AgoraRDM Co-Founder Mike LaRosa was interviewed by MarketScale’s Building Management podcast on 1/08/19.

Copied from the MarketScale Building Management blogpost:

Underutilized space is all around us. Rather than sitting on their hands, creative building managers are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to put this space to work for them. Whether it’s opening a co-working space in a restaurant during the day when business is slow, or repurposing an old department store or mall to be used as a school, these spaces are changing the way we think of how facilities can be used. On today’s episode of the podcast, we talk to two people at the forefront of this movement. MarketScale correspondent Sean Heath speaks with Gary Kuklin from the Commercial Division of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices about repurposing spaces for many different uses. We also have a conversation with Mike LaRosa of Agora RDM about co-working spaces can fill the space void in locations that aren’t traditionally thought of as an office.


Building managers are consistently faced with a question: how do I make the best use of the space I have available? Co-working spaces are providing an intriguing answer to that question. Mike LaRosa, Co-Founder of Agora RDM, joined the podcast to explain how businesses are using space that is underutilized at certain points of the day to set up co-working spaces.

“A lot of players have woken up and realized they have a lot of underutilized space they’re paying rent for,” says LaRosa. Turning this space into a co-working area allows the business to subsidize their rent and put their full facility to use. He goes on to explain one his favorite examples of a business putting this plan into practice. How did a yoga studio leverage their open space during the day to become a hot co-working spot? Mike LaRosa has all the details.


When taking a trip to the mall, you might expect to learn a lesson about sales, customer service, or traffic patterns in a parking lot. You probably don’t expect to learn 7th grade Biology or 5th grade Mathematics. If you live in Council Bluffs, Iowa, though, that is exactly what could happen.

On today’s podcast, MarketScale correspondent Sean Heath had the chance to chat with Gary Kuklin  from the Commercial Division of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. We discuss the open mindset necessary to be able to proceed with unexpected surroundings, the mutual benefits of repurposing existing spaces, and how this might become the norm instead of an outlier.

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Experience: It’s About More Than Just Happy Hours

From the moment people walk through the door, they begin to process the experience you’ve created for them. Of course, the first wave comes from their initial impression of the environment you’ve designed, but quickly shifts to an evaluation of the services and opportunities you provide. The experience you provide contributes to the overall value proposition prospective members will consider when deciding to join a space.

The Elements of Experience

As previously described in our post on the Six Elements of Coworking, and in our posts on the factors of Space and People, the 3D Coworking Model divides the factor of Experience into the complementary elements of Engagement and Hospitality. As you continue to dig deeper into each, you will discover these elements break down further into sub categories.

Hospitality (passive): In the 3D Coworking Model, Hospitality incorporates the act of offering interactions, customer service and amenities which make guests feel welcome and well cared for in your space. This concept, when broken down into business model terms, includes everything from your hiring and training process to what service amenities you offer as part of your membership plans. Hospitality is highly affected by such things as smoothly running processes and procedures, so for that reason we also consider such things as operations to be included in this element.You can read a more in depth description of Hospitality HERE

Engagement (active): Engagement is ultimately about user experience: the ease of use when accessing the space and amenities for both users and their guests. This also includes the implementation of purposeful and well rounded events and programing which allow members to connect and engage with both each other and the space itself. You can read a more in depth description of Engagement HERE

Delivering a Service vs. Providing Opportunities

To the extent that a coworking membership is, in fact, a business transaction (exchanging dollars for experience) members want to feel comfortable and ‘taken care of’ when coming to your space. Consistency is important: the extent to which you can ensure members receive attentive service from knowledgeable staff, enjoy complimentary provisions  and reliable access to business services will set the bar for members future expectations. In the 3D Coworking Model we refer to this as the element of Hospitality, meaning the way your space interacts with your users.

Creating “community” however, involves at least some level of active participation on the part of its members. Depending on your model, this could mean something as simple as offering the ability to self-schedule meeting rooms and managing your own visitors, or something as big as implementing democratic governance. Encouraging the opportunity for active engagement is also something to consider when designing your spaces programing and events calendars. The 3D Coworking Model refers to these opportunities within the element of Engagement, meaning ways in which your users will interact with your space.

Inevitably, different people want different things, and they will ultimately self select a coworking model that has the combination of service and autonomy that feels right for them. Through Agora RDM’s DEFINE process, we’ve identified various member personas, each of which suggest a different combination of active and passive engagement. We encourage space operators to take this into consideration when deciding which opportunities they will utilize to actively engage members compared to services offered to make their members feel comfortable and serviced.

Ultimately finding some form of balance between these two corresponding elements will be the key in managing expectations and maintaining a healthy relationship where users remain both engaged in the community and satisfied with the experience you’re offering.

