Hi guys and gals! Another episode for the Coworking Values Podcast with another interesting topic. We have today one of our coworking fellows from Texas, Daryn DeZengotita of Table Coworking whose superpower is Hospitality. She is a Marketing, hospitality and operations consultant for coworking and shared workspaces.
She will be sharing all about hospitality and how that is a big part of being in a coworking industry. And she tells us how churches can become a part of the coworking industry with mutual want of reaching out and connecting with members.
How did Coworking Spaces and Churches have come together in this current crisis?
I kind of would go back to the experience that you just had of debt. That church is thankfully opening their space for children.
We are, we are having a crisis in here in the US, of going back to school and having zero leadership from, from public officials. And now we are up against it.
We actually started this conversation back in May, but it seems like in the past two weeks, really, parents have kind of come to terms with we don’t really know what we’re gonna do.
And so the fact that churches are opening their space to what we’re terming micro-schools is just extraordinary. And so if a church is telling you, “oh, we can’t work with you right now, because we’re doing this micro-school”.
One response might be “Oh, can we help you out with that?” You know, how can we be a part of that? Because I am hearing from coworking spaces, particularly independent spaces all over the world that yes, their coworkers are ready to come back. But as parents, they can’t, because they’ve got to be home literally homeschooling or supervising or they’re still in lockdown.
And so parents are coming together on a grassroots community organising level to say, you know, we’ve got to figure this out for ourselves, because our public officials are just not going to do it. And so but where and so coworking spaces who might be able to open their conference room?
Well, we know that’s going to take a big chunk of your revenue if you lose your conference room space, or it just for many, many reasons is not going to work. But let me tell you what churches have been well-positioned and ready and waiting to welcome any and all children.
Every Sunday morning, they’ve got the insurance, they have the staff, they have the toys, they have the little tiny parties, they’ve got the space.
And so being able to say, Hey, this is a win-win for our coworking spaces whose parents desperately need a safe place for their children, and for the churches who desperately want to connect with their business community, with the people who live in their literal neighbourhood.
Bernie J Mitchell 0:02
Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast, which is the podcast of the European Coworking Assembly. We’re reaching out all over Europe for stories around independent coworking spaces. People running it, how they’re living in the post COVID or during COVID world. And we’re seeing a big shift to people commuting less and spending more time in their local area. So the last episodes have been with David Brown from the Good Space which is in London, about the 15 Minutes City, and also Steph who talked about Impact Brixton and how they’re connecting the local community, which is something they’ve been doing for a very, very long time. And before I get into this week’s episode, which I’m very excited about. We’re going to have a quick break to say hello to Cobot, our sponsor.
This week’s guest is Daryn DeZengotita. So Daryn, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for?
Daryn DeZengotita 1:14
Good morning from Texas, Bernie. It’s about 7:15 this morning. So, throwing such a deep philosophical question at me, I might need a minute. What am I known for? I am known for having hospitality as a superpower. I think in the Coworking world that is the thing I’m known for doing fairly well. I think I would like to be known for promoting and embodying in the spaces that I helped to create, the values of coworking, the name of your of your podcast, number one being accelerating serendipity. That is something that’s very important to me, and we know that it doesn’t happen by accident, and then dismantling loneliness. Taking care of each other and taking care of the space. And then finally, the one that I’d like to be known for is something that we add to it called creating spaces of joyful belonging. That’s something that I feel like I’m able to be a part of in the spaces that I helped create.
Bernie J Mitchell 2:20
That’s beautiful. So, I’m creating from here, but we met a few years ago in the amazing Kat Johnson’s, what is now her co-work content lab. And that was our first concept, wasn’t it? And I was immediately enchanted with this idea of coworking spaces in churches, which is where your main business is. And I grew up in a Roman Catholic environment, and both my parents were very active in church. And nowadays I’m way more spiritual than religious. But still in my hometown, that church is still the centre of that part of the community. So always occurred as a very community led space to me rather than, fire and brimstone, which is some people’s experience. So when you said, this is what we do, we set up coworking spaces and churches, I could immediately see how that would happen. And, especially through COVID, as which we will get to in a minute. I feel there’s an opportunity for churches and places of religion to become an even stronger part of the community, for people who, you know, whether they practice faith or not, it’s a great connection point. And how are you seeing that happen? Or is that just another Bernie utopian wishful thinking thing?
