14 min read

How Can a Coworking Space Foster A Sense of Community and Normalcy in Wartime Ukraine? Lessons from Creative States

Discover our latest mini-series of coworking case studies, let's explore the meaning of community in coworking spaces.
How Can a Coworking Space Foster A Sense of Community and Normalcy in Wartime Ukraine? Lessons from Creative States
Image Credits: Creative States

Introducing Coworkies Readers' Club latest mini-series of coworking case studies. Emphasis will be placed on exploring the meaning and importance of community in coworking spaces in 2024. Are you ready to begin this new learning journey? Keep scrolling!

As we are about to venture in the waters of community and its meaning for coworking spaces, what is the first meaning you assign to the 'co'? Is it collaboration? Is it community? Or is it something else?

Community is an integral part of the five core values of coworking. Since 2005, the coworking movement has expanded, prompting different brands to gather different types of communities in and around their spaces.

Over the next few weeks, you are invited to explore with us a seemingly simple yet complex question: What does 'community' mean for a coworking space? To find answers, we've gathered three insightful coworking case studies that will bring you some perspective and inspiration on the question raised previously.

The first case study is about to take you to Ukraine, a country currently suffering from the impacts of war, which has drastically affected the lives of its citizens. Yet, even in the hardest times, some have managed to create safe spaces for those who remained. When your life falls apart from one day to the next, how can you find a community and a sense of normalcy? This article will highlight an extraordinary example of resilience and care.

But before we take you to Kyiv, to ensure you fully grasp the coworking case study awaiting you, let's start with a short deep dive into the meaning of 'community' in coworking spaces.

Upcoming Sections ⬇️
👀 What is the meaning of community in coworking spaces? 
🇺🇦 Coworking Case Study: How Is Creative States Fostering a Sense of Community and Normalcy in Wartime Ukraine?
🚀 To Go Further: Additional Community Resources Worth Exploring.

👀 What is the meaning of community in coworking spaces?

In the past decade, the word 'community' has seen a notable increase in usage. In a time when feelings of loneliness are more prevalent, there's a genuine need for spaces where individuals don't have to feel isolated. However, when a term is overused, its true meaning can become diluted

As Hermione in 'Harry Potter' says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” Well, for us, when in doubt, we go to the dictionary :) According to the World Encyclopedia Dictionary*:

A community is a social group sharing an environment, normally with shared interests

Putting the definition into perspective with a coworking space, 3 layers shape the definition of community here:

  • A Social Group
  • A Shared Environment
  • (Normally) Shared Interests
In essence, the keywords here are:
People + Space + Activities / Topics

For coworking spaces, the physical space is key because it acts as the facilitator for human interactions to start and grow. While the space is there to ignite a sense of community, by gathering a group of people, what makes those people return is not the space itself; it's the experience. It’s when people who come to do an activity in a coworking space (be it work, attend an event, or meet someone) feel a sense of excitement, a spark that makes them want to get more of it.

In essence, what matters, beyond the 4-walls of a coworking space is what (and who) is inside and what you do with everyone you gather.

Credits of this (Amazing) Visual Goes To: Working_From

When coworking surfaced, it brought a new narrative in the workplace. One where each individual in the physical space is seen, recognized, and cared about. One where everyone can actively contribute to the space.

The one role that has made a difference in creating a new experience at work has community in its name and it is: community managers.

By observing what's happening and listening to members they are able to create additional value for them that goes beyond working. They build the 'co' of coworking by connecting people and facilitating collaboration. Through their efforts, they not only ignite the spark in members that draws them to the space but also nurture it, allowing a sense of community to flourish.

So, if we return to the initial question of this section, what is the meaning of community in coworking spaces? The answer might revolve around the notion of humaneness, around people wanting to be together and not alone, but also, and most importantly, about people caring for each other.

Before moving forward, let’s acknowledge something important: community in coworking spaces in 2024 has different levels. As we always say, "Coworking is the same dish, everyone cooks differently." For some spaces, there is a larger portion of the community ingredient than in others. The question is not how to have 'the best' community, because 'best' is subjective. The question here is how you can build your version of what feels like community to you.