The Six Elements of Coworking – A 3D Coworking Model

When designing a coworking space, many are under the false impression that it’s as simple as outfitting a space with some desks, WiFi, and decent coffee and the members will start rolling in. Maybe at one point. However, as this industry grows and coworking models become more complex, so does the design process. At Agora RDM, we’ve developed a comprehensive 3D Coworking Model based on our 3D process: Define | Design | Drive . This model incorporates six elements to consider when designing a flex-use or shared workspace.

The Six Elements of Coworking

More Than Shared Workspace

The rise in collaborative consumption and the sharing economy movement have spurred an increase in popularity of flex-use and shared workspace models. Pairing Space as a Service with assorted business resources, these facilities provide countless benefits to all who use them. Today, you’ll find coworking models of all different shapes and sizes. While there is much debate about the necessity of various bells and whistles some spaces offer, there are three basic factors which must be present in any coworking model.

A driving force behind the popularity of coworking is the ability for individuals who work alone to engage in much needed social interaction. Social or professional groups based around a common interest or skill set, have formed, providing a network to solo workers. Networks can exist in various forms, virtual or in person, however they maintain their integrity regardless of geographic location. When introducing designated space into the equation, you have what Ray Oldenburg, author of Great Good Place calls “Third Space”. Traditional Third Spaces include places such as: coffee shops, internet cafés, libraries, and business lounges.

Defining Differentiating Factors

The differentiating factor between a coworking space and a traditional Third Space is the implementation of intentionally curated experience. These experiences often come in the form of programing and events designed to benefit the user. They also provide operators with benefits such as marketing and additional revenue streams.

To state this in its most simple form:

  • A person working alone is missing out…
  • A person connecting with others creates a network…
  • A network with a space, is a Third Space…
  • A Third Space with purposeful experience, is a coworking space.

We admit, the line between third space and coworking can appear blurry. While the question “What is real coworking?” is often a heated debate within the industry, it’s widely accepted that coworking, no matter the business model, must account for each of these 3 factors: People, Space, and Experience.

Elements = The Tangible & Intangible Components of Each Factor

Each one of these three factors are in reality a spectrum, rather than a fixed concept. Through defining each factor, we have identified pairs of corresponding elements which represent tangible and intangible end of that continuum. Each element itself is then made up of various conditions.

In doing so we find:

  1. The factor of “Space” includes the physical (your Facility, and all aspects that come with it) as well as the intangible (referred to as Purpose, or your “why”).
  2. The factor of “People” includes the spectrum of both internal and external communities. With your members (referred to as Users) being at one end and Stakeholders represented at the other.
  3. The term “Experience” includes both active and passive engagement. How your members interact with your space (the User Engagement) as well as how your space interacts with them (Hospitality).

Understanding the spectrum present within each of these three factors is of vital importance when valuing the elements as corresponding components.(ie; a facility with no purpose is essentially just shared real estate, whereas purpose with no facility is a pipe dream)

When applying this thought process to all three factors at once, you’ll see the image begins to form a 3D cube. The factors of Space, People, and Experience all act as height, width, and depth. The corresponding elements of each factor thus account for parallel sides of the cube. Define, phase one of our Define | Design | Drive process provides organizations with data to be used when charting where their elements fall on each factor’s parallel planes.

Thinking about developing a flex-use or shared workspace business model? Our Define consulting services can provide you with the insight and guidance to mitigate financial risk. Contact us today!

Your Team Needs Training Wheels

I’ve never met a coworking space operator that hasn’t lamented the difficulty of finding and hiring a community manager. Candidates are either too expensive, too inexperienced, or once they are settled in, they find a better gig somewhere else. You’re probably already rolling your eyes thinking “Duh, Captain Obvious.” Fine, then. Go ahead and roll them. But before you do, hear me out.

It’s been three years since a chance encounter helped me realize the extent of the staffing challenge our industry faces. I’ll never forget it. I’d just finished a tour of a space and stepped into the elevator with a young woman on the verge of tears. Not three floors into our journey, she broke down, sharing she’d just interviewed for a community manager role. The problem was she felt utterly unprepared for the interview.

A quick rundown of her work history and experience led me to realize she’d be perfect for the role. The problem wasn’t her. It was the fact that the space had an overly vague job description and little to no hiring procedures. On top of that, when searching “community manager,” she found information about online communities rather than a physical one.

In such an innovative or *shudder* disruptive industry of ours, there’s a learning curve for jobs that didn’t exist 20–30 years ago. What’s surprising, however, is the fact that operators (both big and small) are creating these pain points themselves. How? Simply due to a lack of foundational hiring and training processes. You don’t need a 300-page bureaucratic training manual to quickly and easily nip some of these problems in the bud.

