Community norms are an essential element of a coworking community. They set expectations and values and give new members a guide to what is, and isn’t, acceptable in the workspace.
NextSpace Senior Community Manager Maya Delano is a wealth of information and experience around creating community norms and keeping them in place. Here are some of her best tips and insights.
Create Community Norms Early
Member norms are created out of necessity. You want everyone in the space to be very clear about what they can and can’t do, as well as what they can expect from their fellow coworkers. Create member norms early and involve the community members in creating them.
“Creating member norms early-on is key because it gets member buy-in,” says Delano. “Before you have a community, you can’t make up your rules—it’s just not going to work that way. You do the heavy lifting beforehand.”
Create Community Norms with Your Members
Delano advises hosting a town-hall-style event to co-create norms together with members.
“Create community norms by gathering a group of members and you, as a group, come up with the norms,” she says. “Then people have a voice around what the community norms are, so they’re going to have more ownership of them and, as a community manager, you’re going to have a much smoother experience.”
Let People Know Why Norms are In-place.
“Community norms are all about setting expectations,” says Delano. “That’s what member policies and community norms are: setting everyone’s expectations.”
Start with the Basics
When you’re creating community norms with your members, start with the basics, including kitchen norms (Who makes the coffee? What do you do with dirty dishes? How long can you leave things in the fridge?), and noise levels (Can you use a headset for your phone in the common area? What about speakerphone or videos? Are there any quiet areas where there is no talking allowed?)
“I let people know during orientation that if they have an opera voice, I’m going to let them know,” says Delano. “I do it in a fun way because most people don’t want to annoy others, they just have no idea their voice level goes up—it’s natural for people’s voice to go up when they’re on a headset.”
Respect the Humans Behind the Norms
Once you set community norms, your job as community manager is just beginning. As Delano explains, the “community norms are the standard, but there’s a lot of humanness in them.”
She advises leaving wiggle room in them and letting members know that, as the space grows and evolves, the norms will, as well.
“Community norms are there to set markers, but you can’t be black and white when it comes to community,” says Delano. “If you have a community manager who is rule-binding, they are not in the right business. It’s all about the psychology of the human experience—there has to be a lot of grey matter.”
Get New Members On-board with Norms Immediately
Make sure new members read and sign the community norms when they sign up. Delano advises making the norms a simple, one-page, paper document they can see and sign during onboarding. “It’s setting your members up for success,” she explains.
Go with the Positive
When creating community norms, try to stay positive. For instance, rather than saying, “Don’t leave your mug in the sink,” say, “Yes, do your own dishes.”
“It’s really important for your community norms to be positive,” says Delano. “If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to do that, write all the no’s down on one side of a paper, then, on the other side of the page, write down what all the yes’s would be.”
Keep it Simple Sweetheart
A lot of the community norms at NextSpace are, as Delano puts it, “the things that you learned in kindergarten, like being kind to others.” Don’t overthink the norms. What you’re trying to do is create the best possible work environment for all your members.
Remember, Community Norms Help Everyone
Norms are in-place to make it easy to know how to behave in a workspace. They help new members, existing members, visitors and community managers. A lot of people are still not familiar with coworking and working in a shared space, so community norms help them comfortably find their way.
“Member norms help everybody sort through this wild world of coworking, which is still so new to so many people,” says Delano. “If you’ve never walked in a community space and you’re overwhelmed, you want to know the rules—you want to know what you can and can’t do.”
Norms are also a powerful tool for community managers who are tasked with the sometimes difficult task of enforcing the norms. Having them formalized and accessible to everyone means community managers can point to them when an issue comes up.
Norms also give members behavior guidelines in advance so they don’t need to figure out the rules as they go along.
“It’s not trial by fire,” says Delano. “No one wants to be told that they can’t use a speakerphone. It’s a lot easier on a tour, or when you onboarding somebody, to let them know they’ll need to use a headset. Then, if someone is using the speakerphone in the space, it’s a simple, ‘Hey, just a reminder of our community norms. Thank you so much. Let me know if you have any questions.’” Having the norms to point to takes the personal out of this aspect of community management.
