How I make Indy Hall a better coworking space by documenting all the “hard stuff”

A few years ago, I learned about the power of having a Spark File.

Alex Hillman wrote a piece about how he uses a Spark File to “defrag his brain”, citing influence from Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air and Where Good Ideas Come From and most recently, How We Got to Now:

“The Spark File, Steven describes, is a process/tool that he uses to collect “half-baked ideas” and then revisit them. For 8 years, he’s maintained a single document with notes & ideas with zero organization or taxonomy, simply a chronology of thoughts. He calls this document his Spark File.

Once a month, he revisits the ENTIRE Spark File from top to bottom, revisiting old ideas and potentially combing them with newer ideas.”

When I started a Spark File, and it was really helpful, but I had a hard time remembering to use it because I have a hard time reminding myself to write things down as they happen. Beyond just recording stuff for the sake of, well, recording stuff, I needed a good reason to be writing down anything at all.

How I Found My Sparkfile

I wondered, what if I could keep a Spark File that was directly tied to the work I was doing for Indy Hall, a file with a more specific focus by?

Any time I encountered a challenge at Indy Hall, I’d record the details. It would be something that I could revisit as a means of chronicling a history of the community that I was learning to maintain.

Taking a page from Alex and Steven, I’ve been keeping a permutation of a Spark File, specifically designated to remember everyday challenges that pop up in this coworking space.

For every moment of “friction”, every issue, request, or obstacle that I approach, I would write it down in a giant notepad. My Spark File is an archive of every hardship I’d ever meet and surpass, taking note of who was involved, what happened, how we worked together to find a solution and grow stronger.

5 Things I Learned using My Sparkfile

  1. I learned to change my perspective of the issue at-hand. Writing out the details of some conflict means stepping away from the issue, laying out logistics to remove personal bias. It also allowed me to catalogue the type of challenge I was looking at – is this an interpersonal conflict between members? Something to do with event planning? Is this a technical issue that we can MacGyver our way through, or does this demand the attention of the building owner?
  2. I learned to document the history of this community. In a very real sense, these are the points through which we’ve grown, the how/what/why of everything that would cause us to get closer together and stronger. Having all of this in one place in some organized fashion meant having access to an epic story of highs and lows, everything that’s shaped the community to be the way it is right now. That’s kinda huge, and it’s crazy not to hold on to that information.
  3. I learned how to start finding patterns of activity. When keeping the Spark File became a habit, I’d inevitably begin seeing common obstacles and information bottlenecks. “Oh, looks like a few people have had something to add when it comes to dogs visiting Indy Hall. Huh, apparently a few people have been confused about how to create an event here during off-hours. Seems like there’s consistent confusion about Night Owls, our late night coworking. I’d say we’re in need of some serious retooling to boost clarity about how Night Owls works.”
  4. I learned the value of communicating better with my own team. Listing the specifics of every little and large obstacle means having one, concrete reference point we can all turn our attention to when something’s going down, we all know where to turn to find information about the scenario. As Indy Hall’s staff team has grown, communication has proven to be one of the trickier and most important aspects to scale. When all of  us has access to detailed explanations of an issue, we stay on the same page and can all weigh-in without having to waste too much time on sharing and re-sharing context. This is really big for us as a team, it helps us operate with support for one another, rather than in silos of privately-held information.
  5. I learned to better help our members by having a stronger insight of the present through a deeper understanding of the past. Hopefully it’s obvious, but documenting the things we’ve dealt with as a community means I’m able to serve, assist and collaborate with members better. I’m not making the same mistakes as when I had never encountered a subject like this before, we’re making quick work of hurdles that we’ve encountered together before.

So much happens in a day at Indy Hall, it’s remarkably easy to look past little interactions without really cataloguing why it happened like that, but that’s a rookie mistake. Everything that happens in a day here happens for a reason, and I’ve been using my Spark File to make sure I never ignore or forget that.