Are you a community manager in a coworking space?

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🇺🇦 Coworking Case Study: Creative States, Kiyv Ukraine

Now that the correlation between community and coworking has become clearer, let's examine a concrete example. As previously introduced, our first coworking case study will take us to Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine. What will we find there? A coworking brand that has been doing its utmost to support its community since the war began. Beyond mere support, the team at Creative States has doubled their efforts to recreate a sense of stability and normalcy in their spaces, something that has vanished for many since February 2022.

Discover how, below.

You now have two opportunities to ‘consume’ the content that awaits. You can either watch our recorded video interview below or read key takeaways from it. If you are adventurous, you can also do both :) 

Creative States ID Card

Started In: 2019
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Q: How did Creative States come to life? 
I was inspired by the coworking culture in the US. I studied the specifics of this business for a long time and took the risk of being the first in Ukraine to create a full-fledged office product that is built on the principles of flexibility and sharing economy. Creative States is not a traditional coworking space. This is a real Disneyland for adults and a Hilton for their business. A Creative States resident comes to his office and creates, rather than doing routine work. Only in such conditions we can create something huge and global.” - Ilia Kenigshtein, Founder of Creative States

Number of spaces today: 6 (5 in Kyiv, 1 in Dnipro)
Sneak peek at Creative States

Creative State and Keeping a Sense of Community During the War: A Coworking Case Study

The challenge

In February 2022, four years after Creative States was founded and two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine forced the brand to shift its priorities and plans. As people fled the country for their safety, how did Creative States adapt?

The adaptation

Creative States decided to continue doing what they do best: operating safe, beautiful, and active spaces for their members. Although the programming has changed, the outcome and impact of what Creative States achieves for its members daily are now tenfold (if not hundreds of times greater) compared to before the war.

Discover in detail how Creative States adapted by watching the video above or reading our conversation with Ilia Kenigshtein below. detail

A conversation with Ilia Kenigshtein, Founder and CEO of Creative States, Kiyv - Ukraine. 

🎤 Could you please introduce yourself, detailing who you are and what you do?

Thank you for inviting me. My name is Ilia Kenigshtein, I'm 51 years old. I'm an entrepreneur from Kyiv, Ukraine. Currently, I'm in Kyiv, at one of our locations called Creative State of Arsenal. I'm the founder and CEO of a chain of flexible office spaces called Creative States.

At Creative States, we lead the Ukrainian office hospitality industry. We invent and implement standards within Creative States that are then adopted by other market players.

During wartime, I believe that modern business, under any conditions, should give a feeling of normality. That's our special mission in Creative States. I'm also a big fan of alpinism. I'm trying to find answers to many questions in the mountains. In just one year, I climbed Orizaba in Mexico and Manaslu in Nepal. Currently, I'm preparing for Everest. Last week, I just returned from the Ukrainian Carpathians training camp. It was an amazing time. One more role of myself is as an innovator who wants to be helpful to my country. I was a lobbyist to launch 3G and PayPal in Ukraine.

🎤 Thank you for the introduction. It already shows how active you are. Can we dive maybe more into Creative States? Before the war began how many spaces did you operate and how many members across all locations were you gathering?

From the first days of Creative States, we have been the largest, fast-growing brand in Ukraine. Since 2019, we launched five locations, four in Kyiv and one in Dnipro, to the east of Ukraine, with a capacity of more than 2,500 residents and a total area of around 18,000 square meters.

In the upcoming year, we were going to scale and open new locations in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipro, and reach a total number of 30,000 square meters. The war was a shock. We didn't stop our expansion, but it has been much slower than before.

🎤 What was your first move as a space in the community, when the war began?

Since the first days of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, many residents left Kyiv, Dnipro, and Ukraine in general. When we reopened Arsenal, our biggest location in Kyiv, in May 2022, there were only a few dozen people instead of a pre-war 1,500.