Daryn DeZengotita 3:51
Not at all. But it didn’t start with COVID. I think the pandemic has definitely brought us together in some ways. As people and in neighbourhoods and things like that, but it really started long before that, because Bernie, you are typical of our age range. I’m older than you, but our age range who, perhaps were raised in the church, perhaps have found their own spiritual path later on. The shorthand for it is SBNRs, which is spiritual, but not religious. But the reality is that the churches that you remember from your youth, for whatever good memories you have of it, they also have good memories of you. And they continue to want to connect with you and want to connect with their literal neighbours. And honestly, Bernie, they have been struggling for decades to figure that out. It’s just been a tremendous struggle for the churches that were so successful in the 70s in the 80s, to now see the decline in congregations. And the folks that are still there in churches are the ones who they know they need to change. They really want to change as long as they don’t have to change. So, finding ways that are welcoming to all that practice what I call, and many call: radical hospitality, which means that all are welcome and really welcome not just tolerated, but really welcome.
You know, the one thing I say is that, that doesn’t happen over coffee and a doughnut for 10 minutes after worship service on Sunday morning. You cannot create authentic relationships in that short amount of time. And what we are able to do in the coworking movement where we have depth of authentic relationships because we are up in each other’s faces all day, every day, Monday through Friday, nine to five, churches would love to have that opportunity. They just long, that’s the best word to use for it. They have a longing for that kind of real connection that we do. I wouldn’t say effortlessly, but that we do intentionally and authentically in the coworking movement. So it just makes a lot of sense to me that when I first went into my first coworking space, which was called the Grove in downtown Dallas, in 2013, and Justin and Ken and some other unicorns had created this wonderful space, and I was working for a faith based non-profit at the time.
This is what we did. We went in and did unusual expressions of church in the churches that we worked with specifically houses where typically young people would live together and would serve in nearby church and that kind of thing. But then when I went into the coworking space, I would often say, I don’t live in intentional community, but I work in intentional community. And then that following summer, I was on the Island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. And I had my epiphany that oh, this is what we need to be doing. This is one of the things that we need to be doing in these big old churches. So that September, the September 14, came back and we had begun working with a legacy Methodist Church in suburban Dallas, that had a 14,000 square foot basement, where they were trying to figure out what to do with it. It was dark and dirty, full of debris and full of everybody’s grandmother’s old treasures, and we began to dream together of what could happen there. And the first thing that we did was reach out to the actual neighbours, not the folks who used to live there. And because of the way we do things in the US, in the South in particular, had experienced white flight, which meant that the white folks had all moved out to the suburbs, leaving behind the delicious Jambalaya of diversity that we actually have, but that the church congregation was no longer in contact with. And this particular neighbourhood was still largely white because it was fairly expensive real estate, to be honest, but these were funky little bungalows, it was just this funky area full of very liberal attitudes and artists and chickens and community gardens and in all these crazy things. And so we began to invite some of those folks in and I’ll never forget the day that this one lovely lady named Betsy Dome came in and she said, ‘Yeah, you know, we just really need a place in this neighbourhood where people can get together and really get to know each other and support one another and whatever they’re doing’, and I’m thinking to myself, yeah, you don’t really like the church for that. Yeah.
So that was the start of what became The Mix Coworking at White Rock, United Methodist Church, and we were able to leverage so many of the wonderful assets of the physical building. So, the 14,000 square feet was just the start. There was also a fully equipped industrial kitchen that we eventually got commercial certification on and we’re able to rent out to caterers and food trucks and people making products that they wanted to sell at retail, and then it had a working stage. Along came a children’s theatre, we turned one of the Sunday school classes into a dance studio and on and on. But the spaces are so large that, the mind kind of reels with the kinds of things that co working spaces can only dream of. I mean, sure, we’d love to have aerial yoga, okay. With a partner with a church that’s got plenty of room for aerial yoga, that sort of thing.
