Q&A with Gustavo Franco: On Employee Engagement And Managing A Coworking Space

Worldwide there were around 7,800 coworking spaces in operation in 2015. This figure is predicted to reach 37,000 by the year 2018.

Coworking has become a preferred way of working for many entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote employees. This type of space has been proven to encourage productivity and stimulate work, because of the close proximity and connection that it offers to like-minded employees, entrepreneurs and startups.

With approximately 510,000 people working in coworking spaces worldwide, we decided to invite the founder of such a space for an interview so we could find out more about what it means to create and manage a coworking space.

BCNewt Coworking in Barcelona began as an industrial building located in the most innovative and modern district of Barcelona, 22@ in Poblenou district. It has now become a coworking space community for entrepreneurs, created with a transgressive eco spirit. More than a share office in Barcelona, BCNewt in Poblenou wants to encourage a new lifestyle that encourages productivity and networking.

We have with us today Gustavo Franco, founder of BCNewt, who will answer a couple of questions for our HR community:

Q: How did you become acquainted with coworking culture?

A: When I decided to run a PR Agency by myself, I shared a workspace with a friend, who invited me because sometimes he felt alone spending the days with just his 4 person team. He said he needed fresh air in the office. So I joined him for 1 year. After this, I realised how beneficial it was to share a workspace with other like minded people. Soon I experienced improvement in my professional skills, communication knowledge and the size of my network.

During this period, I found certain information in the news about coworking spaces; this was the moment the idea to create a cowork space entered into my mind. This process occurred during my team expansion, and a bigger space was needed, so my vision of running a coworking space was a strategic decision, a personal philosophy, and a sustainable solution for my business.

Q: How do businesses interact in a coworking space? What are the dynamics of its members?

A: The interactions in a workspace are both spontaneous and organized by the space manager. Both are necessary and both are great to connect people. The first one is more common in social moments, like lunch time, after work, and casual conversation, when coworkers discovered that they have a common topic of interest or just personal empathy. The second one is a natural step during or after networking events, workshops, or conferences given by external people invited to share their knowledge or ideas within the community. I would say that for 80% of members, a certain collaboration has been made after the first three months of stay in BCNewt.

These collaborations could be the exchange of services, contribution in a spontaneous brainstorming, paid services, or simply expert advice. We boost this through exposure of our members’ social media profiles, our newsletter, postings on the bulletin board, and promoting the visibility of BCNewt and its workers. Rather than limit the network to BCNewt, we are linked to external partners, like event organizers that give us ticket discounts, or other spaces in the world that are part of the Coworking Visa program. Through this program we are able to give our members the option to stay three days for free in workspaces abroad.

The results of these dynamics, have been the relaunch of two successful businesses based at BCNewt Coworking Space in Barcelona, which are supported by other BCNewt members.

Q: Would you say that a coworking space fosters increased collaboration?

A: I would say that being at home or in a closed-door office, there is no collaboration because there is no one else around you. It’s a simple concept, but it is true. Collaboration in coworking also depends on the culture of the manager. If the workspace manager truly believes in collaboration and interaction as a value for any professional or company, coworking offices can be hubs of collaboration and innovation. However, if the manager just thinks in terms of renting desks with a real estate mindset, with no care of the potential links among members, then collaboration will suffer.

Q: How do HR processes unfold in such a space?

A:When someone wishes to join our coworking office we first have an interview with the new member, to explore his or her skills and potential integration into the community. We also share this information with the current members, and if appropriate, quickly link our new member to the right coworker. To stimulate this approach, members are invited to introduce themselves or their project in an internal meeting in a relaxed format, with snacks and drinks at one of our after work sessions. The prior question is sometimes solved in the online form to join us:

Why do you want to join our community?

Most of the members are freelancers or single entrepreneurs. But there are also companies with small teams of 2 up to 7 people. The approach is different, but in general terms, they value the social vibe of a coworking space. That definitely contributes to their happiness. After 2 years, and several internal surveys, the top motivations to join BCNewt are:

  1. It is close to home
  2. Tired of working alone at home
  3. Networking with others

This means that 2 out of the 3 items are related to contact with other people. The community makes the difference. In the infrastructure scale, there is about how pleasant and healthy could be the space, so we constantly work on new ideas to improve.

Our core value and mission is to give people the greenest workspace in Barcelona, although we have some limitations with no terrace or patio. However, the office does feature highly valued sunlight, natural plants around the desks, and furniture make from recycled wood and materials (hand made lamps and meeting room tables and kitchen tables). We also have green partners, like a company that rents us an electric vehicle..

The green value approach engages people with common ethics: it is important for people to feel connected to something, more than a simple provided, professional desk.

Q: Do you think employees are more motivated or more productive when working in a coworking space?

A: At BCNewt,30% of coworkers are employed in a company which is headquartered somewhere else. Those coworkers asked their bosses to be in a coworking space, rather than a private office, since their headquarters are abroad. They chose to cowork in Barcelona and BCNewt for the high quality of life. This situation lead us to the conclusion than management in corporate teams are open to having employees coworking far from their offices.

The second group of employed workers at BCNewt are integrated in companies which are headquartered in BCNewt. In their cases, those businesses chose a coworking space because of its affordable price, but when they experienced the coworking vibe, they stayed because they approved of the values of collaboration or sharing a workspace with others. For most of them, even if they have the budget to expand to their own space, they decide to stay at a coworking office because of the collaborative, open environment.

If you’re interested in finding out more about working in BCNewt, take a look at this article or see Gustavo in a video interview here, where he talks about the coworking movement.

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Image via BCNewt