“It’s something they agreed to when they walked in the space and you’re just reminding them of that,” says Delano. “It’s a lot easier to refer people to something official.”
Member Norms will Evolve
As your space grows and community evolves, your member norms will, as well. In the early days of NextSpace Santa Cruz, the team didn’t anticipate members trying to market to other members in the space. Once they realized what was happening, a new norm was created.
“We didn’t know, when we first started, that we would have people marketing, face-to-face, in the space, to our members, and trying to schmooze and hustle their wares, when people were just trying to get to work,” says Delano. “People want to market to our members, so now, we let them sponsor a happy hour—they get to pay to play. If you bring tacos or ice cream, we’ll listen to you.”
Now, one of the community norms in the space is that members don’t blatantly sell themselves in the space.
“Of course, natural conversations are going to come about,” says Delano, “but you can tell when someone’s selling—you know the difference.”
Know Your Space and Community
Community norms will be different in every space. Kitchen expectations, noise levels, rules around guests in the space, norms around meeting room use and a variety of other things should all be created around your unique space and community.
Your space, and how it’s set up, is going to determine what kind of members policies you need to implement. In a small, open space, noise will be more of an issue than in a space with an abundance of closed door offices. At NextSpace Santa Cruz, the open space is generally bustling with activity and a fairly steady buzz of voices. Because the open space is busy, members have access to a quiet area dubbed Library Row, and four different meeting and conference rooms.
With the addition of more meeting rooms came a new member norm: “We ask people not to squat in the meeting room,” says Delano. “We have a community norm of going into the meeting room on time and leaving one minute before your scheduled time is up.”
What About the Dogs?
An ongoing conversation in coworking is whether spaces should be dog-friendly or not. At NextSpace Santa Cruz, dogs are allowed, but there are member norms—or doggie norms—around them being in the space.
“We don’t allow dogs in our open coworking space,” says Delano. “We’re very cozy and it would not work to have a distraction of dogs. There are not too many places to go.”
Dogs are allowed in enclosed offices once members sign off on the “pooch policy.” But, the dogs have to prove themselves before they’re officially welcomed into the community.
“They get one week to prove themselves,” says Delano. “They can’t bark in the space or pee on the carpet. If they’re quiet as a mouse, then they’re good coworking dogs.”
Addressing Sensitive Issues
When you come upon serious member issues, it needs to be clear what is acceptable and what is not. One of the community norms at NextSpace is not sleeping in the space overnight. It has only come up a few times over 10 years, but it’s a sensitive issue because the community manager is accusing someone of doing something.
“Situations like this call for a face-to-face, off-to-the-side conversation,” says Delano. “Tell the member you need to talk with them about something that’s important and that, to keep our community norms, you cannot have them spending the night—or whatever it may be. You’re just reminding them of the community norms.”
Delano advises listening to the members to find out if they’re struggling with personal issues, or if there’s a way the community can support them, but staying firm.
“Give them a warning,” she says, “but by the second time, they’re out. If the person doesn’t listen to me the first time, I don’t put up with that. You can’t. You have to set the standards that this is not okay.”
Delano explains, however, that napping in the space is part of the NextSpace Santa Cruz culture.
“Napping during the day is totally okay and encouraged at NextSpace,” she says. “If I got rid of our sleeping couch, all hell would break loose. I’m not allowed to get rid of that couch.”
Don’t Send Blanket Emails
When addressing violations of community norms, go right to the source to deal with the issue, says Delano. You can’t email all the members and tell them not to put their dish in the sink. It just won’t work.
Talk to the person face-to-face so you can see their reaction and really listen to them. When you have community norms to fall back on, it removes the responsibility of being a rule-maker from the community manager. Instead, you’re pointing to community norms that the member has already agreed to.
“It sure is nice to have community norms to fall back on,” says Delano, “so I don’t have to make up rules and scold people as we go along.”
View and download the Community Norms Document for NextSpace Coworking Santa Cruz below.
Written by our awesome content strategist, Cat Johnson.