Unblogging an Unconference - my CUBB2018 Afterthoughts | Cowork7/24
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Unblogging an Unconference – my CUBB2018 Afterthoughts

November 16, 2018
We've had 3 great days in Bansko, unconferencing.

If a conference can be “un”, why not the blog too?

(this is about “does coworking need an alliance?, how to promote your coworking space?, collaboration among coworking spaces, and community building vs community burning. Interested in? Keep reading)

 

I must admit I used to have a bias against Unconference sessions.

It was not that I did not like (to the contrary I find the format quite cool) them, but my bias was driven by the fact that they are always hit or miss, super beneficial or just waste of time, relevant or off-topic, fun or boring. They could go in any direction.

I think I was not sure I was willing to travel several hours to attend such unpredictable sessions.

But now after around 10 unconference events in 2 years (which makes 50+ unconference sessions roughly), I genuinely believe they can be extremely powerful tools to achieve what you want to achieve on a certain topic, be it to collect feedback, or brainstorm a wicked problem, or learn from others, or whatever you name it. It is in your hands to turn a miss to a hit, boring to fun, off-topic to relevant.

It’s about getting as much as you want to give.

And #CUBB2018 was no exception.

 

Unblogging!

Here’s a brief collection of my take-aways from the 5 unconference sessions I’ve been a part of. You’ll read them under 4 sections, because the last session’s topic converged unexpectedly to the very same topic of the previous session. Yeah, this happens quite often, either because the original topic was not interesting enough, or the participants’ passion reroutes the discussions. In this case, it was both.

Also, just note that this is not a typical blog post, but rather my brief notes shared publicly. I think I may easily write a separate blog to elaborate on each of the bullet points further with my own experience and examples, and I guess I will do it some time.

Until then, please feel free to contact me to discuss and/or clarify any topic.

 

How do you promote your space? (session#1)

  1. Facebook ads are not working well for coworking spaces, but Adwords do. The difference being that people are on facebook in “reactive” mode vs being “proactive” on Google, where they are “searching” for something.
  2. Instagram presence is important. People use Instagram to check-out the spaces, so make sure you are discoverable on Instagram via relevant hashtags (e.g. #coworkingbulgaria, #coworkingsofia, etc)
  3. Have your events have a purpose. Because people join events for a purpose:
    1. Inspire (i.e. they want to be inspired by someone who’s already been where they want to be/go)
    2. Grow (their capabilities) (i.e. they want to learn new stuff. Be it a soft skill, a technical skill, or “how to become an e-resident in Estonia”)
    3. Network (i.e. Location-independents, remote-workers, digital nomads are lonely. They are continually seeking to grow their social and professional network)
    4. Next Job (i.e. finding next-job opportunities)
  4. In the ideal case, “Own one thing, and then design everything else — events, articles, stories, — around it”. For instance, be known as “where the best networking happens”-coworking space in town. You have to work hard against delivering this promise, like hand-picking and inviting the right people into the events. But once you’re known for it, that becomes your brand identity.
  5. In the events, It’s fine to talk about your space. But talk about what your space means to people. For instance talk about having “quiet corners” where people can work without distraction, or “team-work tables” and not just “we have 17 flex-desk, 19 fixed desks, 4 meeting rooms”  
  6. Collaborate inside (the city), compete outside (of the city). I.e. work with other coworking spaces (in your city) to promote the city to attract the digital nomads (or other long/short term location-independents).

 

Coworking Unconference Balkans, Bansko

We’ve had 3 great days in Bansko, unconferencing.

 

Community Building vs Community Burning (session#2)

We all love to socialize, but what if you are crossing that fine line between “building the community” and pissing them off with your “come on guys, it’s monday morning breakfast, you all must come” enthusiasm?

Indeed, this is a fine line that should not be violated. People are at your coworking space to “work” and that is #1 priority for most (if not all) — and everything else, like community gatherings, events, tea-and-talks, happy hours are just “nice to have”. They absolutely want it, but they want it only to the extent that will not distract them from their core purpose: work (and make money).