At first, there was a feeling that we would not survive. Most pre-war residents still haven't returned but they say they want to. They haven't found an alternative to us in Europe yet. In the summer, we charged customers half price and also offered the option of freezing the offices, which were guaranteed to remain with the residents until they returned. Some continued to pay full price even though they did not use the office at all. It supported us a lot. Not all our locations coped with the difficulties due to difficult relations with the landlord.

We temporarily froze the location in Senator, moving the members to other Creative States locations. But now, we relaunched our location in Senator in Kyiv. During the wartime, we met many new residents. Now, 50 percent of them are from the tech industry and 50 from other categories of businesses.

New categories we never imagined would work in a coworking space are now a part of our community, like international diplomatic missions, the FMCG sector (Fast-moving consumer goods), and international brands including McKinsey, BlaBlaCar, and Scania.

Today, all our locations are full of residents, it is a mix of Ukrainians and expats.

🎤 Do you currently have two operating locations in Kyiv, or are all your locations functional? How do you manage these different buildings?

No, we have not two but three locations open and operating in Kyiv, and we're going to restart the fourth one.

We also have one fully operated location in Dnipro, which is around 600 kilometers to the east of Kyiv. It's hard to believe, but this location and the city of Dnipro are very strong.

We launched the location in Dnipro again at the beginning of April last year, right after the shock of the war. So, we have five locations, one of them is being prepared for reopening next week, and four locations are open and operating. This includes our Creative State of Arsenal and our second location in the Arsenal area which was previously an old weapon factory.

When we got here, we decided to make a place of peace in a location that for decades produced weapons.

These locations are now full of residents, which is hard to believe, but we see a lot of companies, including many international companies, because there is a huge talent pool in Ukraine.

🎤 Did you get any damage done to your buildings because of the war?

Fortunately, our buildings with Creative States locations hadn't been seriously damaged by the Russian missile attacks. During a missile attack, an iron fragment from a Russian missile flew into the office window of Creative States of Arsenal and smashed one window, but we immediately replaced the glass. No one was hurt.

The location experienced increased security due to its location in the government district and the territory of the old factory that produced weapons during the Soviet Union.

🎤 How has your new community formed, and how did they find out about you?

Our community of residents has always been very active, grateful, and closely knit. In the first days of the war, it became even stronger.

Together with our residents, we launched our internal humanitarian aid fund which helps with necessary contacts, medicines, food, clothing, legal consultations, financial donations, or temporary shelters for Ukrainians who need it.

The community has changed completely since before the war. Now we have people coming to our locations during blackouts to take a shower, for example, because they don't have this possibility at their homes.
It's not just about being a premium chain of working spaces; it's about providing much more than usual coworking spaces.

Our design, customer support, and amenities like chefs cooking fresh food, different kinds of coffee, happy hours with bartenders, and even sleep capsules in our locations are what make us unique.

Regarding Starlink, it's good for 25 to 50 connections, but when you have hundreds or thousands of members, it's not a practical solution due to cost and limitations.

Instead, we found out that if we make a direct passive optic cable connection from the internet provider to our location and the provider can run a generator during blackouts, we have stable internet.

Inside Creative States, we've always had the rule to have a supply of alcohol in case of emergencies. When the first series of blackouts occurred, we put out candles and started offering Prosecco to people to reduce stress levels.

Our locations are now fully equipped with all conditions in case of another blackout in Ukraine, including connected generators, backup internet lines, and supplies like food, water, power banks, and warm blankets.

All this investment was significant but necessary to maintain a sense of normality for our residents.

🎤 How do you and your team keep going with such resilience? What keeps the team together around the mission to bring a sense of normalcy in times like these?

People are brave and resilient, and it's not as scary as it seems from the outside.

Initially, we organized the evacuation of our team and their families to the west of Ukraine, where we rented a hotel complex for safety. As we began reopening Creative States locations, recruiting and onboarding new team members during the war was a challenge but we managed to regroup and restore our pre-war team numbers. It was difficult to replicate the team we had before the war, but now it's easier to find people who share our values.

