Recently we got a chance to talk to Iris Kavanagh from the well-known weekly podcast series – Coworking with Iris. A successful business woman, social influencer, and a mother, she is an inspiration to a lot of folks in the world of coworking.
Iris works with shared workspace organizations to streamline operations and develop dynamic communities. Since 2009, she has been at the helm of various endeavors which has helped in evolving the coworking eco-space of the world. She led the NextSpace team during initial expansion from 1 location to 9 and co-founded the League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces and COSHARE, produced Freelance Camps and has spoken at various conferences including the Global WorkSpace Association Conference and the Global Coworking Unconference Conference. Today Iris consults and leads Coworking Mastermind groups, heads the BoD of COSHARE, and runs her weekly media series which showcases the industry and movement leaders across the world.
We talked to Iris Kavanagh to discuss her thoughts on the future of coworking, and other initiatives that she has been involved with.
Team Kowrk: Can you tell us something about yourself & your family?
Iris: I am a mother of a four-year-old and a sixteen-year-old. My kids are my everything. My goal is to raise happy, helpful and good humans. Myself, I love to cook, spend time with friends, Crossfit and discuss politics. I’m happiest when in nature and surrounded by good friends. My parents were part of the hippie homesteading movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I grew up on an organic farm in an area of the US which is very poor in wealth with very little internet access, cell service or electricity and is rich natural beauty and can-do attitudes. One set of parents are environmental and social activists and the other are organic farmers. I was raised in community and felt like coworking was a natural extension of my upbringing.
Team Kowrk: Wow! That explains what you have been doing! So when and how your love for coworking was born?
Iris: In 2008 I was working for a boutique marketing and design firm. One of my clients was launching a coworking space. The company I worked for opted not to join the space so I left and joined as an independent. A few weeks into my membership the founder asked me to join him on the team and I’ve been doing this ever since. My members commented regularly in those early days that it seemed like i had been born to do this job. I am still in agreement, coworking fits me like a glove!
Team Kowrk: How was the journey at NextSpace Coworking – from First employee to the Chief Community Officer?
Iris: It was amazing. Like a dream almost. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do the job I was doing. My background includes working for some pretty tough bosses, and driving myself hard to constantly be producing. Getting paid to sit and chat with members took several months to get used to. It also took me several months to find my “voice” as a community manager. I’ve always been a little shy and awkward when meeting people for the first time (trust me, it’s true!) and developing the confidence to speak in front of large groups of people stretched me and allowed me to gain confidence that has flooded over into all aspects of my life. The best part of the journey was the people. I was lucky to work with both amazing members and to assemble a smart, caring and hard-working team of individuals. I didn’t work with a team like that before NextSpace and of course haven’t since. In addition, through the members and team I have developed life-long friendships, the majority of my friends today are from my years of coworking!
Team Kowrk: Which is the most amazing coworking space you have been to? Please provide details of what amazed you.
Iris: Wow. This is a tough question! I’ve really had to think, kind of like a mom who loves all of her kids for their uniqueness, I have loved the majority of spaces I’ve visited for various reasons, design, location, mission, etc.
That said, one space that truly stands out is the Digital Nest in Watsonville, California. The thing that amazed me the most is the impact they are making on the lives of their members. They are a free coworking space for youth age 12-24. The youth come from a majority underserved agrarian population and many do not have access to technology or internet in their homes. Digital Nest provides a safe, community space for the youth to gather, free healthy food, access to technology (You can actually check out or book equipment for use such as MacBook Pros, film and photography equipment, drawing tablets and even a 3-D printer.), and education and training for high-tech skills such as digital media and software dev. They have over 800 members and have even placed some of the members who have aged out in jobs at Facebook and the University of California!
Team Kowrk: Coworking with Iris is a great initiative. When and how did you start it?
Iris: Thanks! The idea came out of the concept of offering “office hours” for people running coworking spaces. Many spaces offer office hours to their members, where they connect business services, such as legal or financial with the members who need these services. I originally thought it would be great to offer the same to coworking spaces, but to do it digitally. The program has changed and morphed from there.
Team Kowrk: And that’s why it has been so popular. What has been the most memorable interview experience you have had?
Iris: There are several, one of my most memorable has been my interview with Laura Shook, I just love her coworking story and her drive to help female entrepreneurs succeed. WE only just met right before going live with the interview but the synergy we felt was very engaging. I think I made a new friend with that interview!
Team Kowrk: Isn’t that great. So what is the future plan for this series?
Iris: My goal is to offer other forms of information via video format, as well as hosting panel style conversations on topics relevant to the movement. I also plan to offer podcasts in 2017 on topics that will vary from the current video series.
Team Kowrk: How do you help coworking spaces to “make community happen” through consulting? Can you share name of some spaces that you have worked with?
Iris: I support my clients in making community happen through identifying their brand values and developing a member experience which allows them to build deep and trusting relationships with their community. The tools I offer are best practices around relationship building, communication, hiring and staffing support, team and culture building and providing guidelines for operational efficiency. Clients I work with are BLANKSPACES in Los Angeles, ECO-SYSTEM in San Francisco and several of the LExC member spaces.
Team Kowrk: Can you talk a bit more about Collaborative Operating System (COS)?
Iris: COS is a platform for decision-making in the corporate setting which seeks to identify and allow all stakeholders to be empowered in the decision-making process. Trainees learn to identify stakeholders, decision-making problems and to develop a decision-making process that is truly collaborative. The tools and resources offered could be applied to many of the most complex problems in our world, affecting a net positive result for all stakeholders.
Team Kowrk: What was the idea behind The League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces- LExC?
Iris: The original idea behind LExC was to formalize the Coworking Visa in order to allow members to have a network of similarly positioned coworking spaces to work out of when they travel. LExC grew into something more akin to a founders’ club, where owners and operators share ideas, best practices and support with each other.
Team Kowrk: From your experience @GCUC, how do you think un-conferencing benefits more than conferencing?
Iris: Unconferencing benefits people through the active exchange of ideas which happen in the sessions. In addition, unconference participants are able to suggest session topics they may not find at a traditional conference. My favorite aspect of the unconference is the democratization of ideas. No one is more or less of an “expert” than anyone else, instead each individual is able to contribute from their specific knowledge and experience.
To know more about Iris’s work, or subscribe to her podcast, visit http://coworkingwithiris.co/.