#6 Mastermind Session: Community Building - Behind The Scene
In the 6th edition of our Community Mastermind Series Leah Ziliak, founder of The Coliving Consultant, and Jon Hormaetxe Castells, cofounder and general manager of Sun and Co gave us a peek behind the scenes of community building. This episode's talk centered around ways your team can build community at each stage of the Customer Journey and include some often overlooked opportunities to make an impact on your community.
As a Guest Experience Consultant, Leah works directly with coliving spaces to build strong communities, and design the resident experience. With a hospitality, community building, and event management background, she helps clients create customised systems to provide consistently solid experiences within their coliving spaces, while keeping community at the core. She herself has stayed at Sun and Co. right before the pandemic where she met co-founder and general manager Jon. Sun and Co, the first coliving and coworking community of the whole Mediterranean Coast, is a home to remote-working professionals, located in the center of Jávea, a historic seaside town in Spain. Because of its outstanding coliving community experience Sun and Co was recently awarded as ‘Best Community and UX’ by Coliving Awards. But what happens behind the scenes of such a well-oiled, highly appreciated and striving community such as Sun and Co. and others that provide a similarly well-received guest experience?
It takes a village (literally): Introducing the 4 C’s of community building
Making something look and feel effortless on the guest’s or resident’s end ironically takes a lot of effort. This also applies to coliving. Leah explains that there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes at places like Sun and Co. that most people aren't able to pinpoint or that even go completely unseen by the residents:
“The guests just know how they feel when they leave the place. They kinda feel like they found home, but they can’t really state what it is exactly that makes them feel this way.”
So what kind of values and actions are there that places like Sun and Co. do so well in building, executing and preservering and which aren’t fully visible to the guest’s observation? Luckily the theory behind a good coliving experience can be broken down to four important main areas that need to be taken care of and executed well. Jon and Leah introduced the 4C’s of Community Building, which are based on Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs:
Since there are so many coliving spaces, small as well as big scale ones in different places, there are a lot of opportunities to live up to the 4 C’s displayed in the graphic above. Jon and Leah provided input as diverse as possible regarding their behind the scenes operations in order for community builders, operators and facilitators to take away and integrate in their own spaces to whatever extent this might be possible:
“[...] we think that you build community from many different sides, which is why we did not only take community building that takes place inside the buildings into account.” - Jon Hormaetxe Castells
Curation: Building them foundations
Within curation it’s all about attracting the right people into your place and setting the tone for your coliving experience from the very beginning, even before the arrival of (new) residents. Nothing is more important than knowing and finding your crowd – the people you want to build community with. In order to achieve that, successful places like Sun and Co. focus on three main pillars that are planned, operated and executed behind the scenes.
While marketing and messaging is something that is obviously also very visible to the eye of potential new residents as well as the current tenants, the whole picture and most efforts that are made within curation stays hidden from them. Successful coliving spaces with thriving communities usually give quite some thought to their customer journey and profile. So while good, consistent marketing reels the people in and pre-selects suitable residents for the place, the community’s values and rules (vetted community) determine access barriers and create a sense of safety that is very much needed in order to provide a good coliving experience.
“You want people to feel safe and comfortable before they even get there. And you can do that by being consistent with your marketing, branding and messaging. It's impossible to have any good experience or any type of community feeling if you don’t look at some of the subliminal pieces of those initial touchpoints creating that kind of safety and trust.” - Leah Ziliak
Takeaway: Be clear on who you are and what you offer.
Convenience: You don’t want your residents to worry about things they shouldn’t even be thinking about
In regards to the second layer on our community building pyramide, convenience is setting the stage and building a good foundation in order to put the more fun parts of community building such as connection and care on top. When speaking of convenience Jon and Leah are thinking of the following pillars:
- Maintenance / Basics
“One of the things we don’t want our tenants to worry about are the logistics. Because when they do, you have them focusing on things that are not relevant for them (that’s distracting and counterproductive to a well-oiled community). Plain and simple example is providing a stable internet connection or repair service.” - Jon Hormaetxe Castells
- Cleaning / Laundry
At Sun and Co. the cleaning personnel aren't just doing the job, but they are a part of the community themselves, which creates connection and also provides a sense of security, because the residents know who comes to their houses to clean. In general these kinds of services highly depend on the coliving space and concept, but in Jon’s experience connecting staff and residents with each other is working very well for the overall experience.
