Exactly 5 years ago, in May 2015, we were ready to launch our Coworking business. Construction was almost complete on our newly renovated, 16,000 square foot office space in downtown Phoenix. We had a business model, an LLC formed, pricing, branding, some leases already in place…and now we needed to find a “friendly face at the front desk” to make people feel at home when we opened this new business.
So our first hire was a former teacher looking for her first full-time office job.
We knew we needed someone who could give the right first impression. What we didn’t know was that we needed someone who could do a little bit of everything.
We launched The Department Coworking on one floor of a Mid-rise building at 1st St and Washington in Downtown Phoenix. It included 10 offices, 3 large conference rooms, 70 team desks, a huge kitchen & gathering space, and tons of open workspace. Since then we’ve added two more floors of collaborative workspace in the same building – a floor with large team suites and another floor with 40+ individual offices.
Marketplace One is an AZ-based, private investment firm with a desire to see impact-driven organizations flourish in the heart of downtown Phoenix. We have chosen a commercial building in downtown Phoenix to serve as the epicenter of this pursuit. We invest in real estate, private equity, some venture capital, capital markets…and 5 years ago we decided to launch a Coworking space.
Exactly five years later, our first hire, Marissa, is riding off into the sunset. In a world where millennials don’t stay at the same job for more than a year or two, Marissa has stuck it out faithfully for 5 years. She started out as a receptionist. And soon became the face (and heart) of The Department Coworking. She ran this place.
Oh and she happens to be my sister.
Being the “friendly face at the front desk” turned into giving sales tours, ordering supplies, making coffee (people who run their own business or launch a startup drink A TON of coffee), restocking fridges with endless La Croix, validating parking passes, dealing with every customer issue. She became a Swiss Army Knife, able to solve every problem and quickly turn on #GSD mode. In a small business you get to wear a lot of hats. A few of hers included: event planner, sales coordinator, receptionist, barista, accounts payable, mailroom clerk, and IT tech.
We affectionately called her “The Velvet Hammer”. She enforced the rules, kindly removed people from already-booked conference rooms, asked people to be quiet, collected on the late invoices, kicked people out (only once or twice)…but did all of it graciously and with a smile. (And as we like to say, she does not suffer fools).
She also became a notary just to help serve our members.
Then she became a downtown Phoenix walking tour guide just for fun.
Over the years a lot of the faces have changed. In the world of startup and small business there is a lot of turnover – businesses fail, employees quit, big contracts never materialize, teams downsize, people move away – but one thing has remained constant through all of it, our Community Manager, Marissa. She came in early, stayed late. She was always here and she was always the same.
[Speaking of turnover – one time she joked to someone leaving at 10am, “wow, done already?!”…He had just been fired.
Another time she accidentally walked in on a meeting and laughed about how serious they were being… someone was in the middle of getting fired.]
Community Manager of a Coworking Space
Coworking is a tough biz. When you try to provide “Space As A Service” you have to actually provide great service and not just a cool space. And the Community Manager role at a Coworking space is a tough gig. Everyday there is a new issue, a customer problem, a new team moving in, a walk-in prospect, and always a lot of thankless work. And the next day it starts all over again. When you work in hospitality, you don’t get to phone-in any days. And in the Coworking business, your customers work literally right next to you.
When most people hear “Coworking” they think of an open workspace, modern furniture and maybe unlimited coffee…but a Coworking Space is really about relationships. It’s about joining others in the pursuit of something great. But relationships don’t just happen. They take time. They take work, thoughtfulness, and others-first mentality. They take water-cooler conversations about the weekend and casual lunches (mostly at Harumi Sushi). Building community takes laughing together at little things and being there to listen during the hard times. And The Department has developed a pretty great community over the last 5 years, in large part through the dedication of our Community Manager, Marissa.
For five years Marissa was a machine. She remembered birthdays, knew when babies were due, remembered the name of your kid or your dog. She didn’t miss picking up the goods for our weekly a Bagel & Donut Wednesday ™. We never ran out of coffee, the space was always clean (she sterilized every workspace and conference table before it was cool). We planned some pretty great parties, threw some awesome events. We hosted Startup Week Happy hours, a Startup Weekend lock-in, hosted the mayor, birthday parties, conferences, a lot of lunches, a yearly Thanksgiving Popeye’s feasts and her favorite – our annual Christmas cookie decorating party.
And she had to put up with her brother all along the way.
After the first 3 years of the chaos of running a Coworking space in downtown Phoenix, we decided to expand to another floor of Coworking – drop a staircase in the middle of the office space and add 40 more private offices. More furniture. More coffee machines. More supplies. More logistics. Setting up access cards. Onboarding new members. Moving in new offices. Distributing keys. Billing. Agreements. And all the rest. It turned out to be a pretty incredible workspace, an even better community, and we couldn’t have done any of it without her.
I’ve been asked many times recently, Will Coworking survive COVID-19?
The easy answer is, yes….
People still need community and relationships. Small businesses still need support. Entrepreneurs still want a turn-key office solution so they can focus on their business and not maintaining their workspace. Work-from-homers will still need a place to focus. Service Professionals still need professional spaces to meet their clients. I’m confident the startup and small business communities still need Coworking in some form or another….
The harder question is, What will Coworking Spaces look like in a Post-Covid world?
I don’t know the answer. One thing that will change – We won’t have the smiling Community Manager to welcome people to The Department.
From the hundreds of people you served over the last 5 years at The Department. You made The Department more than just a cool workspace…for so many you made it feel like home.
Thanks for #KTG in the #DTP with me (“killin’ the game” in “Downtown PHX” – her words, not mine).
Kyle Frazey, Managing Director
The Department Coworking