The Happy Medium
You know how in some video games, before you even get to the meaty gun-slinging action, you have to create your character? You choose the hair color and facial expression, toss a big ol’ bright orange snake tattoo on their face, give them a Mohawk, and then send them out into the wild to fend for themselves. Finding your voice as a space manager is almost the same process, and can be equally as daunting. Are you going to be the manager that rules your community with an iron fist (we’ll call them BurgerMeister), the do-as-you-please-let’s-just-have-fun (the PeterPan), or somewhere in between?
Honestly, everyone successful falls in between, with each unique end of the spectrum being almost certain failure. Here are some tips to fall in the Care-Bear sweet spot in the center:
You are your email voice!
…Or at least you should be. Consistency is sexy when it comes to managing a community. My community knows that when I use a phrase such as, “this is more exciting than shaving your chest with a lawn mower!” they can generally expect to hear the same phrase come from my mouth as some point during the day. Why is this important? When something serious happens, such as a member ripping the toilet paper holder out of a wall where it was anchored to steel studs with lag bolts, and I send an email with no “fluff language” (like the lawnmower metaphor), they can generally assume that I’m not writing it in that signature good humor that I’m known for. This creates the environment of me being always approachable (and aggressively extroverted), but not accepting of acts of domestic terrorism in my Little Astronaut’s Room. Splitting your voice between supremely happy emails while being withdrawn in person is only going to confuse your community about your intentions. Besides, managing two personalities is exhausting!
Creating respect for yourself: handling awkward situations
Let’s take the above scenario. A member has a temper tantrum, and instead of going outside to smoke, he decides to destroy a piece of space property—in this case the poor, defenseless toilet paper holder. Space destruction is a big no-no, and you’re about to have a really awkward conversation about his choice in target. Now, you don’t want to kick them out, because you’ve been toying with the profit line for a few months now, and dropping the hammer on him is only going to distance yourself from the goal. On the other hand, he broke stuff, namely a Cardinal Rule of Coworking, which happens to be: Don’t Break Stuff. What do you do? Drop the hammer. Slam that RedBull you’ve been saving for some time in the fridge, ask them for their key, then tell them to pack everything up. Firmly. This creates the vision for your community that you don’t tolerate certain things—in this case the destruction of the morning constitutional.
The biggest part of our day-to-day is the epic tour. Honestly, I love giving tours. I could write an entire blog post on giving the perfect tour – and I intend to. You get to meet people, hear their story, share this product that you’ve worked hundreds of hours for (the space and community), and with the confidence that you’re only going to gain money. If you lose money on each tour (meaning that people cancel memberships), then you’re going about this in a much more awfully-awful way than you need to. Your voice (including tone and body language) is uber important on a tour. Too cheery, and they’ll smell your used-car-salesman-self from a block away—even if you forgot to apply a vigorous coating of English Laundry’s Arrogant that morning. Too monotone, and you’ll sound like you’re trying to offload a cart of spoiled turnips, rather than bring them into the greatest Cultural Revolution since the time of the steam engine! If you lie on a tour, the other members will hear you – you don’t tour in a vacuum after all. If you say too much, you’ll overwhelm them—they want a quick, semi-deep tour, not a breakdown of the percentage of freelancers at your last space-hosted Meetup. Take it slow, take it easy, and just have fun—knowing that you’re the same person physically and emotionally that they can expect to see in the space 40 hours per week.
The space should reflect a bit about who you are. If you’re a bright and cheery person, make the space bright and cheery. I keep the shades always open, and view a burned-out light bulb as an affront to the religion of coworking going down in my location. The floors are clean, the trash is handled, and yet there is a spray-painted orange moosehead with sunglasses overlooking anyone putting dishes away.
How does this relate to your voice? It’s easier to create a laid back tone (if that’s what you’re going for) with a space that screams laid-back. This seems like common sense, and yet I tour so many spaces where the manager is a bright and cheery fella, yet the space looks like those creepy pictures of the fallout of Chernobyl. We take pride in local culture, and the space reflects that. Chicago flags drape the bathroom doors, and Cubs games often find their way to the TV in the welcome area. This all works into you finding your voice.
Finally, your community plays a huge role in you finding your voice. Spend some time among the people—lock your laptop in a cabinet or something. People will tell you what they want to see, and usually without much provocation, or even needing to address the question. You’ll find that your voice suddenly becomes a blend of you and what they need.