Bernie J Mitchell 10:34
I could do that. I have my next question ready, but then now I’m thinking of every church I’ve been to with a kind of aerial yoga. So, I’m trying to think which place to go to next. How can we engage with a church and make use of it, and what’s useful for a church, and what’s useful for us. But about that real estate bit, the people who run churches just hang on to it because they’re mean, I don’t think so. Or is it that they just don’t know what to do with it? Because I actually went to a church, but my son’s school is part of a church next door to my son’s school. And I said to Father Paul, basically, can I run a coworking space in the church hall? And he said, usually you could, but now you can’t because we need the church hall for social distancing for when the kids come back in September, but I was ready with loads of arguments and he was like, I’d like to try that. How would I approach it because another point you were saying before we came on is that a lot of coworking spaces have lost their home and a church hall or building could be somewhere they could go. So can you riff on that a little bit?
Daryn DeZengotita 12:03
Sure. And I would go back to the experience that you just had of depth. That church is thankfully opening their space for children. We are having a crisis in the US of going back to school and having zero leadership from public officials. And now we are up against it. We actually started this conversation back in May, but it seems like in the past two weeks, really, parents have kind of come to terms with “we don’t really know what we’re going to do”. And so, the fact that churches are opening their space to what we’re terming micro-schools is just extraordinary. And so if a church is telling you; ‘we can’t work with you right now, because we’re doing this micro-school’. One response might be; oh can we help you out with that? How can we be a part of that? Because I am hearing from coworking spaces, particularly independent spaces all over the world that, yes, their co-workers are ready to come back. But as parents, they can’t, because they’ve got to be home literally home-schooling or supervising or they’re still in lockdown. And so parents are coming together on a grassroots community organising level to say: we’ve got to figure this out for ourselves, because our public officials are just not going to do it. And so… but where? And so coworking spaces who might be able to open their conference room – well, we know that’s going to take a big chunk of your revenue if you lose your conference room space, or it just for many, many reasons is not going to work.
But let me tell you what churches have been well positioned and ready and waiting to welcome any and all children every Sunday morning, they’ve got the insurance, they have the staff, they have the toys, they have the little tiny potties, they’ve got the space. And so being able to say: ‘hey, this is a win’ for our coworking spaces whose parents desperately need a safe place for their children, and for the churches who desperately want to connect with their business community, with the people who live in their literal neighbourhood. I mean, it just makes so much sense that we could come out of this pandemic, with new relationships, barriers torn down. I mean, this is the senior pastor at the church I’m working with now, he said, you know, don’t let a crisis go to waste, use this opportunity to really think about things in new ways and new opportunities. So to me, it just makes so much sense. I don’t have a playbook for how this works right now. We’ve formed, like I said, we started this conversation back in May. And now we are having a call every Friday for those that are doing with doing it. And we’re talking with people all over the country. Because it’s completely grassroots, it’s completely contextual. It is location driven. So, but that’s also the beauty of it. It’s going to be right. For every context, every expression of this that happens. And isn’t that an amazing place to start for partnerships with the Coworking movement? I’ll say that.
Bernie J Mitchell 15:39
That reminds me as you were talking there, because sometimes business people say never let a good crisis go to waste. You just have the image of some crazy tycoon crushing the lives of thousands of people while he cashes in a build to tower block somewhere. But, with like Scott from Meetup started Meetup on the back of 911. Because he saw people like the riff… I don’t know if they still use it. But the tagline used to be used the internet to get off the internet because in 2001 and 2002, he saw lots of people in New York suddenly talking to each other. And I think, he said, like cooking lasagne for their neighbours, because everyone was like, torn apart about what happened in 911. And Meetup was that mechanism with the app if you like, to get people together. And you know, I love Meetup, I’ve been on it since 2008. Some of my best friends I have met through Meetup. And that connection point is something I really hope comes out of what was going on now. But what were you about to say?
