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Elena Giroli: Managing a Community and Handling Changes in a Pandemic Era

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For this episode, we have Caterina Maiolini, Community and Partnerships Manager of SALTO Systems talking with Elena Giroli, Change and  Communications Manager of Creative Works

They are going to be talking all about how community managers like themselves handle the changes and shifts that the pandemic had brought with the coworking community.

Highlights from the podcast:

  • We saw a lot of change in our community members following the pandemic, and it was fascinating to see how it started. When working from home became a government mandate, it became a case of if you can’t work from home, work somewhere else. I believe that many neighbours have dropped their kitchen chairs and buzzed in to say, Hey, I really need a spot where I can actually meet people or just linger outside my kitchen or my one-bedroom apartment. Because living in London has its difficulties, including living in small, restricted spaces, and having to work constantly, you don’t have your personal and professional lives separated, you have one in one go. So there was the main difference. (4.04)

 

  • As a result of the pandemic, we had to restructure and adapt our offer slightly. As a result, it seemed like a journey because it was a trial and error procedure. So we added things, took things away, added processes, and revamped the entire onboarding process. So it was like steel, a time of kind of testing and seeing how the people reacted to that. Because the final goal is similar to consumer expectations and, you know, customer service. This is how we perceive the Coworking spaces that we are leading. (6.45)

 

  • I’m not sure I have a framework. As a business consultant, I feel we are looking into a few topics. First, if the person entering respects our ideas of community, openness, and respect for all beliefs and sexualities. So that’s the first step, simply walk in. So, if you’re a valuable community member, I believe that’s already a fantastic question. You may determine right away if a member wants to give to no other members by chatting with them. So it’s simply the personality, the attitude. The emotion of everyone being on the same boat is constantly present when chatting to other members and being honest and forthright. So nice and curious. We’ve had a few people in the past that didn’t really get the value or notion. But it’s also true that these people might be OK in another setting. So, yes, we have a one-month notice period. We look after what others don’t. We are convinced that there is a code of conduct that everyone must sign and follow. And if you don’t, well, read your response. The existence of a code of conduct that outlines how we expect our members to behave in the community is also really valuable. (12.22)
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Cate  

Hi, Coworking Assembly, I’m here today in London in Blackhorse Road, actually. So, for anyone who’s not familiar, it’s an office of central London.  I am here at Creative Workspace with Elena who is the Community Manager. And she will tell us a bit more about everything. She’s been a guest on the podcast already and she’s heavily involved with the Coworking Assembly, and she’s Italian like me. So this is a podcast I’m really looking forward to. So Elena thank you, first of all for having us today here. Thank you very much for coming. And please introduce yourself, your role, and a little bit about the station.

 

Elena  

I’m Elena, Community Manager at Creative Works. As Kate was saying, yes, we’re based in the heart of the Waltham Forest Borough in London this year. We are basically in Blackhorse Road that will soon become the creative enterprise of North London as the Mayor of London said. Our coworking space is two floor art deco building. Previously it was an RAF building. We were building like parts of airplanes from what I was told. And now it’s like  the house of like more than 90 companies that are working in film industry, creative arts graphic design, marketing, and also to have like creative bit and vibes. We also have people working in tech. We have IT software developer,  hardware developer as well. So we have kind of a weird and a very wide range of members. Because we believe that creativity comes from the mix and match of people that are curious to learn about each other and what they do and not just a job title. And sometimes that  is missing in the creative world. So having people that talk over and coffee and in the kitchen area and then just discovering things that they didn’t know about before. So that’s something that we’re really proud to have here.

 

Cate  

I couldn’t agree more. I come from a more creative fashion and everything else background and I transitioned into technology. And although I like to define myself as a dispatcher, and you know, bring in one thing to another and I absolutely love cross pollination. There’s actually so many things that we have in common. And I absolutely love speaking to like you’re saying you know how to do developer or software developer or especially UX designer. They really understand the creativity, but they also make the practicality, and we can design the one this way and the other way. I absolutely love it. There were quite a few people in here today actually considering this Friday and Sunday. I was very surprised. And it is sunny in London. It does happen if anyone’s listening from outside from my side of it. So a quick question about your community. So you are the Community Manager here and have been here more than two years, right? I’d like to talk a bit more about how your community is, who is your community? is your community made of locals? who do people in trouble quite severe to come to this portal?

