational workshops, dinner parties, happy hours, and live music shows will encourage your members to meet new people and interact with the space differently. It’s also an easy, low-cost way to get potential new members in the door. To get the word out about past events, we’ve used Hourschool, a user-driven online platform that drives offline engagement; Eventbrite, the commonly used event registration site; and simply the power of our members’ respective networks. We also like to support local businesses by offering craft brew from Hops & Grain and coffee from Texas Coffee Traders.

Take a Risk and Do It Differently, It Won’t Kill Ya

It takes a lot of thought and patience to build a successful co-working space. After the first few months, you might find that your pricing structure is all wrong or the furniture is no longer functional. Sometimes the best way to learn from these mistakes is to not over-engineer the solution and to just do it differently. Co-working models are unique because they inherently attract individuals that are innovative and collaborative. It’s a culture built on interdependence and problem-solving filled with people that are just as committed to your success as you are to theirs. Consult with your community when you’re at a crossroads; they will appreciate your communicativeness and feel like they’re instrumental in the success of your community.

As you embark on your exciting journey of establishing a co-working space, use these five ingredients as a reference guide. It will help you define your purpose, remind you to connect with your community, and inspire you to do it differently. Slowly but surely, Center61 is helping to make Austin the "Social Innovation Capital of the World." Now it’s your turn: discover the essence of your city and how your co-working community will bring it to life.

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