Daryn DeZengotita 16:50
Well, I’ll quickly speak to Scott Heffernan with Meetup. He and I are both part of a cohort at the space at Harvard Divinity School that was formed by two researchers there, Casper Kyle and Angie, who has a new last name because she got married… And that’s not coming to me right now… But they invited what they termed innovative community leaders from all over the United States, because they were researching exactly the phenomenon that they had identified of the decline in church membership, and the accompanying rise in what people were doing instead. Because folks still wanted expressions of community, still wanted to come together around common interests, common values, common, whatever. And so what were people doing instead? So they were looking at things like coworking, like Meetup, like CrossFit, like, you know, just any number of travel groups and across all religions, Across all, wisdom traditions, and so that that has been an ongoing effort, they now have formed something there. Their original white paper can be found at howwegather.org. And they have now morphed into an organisation called Sacred Design Lab. And Caspar actually has a new book out called The Power of Ritual. So, yeah, he’s actually going to be a guest speaker with us in September for Juicy. So everybody be on the lookout for that coming up soon. So just that connection there.
And going back to what we were talking about with the childcare issue, you know, one of the first things that comes up is liability. The concerns about liability and having children in your space and that sort of thing. And I got one of the conference level folks in the state of New Mexico that also includes West Texas, Southern Utah to say, you know, is this doable? Don’t the churches already have the liability insurance that would be required to have kids in the in the space on a weekly basis? And he said, absolutely. So we’re going to be putting out some statements like that. But going back to the other issue of small coworking spaces, losing their real estate because of the pandemic, I would love to see, and I feel like churches would love to throw open their doors to foster some of those coworking communities because even here in the states where we need to continue to stay at home. Some folks just can’t, for whatever reason, whether it’s broadband issues or whether they essential. They do essential work that they need to meet with outside clients. I mean, there’s been any number of reasons that they need to find a place to safely work outside of their homes. So work from home doesn’t work for everybody. And as we continue to move forward into this being an ongoing thing, we all know that corporations are going to look to De-densify. Their spaces, while not necessarily taking on additional commercial real estate space, because that’s just the reality of our economic situation. So again, these churches that have 60,000 square feet, hundred thousand square feet, they’ve got small classrooms that become really wonderful, private offices, they’ve got rooms that can become conference rooms where you can safely physically distance from one another. You can wear your masks as we’ve talking about, you can get outside there’s even outdoor spaces where you can work. Here in Texas, its 100 degrees, every so it’s a little more difficult. But there are just large open air spaces where we can inhabit in the ways that we need to right now.
Bernie J Mitchell 21:11
I’m dying to ask a question which I know you know the answer to about the relationship between churches and Starbuck cafes in the United States.
Daryn DeZengotita 21:21
Well, you know, it’s funny, churches have lost relevance as the hearts of their community. We tend to not really even notice them, we pass them every day, but we have no connection to them. They have no relevance to our lives. Whereas at one time, they were the heart of your weekly social schedule. You know, you went on Wednesday nights. You went on Saturday, Sunday morning, Sunday nights, your friends were there. It’s where you met folks that you chose to date and eventually marry. I mean, it was it was the social hub of our cities and our towns and, not for nothing did they have a big steeple on top of the church. I mean, you could see it from every point of the city. And that was designed to be a beacon and a gathering point for our cities. Now, what we notice and we seem to talk about, oh, they’re just everywhere, are Starbucks. So they’re in our grocery stores. They’re on our corners there. You can go into New York, and they’re directly across the street from one another that just always like, wow, there’s one right there. And yet, there’s another one.
And the reality is that we continue to see that there are about 12 operating churches for every Starbucks in the United States. And that’s because the churches founded the towns and they’re still there, and they’re not going anywhere. And they’re beautiful. They’ve got beautiful stained glass, open spaces, gorgeous carved wood, and for the most part they’re operating and somebody will let you in pretty much anytime day or night. Now what you’re going to find once you get in there, that’s part of my work. Is it welcoming? Is it hospitable? Or that the church has been in decline and they’re barely hanging on and they’re struggling financially, you know, has that created an atmosphere that’s not welcoming to all? You know, do they have an attitude that their first response to anything innovative you might want to do is definitely no, we can’t afford it. We don’t have the people what would we do? You know, and so that’s where our coworking attitude of improvisation and innovation and imagination can really be brought to bear to create new life to really animate these gorgeous old spaces. That’s the part of my work that I so love to do. And then I have partners who are, well respected theologians who have written white papers out the wazoo about how this is an expression of church that is consistent with the mission of their church. And, it’s as simple as love one another. You know, I mean, that’s, that’s number one in the big book. And that’s something that we have learned how to do and express and live into so beautifully in the coworking movement. So, it just, that’s how we create places of joyful belonging.
