In honor of Women's History Month 2021, we are profiling women leaders in coworking. Jamie Russo was an early coworking founder who went on to be CEO of the Global Workspace Association. Today, she is CEO at Everything Coworking, a platform for new operators and community managers.
What were you doing before you discovered coworking?
I worked for a healthcare startup and I was spending a lot of time in really uninspiring, unhealthy workplaces in the middle of the country. Coming from the startup world, I knew that environment has a big impact on happiness, engagement, productivity, etc.
What made you take the leap and open your own space?
I got really passionate about creating great workplaces for people that could choose where they worked and I created Enerspace (“energy”) which, way back in 2011, had a workout studio, showers, bike storage and a full kitchen.
You ran coworking spaces in Chicago and in Palo Alto. What did you learn from two completely different markets?
I opened my space in Chicago in 2012 and then Palo Alto in 2013. Those were still the early days of “coworking.” I learned quickly that you need to really understand a market before expanding. Different markets require different product mixes, different marketing strategies and budgets, different community-building approaches. Coworking is really a localized product.
You have a thing for Community Managers. Talk about that.
Owning a coworking space was always one of the many things I was up to at any given time. I really relied on my Community Managers to take ownership of the space. I refer to them as the “heart and soul” of the coworking community. Hire the right one, lead and support them, and your business will thrive. Hire the wrong one, and your business will fall apart quickly, Over time, I realized that the “lone ranger” Community Manager is common...and we expect a LOT of the person in that role. They often handle sales & marketing, operations, community-building and probably a little accounting. They usually learn on the job without a lot of support. So I created Community Manager University to give every Community Manager access to ongoing training and development along with their own peer community.
Why are there seemingly more women owners and leaders in coworking than other industries, and particularly more than commercial real estate). Why is that?
I think the ethos of coworking aligns with the female ethos. Community. A search for balance. Authentic networking. It’s also a business that CAN be done 9-5.
I also think there are a lot of women role models in the industry...and that happened early on...and other women look at their journey and say “I can do that too.” I run a mastermind program for coworking space owners and there are a LOT of female owners in my groups. Unlike commercial real estate, coworking is a really open, supportive industry. Rising tides lifts all boats.
What is the next phase of coworking?
Intentional spaces that are designed to meet the needs of the end-user even more flexibly than they did pre-COVID. We are likely to see more regional players expanding through partnerships with landlords. There’s a lot of opportunity for professional, experienced operators to serve enterprise demand.
I’d also like to see boutique spaces in smaller markets getting the model right - building spaces that support the member in the right ways AND turn a profit for the owner.