Most days I love coming to work. That’s because I believe I work in one of the best studios in the world.

Studio One in Frome, Somerset is on the bottom floor of the Silk Mill. There’s a few of us friends who effectively share the rent and space. Amongst us we’ve an architect (yes, a real one, not a ‘cultural’ architect whatever that is), a landscape architect, a copy writer specialising in tone of voice for large organisations, a media and campaign team, and a ‘Senior Analyst’ who used to work for the UN (we think he’s a spy).

Not only are the people rad. The space is open, light, welcoming and fun. We’ve a great balance of calmness and intensity, purpose and fun, friendship and professionalism. Sorry if this is making you jealous but below I share a little of how we recently did something to intentionally build our culture. I believe this could be helpful in other co-working spaces.

Building culture requires intention, focus, and space

A few of us sit on the grass in a circle outside of the normal studio!

Culture amongst a group is more than just good vibes and friendship, more than a swanky kitchen and funky coffee tables. It’s about deeper relationships, more trust, and alongside that, more vulnerability. It’s about getting to know the people around you as human beings with all their messiness and complexities, and being willing to be seen in all your incompleteness and uncertainty.

Yesterday a few of us from Studio One took one hour to go for a walk together in the local Rodden Meadow. It was LOVELY! Just being out in the sun felt nourishing and conversation would have flowed easily. Being a facilitator and enjoying the depth of intentionally held communication I invited a certain focus to our discussion on the following question:

How has your experience of working at Studio One been so far?

(I can’t take full credit for this question. The ‘spy’ helped me – I’m not surprised he’s good at asking questions.)

We shared our thoughts in response to this question, mostly positive, with a few gripes about quieter space where we could do calls in privacy. It was heartwarming to hear what a support this space has been for many of us through Covid, child births, mental health issues and divorces as well as new relationships. We also shared an appreciation of the inspiration we all feel in being surrounded by such high quality work being done with so much meaning and purpose.

After this round we moved onto the second part:

What offers would you like to make to the community? And what requests do you have for support from the community?

This secondary inquiry gave us a chance to drop a level deeper in our conversation and, without being explicit, invites an edge of vulnerability. Offering something that nobody wants might have me feel un-wanted and has us question our value ‘What can I offer!?’.

Requesting support shows up where I’m struggling or could do with help. In regular chatty conversation we might not ‘go there’ with these more direct and intimate ways of speaking. That’s why a facilitated space (into which a clear invitation is made) is important.

We stand together as a band of brothers out in the woods!

Here’s what you can do to build culture at your co-working space

  1. Create an invitation to your event that outlines all the essential info while giving people a clear sense of what it is that you’re inviting them to. You can see the invite I created here.
  2. Encourage people to come to the event sharing what you hope to be the outcomes of the time together (this may not be obvious to others). Be brave and commit to the date you’ve chosen once decided.
  3. Facilitate the conversation in two parts using the two questions above. With a small-ish group (below 13) it works to go round in one circle speaking one at a time with everybody listening. Bigger than that group I’d suggest breaking into smaller circles
  4. Ensure you keep to time and enable everybody to speak if they wish. Close the gathering at the time agreed. After the offers and requests round it’s nice to have time to move those into practical steps – let this happen after the more focused round of sharing.

Nice one! I wish you all the best with your culture building efforts. These things don’t happen by themselves (indeed it was quite a challenge to get this group together, enthusiastic and supportive as they are!).

If you work at a co-working space, or if you run one, and would like some support in your culture building efforts then please reach out. We promise an open and honest conversation and always enjoy meeting new people working in this curious and emergent field.

(This article originally appeared on Chris Hardy’s LinkedIN page, May 2022)