It All Starts With A Job Description

Sure, there are plenty of Community Manager job descriptions that you can find online. But, are you actually taking the necessary time and attention to customize them for your space? There are plenty of folks that I’ve spoken with that say, “But it worked for them…” Sure, it worked for them, but do they describe your specific space? This industry is unlike many others, sharing knowledge via the Coworking Wiki or the Coworking Google group. We don’t stop to think about how our business is different from another’s space.

The amount of time you put into crafting a good job description will pay off ten fold when you find that needle in the haystack of candidates.

Be honest! I can’t tell you about the space (NDA) that was afraid to list membership sales in the roles and responsibilities section and then got upset when their new hires didn’t embrace that part of their job.

Be creative! I’ll never forget reading some of the original job descriptions from NextSpace way back in the day. Iris, Rebecca, and the team did such a great job crafting the description of each job’s role. What was really impressive was how everyone in the organization had listed tasks like, “Clean up any visible spills or messes.” It really displayed their focus on team spirit and how everyone contributed no matter their title.

Focus On Where You’re Looking

Personally, I recommend that you start your recruiting process by checking out local employees at coffee shops, recreation centers, or hotels. You might think you’re hiring for the real estate industry, but you’re actually hiring for a hospitality role. If you witness a barista that goes above and beyond for their grumpy, caffeine-deprived customers at 5 AM or a front desk attendant who is perky and friendly in the middle of the night, you’ve found someone who might very well be a fantastic community manager.

Candidates Are Interviewing You As Much As You Are Interviewing Them

Not everyone has hired people before, and that’s not a bad thing. That said, you need to have some sort of interview process in place before you start soliciting applications. We’ve all submitted for jobs never to hear back from the company again, or worse, to be told months later we didn’t get it. Yeah, no shit Sherlock. In this tight labor market, good candidates (i.e. the ones you want) are getting multiple offers. How you are presenting yourself, your space, and the team is more important than how much they impress you.

With as much sharing as there is in this industry, there’s not a lot of transparency when it comes to the actual interviewing process. That was, of course, until Indy Hall shared their experience. An OG of the industry, anyone who is anyone in coworking knows Alex Hillman, Adam Teterus, and the Indy Hall story. Recently they went through the process of hiring a new Community Manager and OMG! the insights they provided by documenting it are priceless.

Tell: They’ll Probably Forget. Teach: They Might Remember. Involve: They’ll Learn.

Ok, so your job description is spot on. You found a great candidate, and the interview process felt like a match made in heaven. What else is there to worry about? Well, the most crucial part of the process, of course! Training! Henry Ford put it best, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” 

Maybe you’re just so relieved to finally have someone help you manage your community and oversee your space that you drop them in without adequate training. Perhaps that’s how you learned the business or were hired/on-boarded yourself. Either way, I believe inadequate training is the biggest issue when it comes to employee retention.

What Starbucks Taught Me About Training

During my tenure as a store manager and training specialist for Starbucks, I learned the importance of respecting the training process as much as, if not more than, the hiring process. At every step, each responsibility was clearly documented and broken down into a process that built upon the next one. It makes sense right? It’s easier to steam milk to make a cappuccino once you know how to do so for a latte. Just as it is easier to sell coworking once you understand the different benefits of the memberships at the space.

It’s quite likely that this person has never worked for, or even been in, a coworking space before. Your job is to make them feel welcome and comfortable. Ensure that you have some type of coverage for your space while you’re training your new employee, or communicate to members ahead of time that you’ll be out of pocket for a few hours each day that first week. Far too many times I’ve seen someone come to their first day and sit around while waiting for the owner to “get to them.” 

When Training, Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail

Be sure you have all the admin/HR/login/paperwork stuff ready to go ahead of time. You also want to limit the amount of time spent on training and provide time for them to digest everything they’ve learned. Give them the lay of the land, introduce them to members, and have lunch. After that? Let them try out different parts of the space or send them home with some assignments to prep for the next day.

Go over the basics of the job and not just how it’s done, but why it’s done. Pardon the Starbucks references, but when you taste a bad espresso shot and a good espresso shot it’s way more likely that trainees wouldn’t skip out on steps once they saw the why. Build up to various responsibilities and provide them with tools that help guide them. You shouldn’t expect them to be flying on their own until at least a full week or two on the job.

Without diving too far down the rabbit hole, don’t be tempted to cut corners just because you think you don’t have the time for it now. The takeaway I encourage you to always remember is to put yourself in their shoes. Think back on a time when you had a less-than-stellar interview or perhaps no training on day one. This will help you remember the importance of properly hiring, training, and on-boarding your next new hire.

 The post Your Team Needs Training Wheels was first published on Coworking Insights.