 

Elena  

I think after the pandemic, we saw a shift in our community members, and it was actually quite interesting to see how that started. So when the work from home became like a sort of mandatory requirement from the government. And then it became like if you cannot work from home just work from somewhere else. I think specifically in this area Clearworks actually had a lot of  neighbours just dropping their kitchen chairs and just like buzzing and saying, Hey, I really need a space where I can actually meet people or just stay outside my kitchen or my one-bedroom apartment. Because that’s the downsides of living in London as well as like small spaces, really constrained. And when you have to work all the time you don’t have your personal life and professional life separated, you have one in one go so that was like the main shift that we saw. The now 99% of people that are in here, so we are at 87% capacity the moment. They’re from the Waltham Forest Borough, from Enfield, from Tottenham. There are really like boroughs that are like 20 minutes far from here. So it’s really a pleasure to see people meeting people around the borough and say hey on a Sunday morning.

 

Cate  

Which is really nice because I used to run a coworking space and not just spaces which are communities in themselves, but then they also become more like enlarged communities. When you said oh, I work with this guy. So I really love to go there for breakfast. You want to meet on Sunday, and we are doing this and we’re doing that and then the community grows. You touched upon the fact that a lot of your members arrived with the pandemic etc. And I know that currently we still have some regulations of some days work from home, some days coming here and know that you’re not always at full capacity also because of some of these regulations. How do you combine both your physical and digital community? Do you also run some sort of digital events, or is it only in house? 

 

Elena  

No. So because of the pandemic we had to restructure and redesign a little bit our offer. So it was literally like a journey because it was like a trial-and-error process. So we introduced stuff we remove things, we add processes, we redesign the entire onboarding processes. So it was like really like still a moment of like kind of experimenting and see how the community is reacting to that. Because the ultimate goal is like the customer expectations and the customer service. This is how we see our leading this co working spaces. So we decided to, you know, thankfully, we applied for a couple of grants in the bureau, and we managed to secure a business support program for our members. This because first we couldn’t organize in person events or networking events, and therefore we decided to go  with the consultants like Yvette. She’s an amazing consultant. She understood what we were experiencing. And we decided to design a program that was useful for our members to just log in once every month, attend the class on like different topics like business growth, or marketing or vision, how to build your vision. So very much focused on  how you build and grow your business, and that was completely free. So normally outside could be more than 500 pounds an hour type of service. 

Everyone was  able to kind of apply for free and we see have recordings that we shared internally and people like are super thankful for it. The response was really high and then since last year, so this program became like a sort of like our stone, like a milestone, like a pillar that we build around like this support that we can actually offer. On the other hand, we do have in person events when it’s possible at the moment there are no specific restrictions. But we’re also very much aware of the situation and the sensitivity to everyone. So we do have once a month gathering like a beer month with a co-worker in our breweries down the road. But we also have local charities that we are working with. 

So the east and trade skills for example that is like one of the East London guilds of local makers, and we are kind of offering the venue for them to kind of talk and chat. Our members are part of it every month, every physical events that we are going to organize. It’s going to be open to our members. And in the future. We’re also thinking about more entertainment. So having like a little bit of fun because it’s like we miss a little having a little bit of fun. And we’re working with the Silverado’s cinema and they’re doing when thinking about like more community led cinema nights raised. They will be open to the community, not just the members but to all the community in Blackhorse Road and welcome Waltham Forest. 

 

Cate  

You just have this visible culture, so to bring something that is even more culturally related. I’m sure that would be a big success. Yeah. The community we you know, this was come all the time when we talk about obviously, leaving poor working. I mean, for me, it’s the code in front of everything. co working co living is not about community, your community manager and it’s the role that is for me, always very underrated even, you know in all the events that is co working, whatever. 

Whatever we always talk about community managers, community facilitators. It’s such a hard job to have. And a lot of times people don’t understand it because it’s a cross between being a manager, being a friend being, abroad, being a sister, being a mom, being a therapist, everything. It’s such a hard line and from one Community Manager to another, I always wonder what is your if you have one modus operandi message, however you want to call it to really assess everyone to say and then on board the divine member to you know, build a strong community, or at least have weak community if we want to call it this way. Because I have in my past experiences, I noticed that if you have a lot of people here, so it’s a little bit harder, but when you’re a smaller community like I had just one wrong person or entity and literally just to from break that balance that environment and energy that you maybe spend so much time creating.