  1. You are doing the community building for your members, not for your own pleasure. So continually ask what they want, and get feedback after each community building whether it served its purpose or not.
  2. It doesn’t always have to be at the coworking space. Get the people out. Organize dinners, reserve a table at a bar.
  3. Surprises are great (e.g. surprise happy-hour bell ringing), but respect those who want some predictability that they can plan around. Don’t make them stop work.
  4. Ensure you have reserved zones in the coworking space where those want to work can continue working without distraction even during the biggest event of all times. The event will end in few hours, but your members will stay. Don’t piss them off.
  5. Make sure everyone is included, and hold events that will embrace even the members with diverse practices, habits and beliefs.  There will be shy people, there will be outgoing people, there will be vegans, there will be carnivores. There will be drinkers, there will be non-drinkers. Everyone must feel included.
Coworking Unconference Balkans, Bansko

Serkan presenting the Cowork7/24 app

 

Collaboration with other coworking spaces (session#3)

This is a topic that comes up very often, but hasn’t really worked well.

  1. What coworking spaces usually understand it as
    1. Hey Matthias, you have all the digital nomads, can you send them to us?
      1. — No, people decide for themselves
    2. Can you give free-passes to my members when they are in your town, and I will do the same when they are in my town
      1. — No, the pricing for every coworking space is different, and I don’t want to give free seats to your members.
      2. Even giving discounts is not working well (neither for people, nor for coworking spaces)
      3. There is zero people coming from those free trial programs (for Coworking Bansko).
  2. What it should actually be:
    1. The “collaboration” must have a clear purpose for both parties
    2. The “what is in it for me?” must be defined well between for all. At the end of the day, running a coworking space is a business and must make money. What matters is the financials. “What am I financially getting out of this collaboration?” must have a valid answer for both parties.  
    3. Any “member exchange” must be proportionately beneficial to both parties.
CUBB2018

We need an alliance

 

We need an alliance (Session#4 and #5)

There is huge demand and need for “coming together” and “joining forces”. This is absolutely clear.

  1. But past alliances did not work well. It must go beyond “free pass” and “exchange of members”
    1. The debate is around the “HOW”:
      1. Should this be an alliance, or a federation, or a community of practice?
      2. Should this be for-profit or non-profit organization?
      3. Should this be governed by a 3rd party, or by the members themselves?
  2. Such an “alliance” (or whatever form it is) should also have a clear purpose. The no-brainer objectives would be:
    1. Create scale for purchasing
    2. Create scale to deal with booking sites (including Booking/Airbnb)
    3. Grow the total “size of the prize” by converting people from home/cafes to coworking spaces

Despite the very high passion, there was naturally and understandably, diverse opinions, hence no consensus on how this should go.

In my opinion, there will absolutely be many more attempts to form this (or “these”) in the very near future. And among those attempts, the ones that have a clear proposal and a clear win-win-win value-proposition (for coworking spaces and coworkers) will make it happen.

 

What is next?

Net net, CUBB2018 was another proof that the unconference sessions may indeed be your best friend to get clarity on those topics that are keeping your mind busy. You just need to be deliberate with what you want to get out of them, be very prepared for the questions in your mind, and you should be “at cause” vs “at effect”. Then you’ll love the unconference sessions. 

I love the unconference sessions.

 

Ok, What is next? Really!

We are all back to our “business as usual” after 3 great days in Bansko. That’s pretty much how life goes.

From time to time, we’ll come back to our notes, scroll through the pictures, remind us of our learnings and see how we can apply them to make our coworking life better. Maybe, few of us will attempt to bring the alliance to life. Maybe. 

As days go by, we’ll just lose touch with the people we met in Bansko… till we meet again. 

But one thing won’t happen. We will not forget that it was us, every single one of us, who made this Unconference happen. The joy and pride of being a thinker, a doer, a contributor of this great event will never go away.  

I love the unconferences.

 

Coworking Unconference Balkans, Bansko

We’ve had 3 great days in Bansko, unconferencing (and drinking, and eating)

 

Coworking Bansko, quiet zone

Zeynep and Matthias posing infront of Coworking Bansko, quiet zone

 

 

Coworking Unconference Balkans, Bansko

Community is everything, but is it sufficient?

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