Abundance vs. Scarcity: Why Collaboration Always Beats Competition

For most of my coworking life (the last four or so years) I’ve felt at best like a bench warmer and at worst like a spectator of a sport. Imagine I’m a fan of all the teams on the field which are all playing at the same time. Cheering for one person’s goal knowing that it’s because of another’s error or bad luck is complicated. I’ve had the privilege to work on great coworking projects, but none have been a space of my own. Being like “Switzerland” has allowed for a unique perspective of both operator and member alike.

Having a front row seat to the evolution happening to the industry has been exciting, although a little frustrating. Yes, the industry is innovative and growing fast, but many operators are doing the same things (both good and bad). Smart owners are focusing on what sets them apart rather than being the cheapest of “all the other spaces”. And the smarter folks are engaging with their peers rather than avoiding them.

Sure there are plenty of coworking conferences that grant you access to peers in the industry. These industry events are happening in more places more often, but what about your local or regional peers? Are you engaged with the other spaces in your town, city, state, or country? Do you know about all the different ways you can collaborate with other spaces rather than compete with them?

Associations, Federations and Alliances, Oh My!

The first way to collaborate instead of competing is through some form of alliance, federation or association. The Kansas City Coworking Alliance (KCCA) is an award-winning coalition of local shared spaces within the Kansas City, MO metro area. Benefits include meet ups and and passport-like services at multiple spaces. They even hit the world record of the most people to cowork at the same time. Melissa Saubers, owner of Cowork Waldo and a founding member of KCCA, shared that the spaces witnessed a “rising tide lifts all boats” type result of their efforts.

Upon further inquiry, she shared that all the space operators had an unwritten understanding. If someone wasn’t a great fit for their space, they’d be sure to offer a few other recommendations. Being partnered through an alliance such as this, and highlighting all their different offerings and locations helped drive overall demand for coworking. They created and contributed to a sales referral ecosystem.

This isn’t rocket science, folks. I hate to break it to you but hotels, event planners, residential property managers, and similar industries all typically have an industry association with local chapters. Networking with your “competition” is good for business when you realize they are your collaborators. Having a good contact at other spaces increases your ability to capture bookings that aren’t quite a fit for others in your area.

Apps and Communities

In Chicago, the app Deskpass has created a community of both space owners and coworking users. When a space is listed on the Deskpass platform, the owner is connected with other spaces around them. When they host coworking meetups, the events are usually at a new location and create a great excuse for users and owners alike to cowork and connect.

Nicole Vasquez, Chief Community Officer of Deskpass put it best: “Coworking is inherently about sharing, so as a coworking space owner, I found it natural to want to share my experiences with other owners, and learn from their experiences. Doing so allows for us to create better workplaces for our members and improve the coworking industry as a whole. I always seem to learn something new or find something unique at each space I visit, and it has greatly enhanced my own understanding of how to create memorable workspaces.”

Scarcity vs. Abundance

People typically have one mindset or the other and you can tell the two apart in an instant. It’s almost instinctual – something about the person you are speaking with. I’ve done my fair share of coworking events and have visited a lot of cities to see the latest coworking trends. Often, spaces are in a scarcity mindset, rather than one of abundance so they opt out of participating in a formal coworking organization, and thus because the organization lacks paid members it struggles to take off.

Besides KCCA, a few other regional/national groups stand out, such as Coworking Spain, European Coworking Assembly and the German Coworking Federation (GCF). Christian Cordes, Director at GCF, acknowledged the challenges in recruiting paid association members “…yes, most of the spaces would want to know how many [new] members they’d get for paying. What they needed to understand [was] that once they paid and joined it was then [that] they understood the benefits of being an [association] member. And those benefits have lead to helping grow their memberships.”

Pretty much, it’s a chicken and the egg situation. There’s evidence of the benefits of being a part of a formal organization, but that requires you to actively participate through volunteerism and/or dues.

To actively participate means shedding your scarcity mindset and embracing abundance – that there is more than enough out there for everyone. Christian acknowledged that while overall dues revenue is increasing, they also provide spaces with ways to volunteer their time if they are on a budget. Don’t let money be the excuse that stops you.

The 411

Basically, if you aren’t a part of your local or regional coworking network you need to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal, regional alliance. There are other apps and communities that offer opportunities to connect. If you don’t have anything like the above mentioned in your area then be the change you want to see; do something about it. Also, If that long list of coworking conferences isn’t fulfilling your professional needs or wants, redirect that money you’d otherwise spend. Perhaps toward local efforts might change the situation for the better? Save the cash on all the travel to conferences and put it towards hosting a local meetup, dinner or, unconference.

While hosting coworking owner meetups all over the world, it always surprised me how folks would commit if someone else did the planning. If you’re confident in your business and happy with where you are in life, then you have nothing to lose. That is, other than the opportunity to grow your business by collaborating rather than competing.

The post Abundance vs. Scarcity: Why Collaboration Always Beats Competition was first published on Coworking Insights.