 

Elena  

I think I understand where you’re coming from, like with this question. I don’t know if I have a framework like as a business founder could talk about, I think more there are a few things that I’m that we are looking into. First of all, if the person that comes through the door, let’s say embrace our values our community of being open, be respectful for everyone’s beliefs, and sexuality as well. So that’s the first steppingstone to kind of just like open the doors and step in. So if you’re a valuable community-oriented members, I think that’s already like a good cause to answer. I would say the first thing is like talking to the members or talking to the people that are coming for viewing, and you can tell already, if they are keen to share, to explore, to know other members. It’s just the personality, the attitude, even if it’s just  talking to other members and be open and transparent and say, Hey, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Can you explain to me? 

But there’s always like this layer of like, everyone was on the same boat, I would say type of feeling. Very friendly, very curious. And we had in the past, couple of people that were not really embracing the value and the philosophy of it. But it’s also true that  these people maybe they are okay for other types of environments and there’s no harm in that. So for us, it’s like it’s okay, you have a one-month notice.  We’ve never kicked anyone out. We very much believe that we have a manifesto of like respecting each other’s beliefs, as I said, and there’s a code of conduct that you have to find and kind of follow. And if you don’t do it, well then you already have your answer. And I think that having a code of conduct already that says to people like how we behave or how we want our members to be in the community, it’s very helpful.

 

Cate  

And I think that as much as we all like to be free, but I too am a huge fan of systems. I think that is because they gave me I don’t want to say security and stability but it’s like okay, so if I follow this system, it’s okay. And I go this way and I think this is the law for setting up systems. I know that in your two years in here you’ve set up a lot of systems, operation hours, but also you implemented more tech and everything else, which is another thing that we both love very much. And I would like to ask you, what tech do you use right now? To serve your community or to also elevate the community experience in this space, and what else would you like to have an Arjun implement even further that can help with the role that you’re doing and again, to deliver a better customer or member experience to your member?

 

Elena  

I think this is a very good question, because it’s like sometimes it’s not very well explained to people when they start working at a coworking space. Such a new industry, especially me like I’m coming from like the public sector. So when I really thrown into the coworking community, even if I was around since 2014, just like I didn’t know what ecology around that was I came from saps and you know, Oracle based and I was designing like digital transformations on that base. So, my setup was really like, okay, let’s see the technology. Let’s see what I can implement what let’s see what I can automate. And I think that that’s where our goal is to implement our automation service and automation better. Strategy. At the moment we have we are using officer indeed is brilliant software that we are using. Of course it’s like a very new software as per the industry. 

The Customer Care is amazing. My account managers, I think he hates me at some point because I’m very curious on how things are working because then when you know the, the context within your operating, you can actually build amazing things. So  we introduce the first things first with a hot desking that could actually be booked by hours, online through an app, easy and straight. So all our members that are using hot desk membership, they actually can book just by the hours they come over, they have their desk booked nobody’s like bothering them, easy. If you’re not a member, you can actually go online like a day pass straight away. You don’t have to be a member; you don’t have to register. Of course you have to pay straight away because it’s you know, it’s for security reasons as well. And safety and stuff like that. 

But you can go on our website, and you can book straight away like a day pass, and you can if you don’t want to work day pass but you are a consultant and you want to use in need in a meeting room, for example, a couple of hours, or maybe you have we had people having interviews and they didn’t want to take it from the bedroom. It says like can I come over for like an hour? Like obviously yes you can, and you just book it through the website. And that’s where I the thing that was the added value that we created during the pandemic. And I can see the benefit now because we have people that come in every day through a day pass or through need meeting room bookings, and they are not members. So it’s more than 100 people free from February 2020 kind of use this type of ways of being in the community. And they always be part of the community. So yeah, so it’s just like this is what we have at the moment. For the future, we are talking about like more automations. 

So we design our onboarding processes, I love UX as well. So I use my Miro board to create my customer journey and understand where we are at a flaw and where we can improve definitely, but ultimately it’s like listening to the customer. I have in place like a very friendly open conversation with everyone. And I’m always open to criticism, because I think every feedback counts, and also the negative one. I don’t particularly call them negative, but they are feedback and it’s used for us to go ahead and say oh, you know what, maybe we can actually I don’t know, introduce extra hours or we can introduce like membership just for the meeting rooms. Just having these types of conversations and try and learn and remove or add. 

