After hearing comments from members, we decided it was time to re-evaluate building access and how we handle such things as unscheduled walk-ins, people coming in ahead of the member they are meeting with, and people dropping in to get mail. We’ve done such an evaluation every few years since we opened the space for our coworking community. This post summarizes the conversations and decisions made after further one-on-one discussions and two member meetings.
What prompted this?
A number of things lead us to conclude it was time for some community brainstorming. Some members expressed concern about not feeling safe when working in the building alone. People curious about who we are and what we do wander in, which means someone has to stop what they are doing to answer questions. More than once, we heard from people coming in to get mail or an impromptu tour who walked all around the first floor and either could not find anyone or they were not greeted by anyone they saw working on the first floor. People have come in asking where suite “n” is and concerned when we explain there are no suites. Those same people sometimes want the member who greeted them to go find the member they are looking for or to check that member’s schedule or to call the member (apparently assuming the greeter is a receptionist). The list goes on. I’m sure you get the idea. Things weren’t working as well as they could and we wanted to make things better.
Whatever we do, it must be sustainable.
Sustainability – in all its forms – is one of our core values. Glen and I won’t always be here. We take vacations or head out for conferences. More recently, we were away for a death in the family. Plus, we both have our own businesses to tend to – Cowork Frederick is not our full-time gig. We (and I mean the larger “we” – the Cowork Frederick community) need a plan that works without relying entirely on Glen and/or me.
Should we keep the door locked all the time? (no)
While some liked this idea, the majority didn’t and Glen and I ultimately agreed we should keep things as they are. The door will continue to automatically unlock after the first member uses a fob to enter the building after 9 am and will remain unlocked until 5 pm.
Most said having the door unlocked was convenient and it was more “us”, more open and inviting. Several members noted they would not be members had they not wandered in on a whim to find out who we are. No one wanted to risk blocking such future serendipitous discoveries.
You can (and sometimes should) lock the door.
Members can lock the door at any time by entering 111# or 5165# (the last 4 digits of Cowork Frederick’s phone number) on the keypad. The next time a member uses his/her fob to enter the building, the door will unlock and remain unlocked until 5 pm.
In fact, we want you to lock the door if you are the only one in the building and need (or want) to leave for some reason. You should also lock the door if no one is working downstairs to hear or see if someone comes in. Our playground rules, in summary form, say we should all take care of ourselves, each other, and our space. We’re all part of a “neighborhood watch” and each of us is empowered to do what we think is right to take care of our little “neighborhood”.
Because most members we talked to didn’t know they could lock the door or how to do so, in addition to noting it here, we will post a sign on the inside of the door with the code. You can also get the code by typing “lock the door” in any Slack channel.
What if someone comes by while the door is locked?
If the door gets locked in the middle of the day, we don’t want people wondering what’s going on so we’ll figure out a good way to post a sign that explains we had to step out and directs them to call or email us to set up a time to come in. They may ring the doorbell. If you hear the doorbell ring and feel safe doing so, feel free to answer the door. While there were concerns about a doorbell being just as disruptive as someone wandering into the building unexpectedly, it was ultimately decided the doorbell scenario provided more control of the situation for the member. I have a stack of business cards in the entry way (where other member cards are). If you don’t have time or just aren’t comfortable giving a tour or answering questions, it’s perfectly OK to explain Glen and I are away and hand them a brochure and my business card.
Wait. I can give tours?
Of course! This is your place and your community too. Tours by members are often the most effective. You know much better than Glen or I what it’s like to be a member here. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the answers to all the questions, just tell them what this is from your perspective. Get contact info for the person and I’ll gladly follow up.
Should we hire a receptionist? (no)
We don’t have the budget to pay someone to watch the door full-time, so hiring someone would have required an increase in membership fees. That wasn’t why nearly everyone we talked to said we should not get a receptionist. The reasons we heard included “that’s just not who we are”, walk-ins and unescorted clients don’t come in that often, and we’re a community and members of a community pitch in when needed.
We should take turns.
Overall, members of this community are generous with their time when people walk in, but even the most gracious sometimes get frustrated if they can’t stay focused long enough to get work done. To alleviate the surprise factor, several members suggested a schedule be established so people could sign up to work in the front room and mind the door. Of course, Glen and I, and any interns we may have, will be among those taking turns. We tried something along those lines about 3 years ago and it flopped. We’ll take what we learned, add it to what was suggested in our recent meetings, and try again. Stay tuned for details.
We should set expectations for guests.
It would be extremely helpful if any guest (client, friend, colleague, etc.) of a member who comes to Cowork Frederick was given some guidance on what to expect upon walking in the door. A few members were concerned that clients, future employees, etc. might think less of them or their business because they don’t understand our somewhat unconventional model. That said, it was agreed that no member should try to pull off an impression that 122 E Patrick is “their office” or that their mailbox number is their suite number. We were asked to provide suggested language that members can use when communicating with their guests, especially language that could elevate their business in the minds of their clients because they are part of a coworking community. Will do. Stay tuned for that too.
Reducing the impact of mail seekers would also be good.
This has been in the works for a while. Right now, mail is stored in folders in a fire-safe lock box. When someone wants to pick up mail, they find Glen, Courtney, or me (or sometimes others when we’re out), and ask for their mail. That process has worked most of the time, but it could definitely stand some improvement. We bought some really cool old-timey looking mailboxes that will be installed in the new hallway once it’s constructed (ETA September). Non-member mail will definitely go in those locked mailboxes. As is the case now, they can get their mail during our open-to-the-public business hours (9 am to 5 pm, M-F). Member mail will, for now, continue to go in the lock box and later will be moved to little cubbies in the new member-only coworking space in the 120 building for easy access for members.
Some of this change in about about a year.
Current plans for our two buildings call for expanded coworking on the first floor of 120 E Patrick, with a member-only team room on that floor. The only space in the 120 building available to the general public will be the basement level space accessible from the sidewalk. 122 E Patrick will continue to have some coworking and meeting rooms available to members and “the public”. Some rooms will be made into private offices. Bottom line, there will be a better separation between space accessed by member clients, mail clients, and the general public and space for members. We’ll revisit all this again then.