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How to Train Community Managers?

Coworking and coliving spaces have one big struggle: they can’t find good community managers.

The community manager - sometimes referred to as “community facilitator”, “community leader” or “house leader” - is a rather new role within the coworking and coliving scene.

Technically speaking, the position isn’t new though. Community facilitators have existed for a long time at professional retreats, youth summer camps, or student housing (also called “residential advisors”).

But there has been little effort made to train community managers specifically for the “co” sector.

With this article, I’d like to support two major developments in the coworking/coliving scene:

  1. I believe that community managers should be trained. Not only to perform well, but to have a skill set that they’ll be able to apply continuously in the sector.
     
  2. Coworking and coliving spaces should put effort in developing such training. That can be internal or in cooperation with other players, which can be even more powerful.

Let’s explore first what a community is (and is not) to see how such a training program could look like.

Defining "Community Manager" (CM)

The coworking and coliving community manager should not be confused with the “digital community manager”. When searching “community manager” on Google, most (actually all but one) training programs are dedicated to online community managers.

For the digital communities, the slogal “members join for the code, stay for the community”. (Community Signal) applies. There, the role of community Manager is to be responsible for “all communications of a brand, PR, social media, events, and content creation”, among other things (ecole Webstar).

But for real-life coworking and coliving communities, the reality is rather the following: “people join for the amenities, stay for the community” (Ryan Fix).

The goal of a coworking and/or coliving community manager is therefore to create the intangible value: building community and enhancing the overall customer experience.

Retention: the #1 problem with CMs

While it seems to be an easy task to “build community”, both coliving and coworking spaces are struggling to find true kick-ass community managers that stay for longer time.

Why? I’m seeing three main problems:

1. Community Managers have strong personalities (which should be satisfied)

First of, great community managers have their own personalities. And strong personalities don’t like it when it gets boring and the job is done. It’s therefore crucial to offer “new” things to a community manager - including new responsibilities, or new locations.

2. Community managers are undervalued (and underpaid)

Community is what creates retention in coworking and coliving. Yet, thee majority of spaces don’t invest in their community managers. This doesn’t make sense from a holistic perspective, but the issue lies in the financial sheet: it’s hard to correlate community metrics (if even existing) with revenues. And hence, community managers are undervalued and underpaid.

3. Community managers are overloaded with technical tasks

Another issue is that many organisations confuse “community manager” and “technical assistant”. When a community manager has to ensure the user experience for 20 guests in the coliving space AND clean the toilets plus fix the printer, it’s becoming too much. Coliving and coworking spaces should have a technical team to fix operational problems, the sales team should be responsible for contract-related questions and as many questions should be outsourced through FAQs or inside applications.

Taking those three problems in mind, organizations can overcome them by a) creating strong boundaries around the role of the community manager, b) valuing his/her role within the organization and c) giving the community manager value through training.

Let’s explore how this would look like.

What a CM training could look like

The most important asset of a community manager is his adaptability to different coworking and coliving spaces. That entails a mix of hard and soft skills - although soft skills are in my view more important.

Community management is in the human business. As Jeremiah Adler, founder of UP(st)ART said recently: “Landlords are unaffected by personal issues. But as community managers, we are.”

As the community manager deals primarily with the community (AKA real person interaction), these are the main skills that community manager trainings should offer:

Soft Skills

  • Consent and sexual assault
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Mental Health & Suicide Prevention
  • Drug and alcohol
  • Authentic connecting
  • Non-violent communication
  • Well-being
  • Personality types & human needs
  • Game & event facilitation
  • Public speaking

Hard Skills

  • Event Management & Organization
  • First aid and emergency
  • Copywriting & social media management

With the skills mentioned above, a community manager will be able to focus on his/her main task - first, to connect with others and to build community, and second to care about community members and make the community grow collectively.

What about technical skills?

They’re important as well, but not the most crucial ones. There are two reasons for that:


1) Basic skills (such as using specific PMS softwares) can be acquired within the onboarding process. They don’t require much time and experienced community managers will adapt quickly. Moreover, most other basic skills (such as Google spreadsheets) are often already acquired by most applicants.

2) More advanced skills (such as fixing an internet shutdown) can be outsourced to specific technicians, which would work in cooperation with the coworking space (in that given example).

Creating a community is a full-time job. While it is handy for a community manager to know how to fix a shower, it’s not his job to do that, and as explored above, might distract him from his main duty.

How and where to train

So far, there is no community manager program that I’ve heard of. Online research showed me that Openwork Consultancy offers a community manager training program but without further details on their page. Seems that no online or offline program has taken off.

What can we do? Organizations can do a few things:

  1. Get outside training for specific skills. Each of the above mentioned soft and hard skills can be developed in dedicated seminars around the globe and coworking/coliving spaces should invest to further develop soft skills of their in-house managers.
     
  2. Train community managers internally. Coliving and coworking spaces can create their own onboarding and training program (such as a 2-week retreat), which makes sense especially for bigger spaces with multiple locations. Another option is to only recruit managers who already were active members or residents - for example, Smena Station coliving only allows past residents to become community facilitators.
     
  3. Create a “remote year for community managers” in partnership with multiple organizations. That could mean for community managers to work at several locations during the year, hence getting experience and diversity, while committing to work for another year at the coworking/coliving space that finances it.

The latter idea isn’t new. Many community managers already work from space to space, yet they do it in their personal interest and often don’t come back to one space afterwards. Several operators in the coliving scene are talking about it but no organization is taking the lead on it.

On the coworking side, Deskmag published an article back in 2011 stating that “coworking spaces could become training hubs for community managers in other businesses” yet nothing notable has happened here either.

It is now up to coworking and coliving organizations to take action.

One Last Thing

I’m a big believer that communities are best built when self-driven. That means that the biggest gift that community managers can bring is their own creativity and individuality to build up a space. And they should be empowered to do so.

Only if empowered, trained with all necessary skills, and given a safe container to work on the community (and the community building only) will coliving and coworking spaces find and retain their dream community managers.

Let’s build out a CM program?

I propose to put all interested coworking and coliving organizations together.

Simply sign up in the form, and when reaching 20 organizations we’ll create a group call to discuss next steps and we’ll put everyone in a Facebook group.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please share them with us below.

Cheers!

Gui

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