Start Your Own Spark File Now

Now it’s your turn. I borrowed the idea from Alex and Steve Johnson, and you can (and should) claim the concept as your own. Here’s how you can start your Spark File right now:

  • Create a Hackpad account. It’s totally free and super valuable, I use it to collaborate with community members regularly. It’s a great place to keep a Spark File.
  • Next time you’re working through something challenging in your coworking space, write it down in your file.
    • What’s the challenge?
    • Who’s involved?
    • Why did it happen?
    • How did you get through it?
  • Never stop adding to your Spark File! As your team of staff gets bigger, you can share it with new peers to get them up to speed on the history of your community.
  • Finally, remember to revisit your Spark File for constant reference. What you’ve added to the file is only as good as your habit of reading and rereading the contents. Use everything you’ve recorded to help you be a stronger, more experienced community manager.

Happy Spark Filing!

Don’t forget the Golden Rule of tracking attendance in your coworking space

Tracking attendance in a coworking space is a funny thing. There are a slew of platforms and tools built to help do the task:

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None of the ones above are specific to coworking, though, and all of them have something in common – something that each of them lack: an emphasis on saying ‘hello’. Before you get into looking for turnkey solutions for keeping track of who’s coming, you’ll only need to do 2 things as far as attendance goes:

– say “hello”
– and say “goodbye”

The most bare-bones, straightforward way of keeping track of who’s here? Just say “hi”. At Indy Hall, I use Google Spreadsheets to document the daily attendance, but the important part is simply looking up and greeting the person walking past. Want to go for bonus points? Make sure to use that person’s first name.

Saying “hello” is the foundation of taking attendance, the Golden Rule if you will, and it can’t ever be skipped. Sure, a name drop and a hand wave isn’t logistically thorough, but it’s meant to be built upon: going the analog route is, well, analog. It leaves room for a bit of error. You may forget who you’ve seen today, especially if you’re used to seeing that person every day. The more comfortable you become by seeing the same people, the less motivated you’ll feel to mark that they were here today. You’ll trust yourself to remember – “he’s here everyday” – and you’ll forget to jot names down. That’s bound to happen, but you can stop it from causing you to slip up.

Set a reminder on your phone. Every other hour, on the hour, remind yourself to take stock of who’s here right now. If you’re going to get into the habit of taking attendance, do it in a way that means you’re actively engaging the people around you. Get up and say “hi”. Who have you not said “hello” to yet? Fix that.

They’ll remember that you did. On your side, you’re just taking attendance (and making sure you’re noting the folks who should be charged for additional Day Passes, making sure you don’t drop your responsibility of collecting precious member dues). On their side, you noticed that they went to the effort of coming in. You may not realize this immediately, but that part is HUGE. Folks who join coworking spaces have this in common: they want to be around other people. They want to be noticed, maybe just a little bit, and who doesn’t? Even the guy who quietly slips in and exits with just as much stealth will be happy to have his existence noted.

Think about your favorite bar. Walking inside and having the the bartender shout your name, shake your hand, tell you he’s glad you’re here – that’s priceless. For just a moment, as soon as you step inside, you own the place. You’re the most important person here. This is your bar, the one where people know your name. You can give that to your members every. single. day. They’ll notice your warmth, and it’ll keep them coming back. It’ll have them explain to friends how great their coworking space is, why it’s more than just an office. It’ll mean those people will invite their friends to experience that, too. And for you? You’ll note who’s present while learning names and faces, which is pretty damn significant.

I’m not saying that a warm salutations will alleviate the pains of keeping track of everybody in the space, especially as you grow larger, but it’s the only place to begin. Every coworking community has varied needs depending on the very unique characteristics of the people there so use whatever works best for you. Regardless of the software you use, do not, do not, do not let your attendance-tracking-office-suite replace the most important part of acknowledging who came in today. Acknowledge loudly and publicly. Always say “hello”, always say “goodbye”.

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