In the early days of my coworking life, I made a lot of mistakes. One such mistake was implementing policies and processes before they were necessary. One such policy was our first meeting room policy at Impact Hub Salt Lake. What follows is a story about us trying to do things the “right way,” then discovering our own way.
The Big Move
It was 2014. Our coworking community at Impact Hub Salt Lake had been operating in a pop-up workspace for a few months while our long-term home was undergoing renovations.
Previously an art gallery, our temporary space was comprised of a large and beautiful room filled with natural light, and two adjoining rooms on either side of the main one. But however beautiful, the space was quite awkward to design around with its half-height walls jutting into the interior and the fountain-like skylight firmly planted in the center of the main room. But we made it work.
After testing several layouts, and with the addition of some new tables, I came up with some creative furniture placement that maximized the use of otherwise dead space. Additionally, rearranging the furniture freed up one of the adjoining rooms, which we previously reserved for fixed desk members. Naturally, we turned it into another meeting room.
All was well.
Then one day, several months later, we moved.
Once we moved into our newly remodeled, 20,000sqft, exposed-brick-wall-filled, former-carriage-factory, we began to notice something strange. While we now had two additional meeting rooms, our members were now using the meeting rooms less than in the previous space.
And because the meeting rooms had prominent placement in our new home, the space looked dead, which unquestionably wasn’t helpful for impressing would-be members during space tours.
This decrease in meeting room use didn’t make sense to me. With access to more, newer, better-equipped, and professionally designed meeting spaces, suddenly our members had almost stopped using them entirely? I tested the wifi; I sat in the chairs; I smelled for bad odors. Nada.
Then I did the thing I should have done in the beginning: ask my members why they weren’t using the rooms. Their answers floored me.
“Well, I don’t want to use my meeting room credits in case I need them later,” one member told me.
“I don’t know how many meeting room credits I have left, and I don’t want to run out,” said another.
“I keep forgetting I have them,” admitted one more.
Members weren’t using their meeting room credits because, of all things, they had FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They were worried that if they used the allowances I was giving them, they’d accidentally find themselves out of meeting room credits when they really needed them, later in the month.
What’s more, they had almost no visibility into their meeting room credits due to the coworking management platform we were using at the time, which was a user-interface nightmare.
I wasn’t sure what to do. This problem hadn’t occurred in the previous space, or maybe I didn’t notice it. We’d had the room limits for some time, but for whatever reason now they were an issue.
Unlimited? Yes, Unlimited.
One of my team members offered up what seemed like a crazy idea. “Why don’t we just give them unlimited time in the meeting rooms?” he asked.
What if members abuse the policy?
How do we prevent members from planting themselves in the meeting room for use as their own, personal office?
I mulled it over and decided to give it a try. After all, it would be a long time before we’d have any conflicts or issues due to overuse. The rooms were literally gathering dust.
After the announcement to our members, nothing much happened. At least, not at first.
The increase in meeting room use started as a trickle, but eventually, there was a steady stream of activity.
I remember the space began to feel more alive at some point. There was a buzz that just wasn’t there before. Members started coming into the coworking space more often due to the increased utility and comfort. New members were surprised and delighted by the unlimited meeting room policy.
People began to use the meeting spaces for all sorts of exciting things. Meetings and phone calls still occurred in the rooms, of course. But so did podcasts, videography, photo shoots, workshops, team lunches, yoga, and more.
The no-limit policy granted our members the ability to do work they couldn’t do in the open space, but for which they weren’t willing to rent a private office. They had more freedom and therefore were more creative with their use of the meeting spaces.
“But how did you stop members from hogging any given meeting room?” you may be thinking.
We trusted our members to be responsible with their use of the meeting rooms, and we told them so. We gave them the autonomy to determine what was appropriate for their needs.
For example, there would be times when a member would need to use a room all day for a few days of interviews, but then wouldn’t need it again for three months. That type of usage was perfectly acceptable.
Our fair use policy.
We had both a written and verbally stated fair use policy for new members. This policy outlined that there were no limits on meeting room usage, but that we had the right to determine if members were abusing the policy. We offered an example of unfair use: somebody who would book a meeting room for eight hours for use as a private office.
We never had to enforce this policy. People got it.
But then there was a problem.
As time went on, we got busier. We brought in a startup accelerator which included several large teams. Soon, the teams were using the meeting rooms non-stop. Our regular members were getting frustrated because their access was being severely limited.
This meant it was time to bring back the meeting room limits. But we did so with some notable caveats.
Our reservation policy wasn’t perfect, but it was ours.
Members received a generous set of meeting room allowances (sometimes unlimited depending on membership level);
if they needed to reserve the room they had to use our management system to book it with their meeting room credits or else pay the hourly rate;
otherwise members could use the meeting rooms on a walk-in basis as often and as long as they wanted.
This policy had a notable, and somewhat entertaining, application. If somebody was squatting a meeting room (i.e., they hadn’t reserved it but were using it), somebody else could book it and immediately take it over. To us, this was the happy middle ground where members felt they could get a lot of free utility out of the meeting rooms, but also ensure they could guarantee it was available when they really needed it.
At present, Impact Hub Salt Lake offers members either eight hours per month or unlimited meeting room use depending on membership tier. In the end, we opted for a hybrid unlimited model. It may not be perfect, but it was home grown.
When it comes to meeting room management, there are probably as many models as there are coworking spaces on Earth. Regardless of yours, whether you choose to go unlimited or impose fair use limits on your members, or anything in between, it’s important to think about the policies you want to implement. Remember that they’ll reflect to your members how you think about your workspace and affect how they’ll act. Don’t just do what the other coworking spaces are doing. Explore how you can turn your policies upside down to surprise and delight your members, while at the same time ensuring everybody gets a share of the coworking happiness pie.
One super-useful way to manage your shared resources, like meeting rooms, is to use technology to help you do it. At Habu, we happen to offer some of the juiciest coworking management software this side of the universe for managing your meeting rooms. And everything else!