The war has removed unnecessary filters, leading to a stronger, more unified team. Our Community Managers, along with the rest of the team, are deeply involved in ensuring the safety and comfort of our residents, including guiding them to shelters during air raid alarms.
Our main goal is to maintain normality for everyone, despite the challenging circumstances.

People have shown incredible resilience, with some choosing to stay and work through air raid alarms. We've even adapted our air raid alarms to encourage people to take shelter, counting down from ten to one if they haven't moved, which has been effective.

🎤 What has changed in your daily operations and focus in light of the current situation?

Our mission remains to maintain normality, offering services like stable internet, delicious coffee, comfortable workspaces, and freshly cooked food, ensuring our locations are equipped for both work and daily living needs, especially during blackouts.

Our residents seek the normality they experienced a year ago, albeit with adherence to safety protocols during air raid alarms.

In cities threatened by air attacks, we've ensured our residents can work from specially equipped underground shelters.

We've spared no effort in ensuring our locations are fully equipped to deal with blackouts and emergencies, including generators, backup internet lines, and essential supplies. The main challenge has been managing operations during blackouts and ensuring we can provide a safe, comfortable environment for our residents. Our focus has been on adapting to these challenges, ensuring we can continue to offer a sense of normality and stability in these turbulent times.

🎤 How can the international coworking community support you, your team, and your members today and in the coming months?

Spreading the word about what's happening in Ukraine and the resilience of businesses like Creative States is crucial.

Highlighting our story and the broader narrative of Ukraine's struggle and resilience can help draw global attention and support. The post-war period will likely bring a surge in economic growth and investment opportunities in Ukraine.

Sharing our stories, learning from our experiences, and preparing to engage with and invest in Ukraine's future are ways the international community can help.

Creative States aims to expand beyond Ukraine, sharing our unique approach and learning from others in the coworking community.

We invite everyone to connect with us, share ideas, and support Ukraine during this time. After the war, we look forward to welcoming visitors and potential partners to Ukraine to witness its recovery and growth firsthand.

Thank you, Ilia, for sharing your experiences and insights with us. Your resilience and dedication to maintaining a sense of normalcy for your community in such challenging times are truly inspiring!

🚀 To Go Further: Additional Community Resources Worth Exploring.

If you wish to explore the meaning of community in coworking spaces further, see below some additional resources worth checking:

Digital 52 4️⃣3️⃣ - Empowering Seniors through Community, Impact, Coworking, and Collaborative Partnership: The story of Senior Planet.
Today’s story will take you to New York City. What’s there? A very unique brand that has been using the coworking model to support and positively impact a particular age group: The Elderly.
Digital 52 2️⃣1️⃣ - Building the right team, handling inflation as a community, collaborating with other spaces locally: the story of Herd Co-Kitchen.
We hope you are ready for some food analogies around here! Today’s story will take you to yet another different recipe of coworking, one located in Vienna, Austria that’s targeted at… chefs and food professionals.
Digital 52 1️⃣9️⃣ - Creating Community-Driven living and working environments for Digital Nomads: the story of Outpost.
Join us on a journey to Bali, the stunning Indonesian island famous for its surf breaks and breathtaking scenery. Bali has become a mecca for digital nomads, attracting a host of coworking and coliving spaces, including a very special one that you are about to (re)discover: Outpost.
Digital 52 3️⃣ - Pioneering positive impact and inclusion in coworking: Meet The Coven.
A coworking brand from Minneapolis built one of the most forward-thinking brands there is when it comes to accessibility and inclusion in coworking. Here is how.

If you have a copy of "Around The World in 250 Coworking Spaces", you can also check the following stories for some more inspiration on community in coworking spaces:

Don't have the book yet but interested in ordering a copy? Get yours on coworkiesbook.com and use the code 250Friends at checkout for a community discount.