- Internal communication & process
Good communication within the whole team is a must. Short and quick lines (i.e. from sales to the host) are very important. Jon claims that “clear communication also helps the residents to be able to focus their mind on things that are actually relevant for them instead of getting involved around a broken piece of furniture or miscommunication that can be prevented.”
- Customer empathy
When speaking of convenience it’s not only about the maintenance part of a coliving space, but also about facilitation and “customer empathy” as Leah likes to call it. Even though coliving is different from pure hospitality and hotel business, the following questions should best be answered before the residents need to ask them:
> How are they feeling at each stage?
> What do they expect?
> How can you meet expectations?
> How can you exceed expectations?
“You don’t need to run your space like a hotel, but you do need to have a hospitality / customer centric mindset and that’s something Sun and Co does flawlessly. It’s clearly not a hotel, it’s a home and you can tell that the minute you walk in. It’s a different experience, but you do still get the same solid level of service and consistency, and that kind and compassionate communication that you get with any great hospitality experience, which makes forming a community a lot easier. Making everything as convenient as possible.” - Leah Ziliak
Connection: Create places where you can make connections
How to foster connection and get people to feel home away from home? Surprisingly a lot of behind the scenes effort flows into the process of enabling people in a coliving space to create genuine connections and a sense of belonging. At successful coliving spaces, connection already starts with the onboarding process for new residents, is very dependent on a good host as well as events that are organized within and for the community.
- Pre-arrival messaging (templates for communication, immediate connection with the community, setting expectations, anticipation)
- Neighbourhood intro (Guide, local businesses, partnerships, environment)
As for the onboarding, clear and good pre-arrival messaging sets the tone for what to expect from the experience. It also establishes communication between the new residents and the community even before their arrival. This creates a sense of safety and also raises anticipation and excitement about the experience beforehand.
“Sun and Co. and other coliving communities are big on skill-share and collaborative experiences, so they lay that out in the messaging. Asking new residents to think about a skill they’d be able to share with the house beforehand, so people can actually come and be prepared for that. It keeps new people from getting put on the spot when they get there. They know what to expect and what to anticipate and they can get some ideas and have something to look forward to.” - Leah Ziliak
A neighbourhood guide or introduction to their new environment is a good way to connect people to local businesses and events. Leah explains that Sun and Co for example, organizes beach cleanup days. While doing something good for the environment, which feels good, people also subconsciously connect to the area they stay in and develop a sense of responsibility and appreciation.
Be a good host
In order to create a memorable experience for your residence, you don’t always need to go all the way. According to Leah “something as simple as remembering their names can make a huge difference”. People genuinely enjoy being recognized and thought of when they least expect it. Remembering their preference for a certain type of food or music forms that instant connection and makes people feel cared for. The beautiful thing about coliving is that you can dig much deeper than within hospitality or the hotel business.
Design and facilitate your living spaces in such a way that they create opportunities for the community to connect:
“We have the right people in the house, we made them forget about the logistics, now it’s time to give them opportunities to connect with each other, i.e. through cooking hubs / shared kitchens.” - Jon Hormaetxe Castells
There are different types of events that can foster genuine connections within a community. At Sun and Co. there are several homebound events such as living room concerts, yoga and cooking classes or workshops, where residents switch between being a participator and a giver (leading a skillshare workshop or teaching a class). Despite that there are also events that connect the community more with local businesses and their environment such as going out to have tapas together at a local restaurant. While events in the home space offer people to connect in a meaningful way because everyone’s in a safe space, events outside the coliving space foster engagement and connections between the local and the coliving community.
- Think from a new customer’s point of view – what would they want to know or look forward to and include that in the messaging.
