11. Scott Chambers - President Global Workspace Association

Episode 11 - Scott Chambers

Guest: Scott Chambers, Global Workspace Association & Pacific Workplaces  

Today I chat with Scott Chambers, president of the Global Workspace Association and Chief Operating Officer of Pacific Workplaces which has 15 locations in the Bay Area. Scott has been in the industry for over 23 years and is providing thought leadership as business centers navigate the quickly-changing landscape of shared workspace. Scott and I chat about the history of the industry and how business centers are changing to stay relevant. We also get the scoop on the Alex Hillman/Adam Tetrus road show that GWA is sponsoring called “SMASH the stereotypes on shared workspaces and modern workers.”

Scott is a big sports fan, what is his favorite team or sporting event?  Scott is passionate about Giants baseball, and describes the six month season as a combination of statistics and soap opera. Sports is his outlet, his happy place. Baseball is also something he shares with his teenage daughters. His most memorable sporting event was watching the Giants play in last year’s World Series playoffs, where they would eventually go on to win the World Series.

Tell us a little bit about you both professionally and personally.  Scott works in the Bay Area currently, and lives in East Bay. He wasn’t always in the Bay Area, though. As a child, Scott moved from Portola Valley to a 365 acre ranch on the coast, and went from suburban life to cleaning stalls and milking Pebbles the goat.

Tell us a bit about the Global Workspace Association (GWA) and the business center industry.

The Global Workspace Association is the international trade association for the workspace as a service industry. Its roots were in representing office business centers, traditional brick and mortar spaces with subdivided meeting rooms and offices. It is now an industry association in transition. If we look at the workspace as a service industry, the excitement and growth is in coworking. Scott believes that the “grassroots” coworking movement is beginning to mature. Business leaders are bringing a sense of credibility, professionalism, and profitability to the coworking space. The business center world and the coworking world are growing closer together, rather than farther apart. There are quite a few similarities from a business perspective, given that the overall mission is providing a communal, shared working environment.

The business center industry started in the 1960s, and the founding point was sharing a law library. A group of attorneys decided to share a law library, rather than each purchasing their own. It was a way to share expensive infrastructure and technology. Then, people began to think “If attorneys can do this, why not accountants? Why not entrepreneurs?” A lot of growth took place in the 1980s and 1990s in second generation spaces, originally built by law firms and vacated in favor of larger offices. As groups settled in to shared work spaces, there were secondary benefits, such as networking, knowledge sharing, and simple human interaction.

Coworking spaces like WeWork leverage a totally different mindset than the 1980s and 90s. Now, sharing and community building and social media is second nature. The analogy between WeWork and business centers is very similar to what happened in the 1980s, when the European business center company Regus came to the United States. The competition that Regis brought to the industry also brought validation and awareness to what business centers were doing, and ended up making them better than ever. Scott says that the situation with WeWork is having the same effect. They’re bringing awareness and validation to the industry.

Tell me a bit more about GWA’s roadshow, “SMASH the stereotypes on shared workspaces and modern workers”. The sessions are going really well. The roadshow is going to New York, Philly, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Boston, and DC. There have been mostly business center people, with some coworking people in attendance as well. Alex and Adam are doing a phenomenal job of getting up to tell a story about building a community. They get people thinking about new ways to do things, whether you’re selling to entrepreneurs, executives, or attorneys. People want more out of their workspace. They want social interaction.

To support that, from the very first conversation with a potential client, Scott notes that you have to engage with them and ask them where they’re coming from. You need to find out out whether the workspace is a good fit for everyone. Consumers want to buy from someone they trust, so you have to establish a relationship before you try to sell.

Tell me more about "choice architecture." As Scott puts it, "choice architecture" is about the creation of different types of space for different types of moods. It’s about the creation of neighborhoods. One of the great changes taking place in business centers has been embracing open space. With choice architecture, you realize that you’re working for different types of space at different times of day to work, whether you’re an attorney or an entrepreneur. You might not want to be holed up in a private office all the time. In Pacific Workplaces’ evolution, we’ve found that the sweet spot is a mix of offices and open spaces.

One concept that came up at WorkTech NY last week was how people work at home. How do you bring more home to work? How do you bring more comfort into the workplace? One of the great takeaways Scott has derived from the last couple of years is that it’s a lot more about the people than it is the space. You can’t just put  space together. You have to build a community. One of the things Scott mentioned was the evolution of Pacific Workplaces. Early last year they rebranded from Pacific Business Centers to Pacific Workplaces, because they wanted the name to encompass the different types of space we offer. They wanted to become so much more than a business center. Scott and Pacific Workplaces are beginning to place a higher value on relationships, networking, socialization, and the intrinsic satisfaction of human interaction. They used to have “center managers” and “receptionists." Now the staff are called “community managers” and “community coordinators”. The clients are no longer “clients”, but “members” (even if they don’t know it yet!). Scott says they have a lot to learn, but the transition has been quite fun!

GWA has been historically more business center focused. How is GWA looking at coworking as being part of the workspace family? Scott sees coworking as the future. It does not mean business centers will go away or die. There are certain types of work that need to be done in private environments. It will take time and work, but having the likes of Mark Gilbreath and Bill Jacobson on the board will help move GWA forward. They will be looking at elections for a couple of new board seats in the fall. It’s about embracing a new vertical in an industry that has been around for a while. GWA has a successful legacy of 20 to 30 years, but is focused on the future.

What are you most looking forward to about the GWA conference? The annual GWA conference will be in Denver from October 21-24.

GWA has put together a good group of speakers that will talk about the future, choice architecture, community, and coworking. Scott says they’ve always worked really hard to put together inspirational, motivational speakers on the workspace-as-a-service industry. It’s about turning networking, and turning relationships into partnerships and friendships. Scott can monetize his takeaways in real dollars, and also in relationships and satisfaction. It’s a few days of working hard and playing hard, and plus some fun evening events.

As a bonus, relationships developed at conferences seem to last longer now thanks to social media. The networking and communication flow is much easier, and more powerful. It makes getting together in person that much more valuable, because you can extend the relationships you develop much more easily.

One of the things that comes up at conferences is always around marketing. The coworking folks, because they’re so passionate about community, often focus on building a community as a marketing tool. If you were to give advice to coworking spaces that are starting to grow and scale, what advice would you give them about marketing? Given that Pacific Workplaces is a portfolio of companies that can operate as one, they have some muscle with respect to budgets and human capital. The consumer that Scott is looking for is engaged through the web. 95% of his customers come through the web. But there’s also value in building networks, which is easier said than done. The pooling of resources is incredibly valuable. If he offered a one-location company, he would be challenged to go it alone, and would be looking to pool resources. For example, Bill Jacobson has a network in Boston, with reciprocal usage agreements with offices downtown and in the suburbs. That allows the consumer to work from multiple offices, and creates greater value than an individual business could offer.

Laurent Dholland is going to be hosting a webinar in July on the power of networks, and that is something Scott encourages people to look up through the Global Workspace Association. He’s a very forward-thinking individual, and Scott think that both coworking and business center operators would find it very valuable. It’s free to attend.

Resources Mentioned in this Podcast:

Global Workspace Association

Global Workspace Association 2015 Conference

Pacific Workplaces

GWA Event: Smash the Stereotypes on Shared Workspaces and Modern Workers


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PodcastJamie Russo