Bernie J Mitchell 24:37
Beautiful, can I just as we hurtle towards the end, and can you say a little bit about the sustainability of the environment or how we will travel less? And then also like the financial sustainability of how it connects with using a church as a coworking space. And building that community and all that.
Daryn DeZengotita 25:02
Sure, absolutely. I think the pandemic has really reminded us all that, hopping in a car to drive X number of miles to our coworking space, obviously, because we love the people and they’ve got great coffee and maybe I’m speaking for myself, let’s say I’m speaking for myself. I would much prefer to live into what you’ve described as, and many have described as the 15 Minute City, where it’s right there in our neighbourhoods and what is in our neighbourhoods, churches, they’ve always been here and they’re still here. And so being able to walk to one’s coworking space, or just have a short hop drive to it just makes so much sense right now. Furthermore, like I said, these buildings are there. They are many square foot feet, they are heated, they are cooled they are well lit and basically go completely underutilised, if not unused Monday through Friday during business hours, which is when we need a space.
It’s funny, I often tell the story of our first base the Mix, there was a concern about the utility usage and how the bills would go up, which of course, going to financial sustainability. Well, we’ll be bringing in revenue that should cover that. But they had a type of billing called ‘demand billing’, which meant that when you had a spike in usage that the billing for that would go way, way up. And so of course, every Sunday morning, they would have this huge spike and then it would go down to nothing. Well, we found that once we were using the space throughout the week in a consistent way, the billing actually came down. And I said, you know what, there is a sermon in there somewhere for sustainability. And so there’s that piece of it of actually using the space we already have, rather than going in and building new space and taking on taking on more concrete and that sort of thing. And then the financial sustainability piece of it. You know, I never claim that putting a coworking space in your church is going to solve your budget woes, it will not. I never claimed that it’s going to put butts in seats on Sunday morning. That’s not my work to do. But I will say that it can become a shared revenue source, it can become financially sustainable to cover its costs and a staff person and then some, it could, if you have a staff person that has precious little to do, those people are very well trained to become truly excellent community managers, and so repurposing some of the staff you already have can be a financial sustainability solution. And, it just it just makes so much sense. And I would just invite anybody who wants to learn more about this to visit me at tablecoworking.com and to join our mighty network called Big Table, which is where we do some peer networking together and share best practices and experiences across the country and globally if you like, and I’d love to connect with you.
Bernie J Mitchell 28:19
And where are you most active on social? Where can we hunt you down there?
Daryn DeZengotita 28:24
I do all the things. Facebook and Instagram @tablecoworking. Facebook @ tablecoworking and Twitter @DarrenDez.
Bernie J Mitchell 28:35
We’ll put a link in the show notes. I could carry on listening to this for ages because I love your vibe around coworking and your vibe around being a nice human being. And I also think this is why I made you say about the churches and Starbucks is because, there’s so many places that are right in the centre of our local communities now that come alive as a result of this. So say goodbye, Daryn
Daryn DeZengotita 29:09
Goodbye. Thank you so much for having me, Bernie. I really appreciate the opportunity to tell this story and thank you.
Bernie J Mitchell 29:15
Brilliant. Ladies and gentlemen, run to coworkingassembly.eu and sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which is full of thriving, actionable advice and links to all the content that Jax, myself and other people on the team produce every week. We are absolutely looking for stories from independent people like you that run independent coworking spaces in and around Europe. To share those things, we’ve got a great post coming up on London Coworking Assembly from David Brown, where he wrote about his experience of the 15 Minutes City, which is also in our last podcast about the 15 minutes with that man. Stay safe, and be careful. Sorry, be excellent to each other. And thank you for spending the time with us today.