- What are ways to connect residents to their new environment, local businesses and themselves with the help of events?
- How can you always pay attention to the details within your community? Showing that you care creates a feeling of belonging and home.
Care: Sharing is caring and more
According to Jon and Leah, Care is the one that makes a big difference for the whole coliving experience. It starts within the sales process and applies all the way until people leave a place again.
Sales process: automatization vs. personalization
How can you show that you care before people even arrive at your place? How about giving them instructions on how to reach the place best and how to prepare for their experience in your coliving space? The welcome process plays a major role here as well:
“By taking the time to answer the questions they are going to have without them having to ask (food, water, coffee machine etc) you’re putting them [new residents] in control of their environment right away. Even though people might figure these things out themselves, the goal is not to let them fumble around to find answers or rely on housemates or other guests to tell them, but taking the time to lay it all out. That shows that you care.” - Leah Ziliak
B-Hive Living from our last Mastermind session regarding Onboarding & Well-being is a good example for a community builder, that has a very natural way of connecting their community. Even though according to Leah community building doesn’t always come that natural at all times since there is a lot of effort going on behind the scenes: educating and training your staff on what an ideal process looks like and even explaining those little things that you yourself might take for granted: “Finding the team members who truly care is just so key in the coliving experience. You know, finding little details and ways to surprise people. When you have a customer-focused mindset, you can even make it a game almost: what do I know about this person, how can I make their day a little bit better?” - Leah Ziliak
House (/ family) meetings
Regular house meetings connect people with each other and can be of great help to create a sense of responsibility and belonging within a community because they enable face-to-face communication. Community meetings aren’t only a good opportunity to address and sort out issues but also to catch up with each other or to discuss and set the community’s schedule for the coming time period.
“At Sun and Co. we plan the whole week together, so all of the events that are going to happen. The ones that are leading the activities are mainly the guests. [...] It’s really important because you start building a sense of contribution: Oh, that person is offering a tour or a course and is not expecting anything in return, so I might prepare a cake and offer it to the community or offer my own expertise / talent on something. With that you create a sense of generosity and caring for eachother.” - Jon Hormaetxe Castells
Be a good host and provide your residents with these kinds of opportunities to connect without pushing them too hard. Being a proactive host helps the community to engage, but also creates room for them to feel responsible and as an active part of their community.
Successful places like Sun and Co or B-Hive Living can’t and don’t want to operate without a proper feedback loop. Leah’s main advice here is “making sure that when someone brings you feedback that you follow it up quickly. That’s a huge part in showing people that you care, that their opinion is valued and that you want that kind of feedback.” However it is not only about working with existing feedback, but also encouraging the community to give feedback. In the end that’s how you can improve the whole experience and maybe even exceed people’s expectations.
As mentioned earlier in this article, caring does not stop when people are leaving. You can continue to build community and that level of caring for people beyond them leaving and after they are gone:
“It’s really important to show people that their time spent within your space meant something to you and the others. When you’re living in a coliving space, you’re forming these relationships very quickly and you’re finding these little pockets of home and it could be a sad experience to leave. You as an operator might have people come and go every week, every month or year to year, but for them, their time at your space meant something. I think it’s important to take some time to recognize that.” Leah Ziliak
Organizing a goodbye dinner or drinks, making sure everyone knows that someone is leaving, giving everyone enough time for a proper farewell are the bare minimum to show that you care. After people leave the place, you can even keep in touch with them through online platforms, with newsletters or a birthday notification. This makes them feel like they’re still a part of the community even after they are gone.
- Put people in control of their environment (i.e. house tour)
- Answer their question before they have to ask them
- Provide a personalized, welcoming experience (provide travel instructions and a packlist) even though some steps of the onboarding process might be automated. “People genuinely enjoy seeing their name on the board upon arrival” - Jon Hormaetxe Castells
- Remembering details helps to provide a pleasant experience for the residents and can really make a difference.
- Listen to and welcome your resident’s and team’s feedback. Make sure people feel heard and cared for.
- Offboarding: show people that you care even after they’ve gone.
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