“Our mission of building community and connection has remained consistent. What has changed is the way we deliver against that mission”

Suzanne Willian, Co-founder, The Co-Co

The Co-Co, a co-working, co-learning space based in Summit, NJ, is a business built on offering workers a welcoming, shared work environment with opportunities to interact and collaborate with others. In addition to providing co-working space, The Co-Co offers regular programming, such as panel discussions, events and social gatherings, all designed to build a strong sense of community among its members. 

Suzanne Willian

As a business model built on in-person face-to-face interactions, the Co-Co has had to quickly adapt to delivering their product online. We talked to Suzanne about how she and her partners have transitioned their traditional offline business to an online environment.

How are you adapting your business to an online channel?

With everyone forced to stay at home, community and connection has become even more important. We decided that we needed to fully recreate the experience our members expected from The Co-Co online. So as we did in our physical space, we offer a variety of opportunities for our members to connect, share and learn. We have hosted over 30 online gatherings since we had to close our doors, from coffee and conversation hours, to business workshops to parenting discussions. We have even recreated the co-working experience with our virtual co-working hours on Zoom. 

How are you keeping your members while you are shut?

We are focusing on the long term rather than just trying to keep revenues up during the mandated shutdown. We have two levels of membership – the co-working membership level with a higher fee and the lower fee community membership. Even though it is a significant revenue impact to us, we decided to bring every member down to the lower community level fee while our space is closed. And while we offer some online programming for non-members, we continue to offer exclusive member events.

Our goal is to keep our members engaged so that they will stay with us during the shutdown and will continue when we reopen. We also believe that our public offerings as well as the way we treat our current members today will help us gain new members down the road. 

Have you changed the way you make decisions?

In some ways our decision making process hasn’t changed at all. We launched a little over a year ago, and when you are building a brand, you have to make decisions all the time based on limited information. Under the new and ever changing rules of this pandemic, limited information is the norm so we continue to have to listen, learn, experiment and constantly adapt. It’s been a true learning experience!

Have you changed the way you and your partners operate?

All of us are having to juggle the increased challenges of both work and home during the pandemic. This has forced us to become more disciplined in how we manage the business, with each partner taking ownership of a specific aspect of the business. Before the shutdown, we might have spent more time discussing decisions as a team. But now that we can’t get together as much as we used to, we have to trust each other more. We are more likely to make some decisions independently so that decisions can be made quickly. 

How are you preparing for the re-opening of your business?

There are big implications for how a co-working space like ours can re-open. But we aren’t trying to figure out how to move forward alone. We are working in collaboration with a group of women-focused co-working communities across the country and in New Jersey and with workspaces approved by the NJEDA’s Ignite program, a rent support initiative for entrepreneurs. Our top responsibility during the initial re-opening phase will be health and safety. We need to have our procedures crisp and solid and clearly communicated to members so that they feel safe coming back.

What do you think the “new normal” will look like for your business?

I think the online channel will be a permanent component of our business model going forward. The pandemic has fast forwarded the trend towards remote work and having a professional place close by where you can focus on work will still be greatly valued. And remote workers will continue to want to connect with others, but how and where they find that community may be different for different people. That’s why we will continue to offer community and connection in both in-person venues and online channels, even after the shutdown is lifted. We believe, going forward, customers will have the expectation that services like ours can and should be offered in a variety of formats. 

To learn more about The Co-Co, go to https://www.theco-co.com.

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

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