 

Cate  

I mean, we both know we’re big lovers of tech and what I really love about tech is exactly what you’re saying like everything we think about just think you know, I’d love to  do that. So there is someone that is either designing or they’re happy to design any for you. And they’re coming from a creative industry where I used to do hair and I used to manage hairdressers backstage and fashion shows I never would have ever thought that I would be here sitting down say I love data. I want to analyze I want to have a look at data and understand how my members behave. You know, where did they use the space that most what do they do you know like how can they also make this face better? So that their experience is better? You know, do they need more lines? Do I notice that maybe you know when something is used in one way, when it’s not sunny is used in another way you know when it’s darker is one way when it’s  the weekend it’s another way, morning, afternoon, everything like what can I do to also serve better?

 

Elena  

Absolutely. Also, because it’s like a 24/7 building, we normally do activities only when there are staff members are here. So now we’re kind of talking through possibilities of like having different approaches to how to maybe you know, create more events or like make sure that other people can use the meeting rooms when they are not here. Staff members are not here. So it’s literally our ongoing conversations when you are a co-worker when you have a coworking space and especially if you’re not one of the big brands or a chain or you have like tons of money and you know, fundings like you have to be inventive. You have to be creative. And one thing that we actually started during the pandemic is a collaboration with other coworking spaces in the area. Because we have like three four co working spaces around here. And as all of them have different you know, unique selling points that we don’t have. 

And one well collaboration that I think works very well is the one with yonder it is the Climbing Center there also space and in a coworking space. There are made an amazing space, they they’re amazing people. So but we cannot offer what they’re offering and on the other hand, we have maybe meeting rooms that can be useful for their members. So what we are doing is a partnership where our members have like discounted membership for the Climbing Center and the yoga studios. And they have you know discounted memberships for our members in our meeting rooms. So trying to find each other unique selling points creating a sort of a collective and this is what actually also Waltham Forest Borough is kind of looking into more affordable workspaces. 

And that’s why as creative works and switchboard we are starting this conversation with other coworking space yonder and others in the main yard as well like in the area in Waltham Forest area so you kind of meet know each other know what, what we are offering, what are our strengths and how we can collaborate with each other. So I think that that’s the  way forward. And it is the first time that actually that is happening. So and in seeing what the London Coworking Assembly’s doing, it was actually very useful to have like Bernie, for example, coming over on Wednesdays and have a chat and our first peek off of this collective. So it’s useful to see that  more and more coworking space, more workspaces are popping up. And collaborations can happen.

 

Cate  

In the words of my colleague, Christian that he absolutely loved this concept. He always says we’re moving forward. We’re moving away from competition and we’re moving more towards call petition where we call collaborate with our, say competitors, let’s say competitors into brackets. But instead of looking at them as competitors, as you were saying, we’re looking more as collaborative competitors in our software support petition, where instead of fighting each other we actually put each other’s strengths together into like, if I want to be a member yonder because I also like climbing. I’m not going to leave that space to come here. But if we can both work together and use both spaces and same thing for you as well. So definitely integration, collaboration.

 

Elena  

Keeping the money in the Borough. Yeah. That’s something that is he was really the community and brings back to that community. So all the local cafes that are coming around here, everything that happens around stays in the Borough and helps the economy of the Borough. So we like this is why for example, we all our suppliers are locals. So our coffee’s from good grocery coffee down the road. Our milk is oatmeal because from minor fingers that is like two blocks ahead. We have like they are emailed from a farm in Essex, but because of the farms and what he’s I haven’t find them. But yeah, so we tried to kind of use less of like big delivery brands and more local independent producers again, because we are a local independent business.

 

Cate  

I strongly agree. And to wrap up, I guess, creating community to stay stronger in our community to strengthen the community. To then give back to the community, which then turns around to get back to you again, anywhere because you want to leave here it means a place where you are better nicer, you know, you know more people who feel more at home. And so that is something that I think an association is working on which is called stitching, you know, out of the 15- Minute Cities that are being final, but they want to switch commute to community. commute to community. We spend a lot of time commuting. Now you create something in within that systematic journey or even less. So you’re spending more time with your community than on the community. I think that’s really great.

 

Elena  

And this is where we see as well like people were very cool people working corporates that cannot go back to the office becomes here. So also gives you opportunity to big corporate to exist experienced that community. You know, a little bit you know, by comparison, I don’t know it’s just like it’s nice to see this.

 

Cate  

Sign off work from anywhere. Yeah, not work from home.  I’m not a big fan of that. But maybe we’ll have another, I think it’s about 5:30 in London right now. It’s a Friday afternoon, so I think it’s beer o’clock. Thank you very much for having us today, for your time on the podcast and I’m looking forward to the next podcast.

 

Elena  

 Thank you very much, folks. Bye




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