Talk to any community manager in a coworking space about their biggest day to day frustrations and they’ll all tell you the same thing: it’s the mother*&%$#@! dishwasher. Loading it, turning it on, emptying it… for those of us in the trenches, the struggle is real. At the BizDojo Auckland, I have waged a war on Dishwasher Apathy since starting here nearly two years ago, and I’ve picked up some good strategies along the way.
I’m sharing them now not only for anyone else out there in a shared space struggling with their dishwasher, but also because this scenario is a microcosm for any issue in your community that can become subject to a Tragedy of the Commons mentality.
1. Ask for help in the moment.
This one I learned from our fearless co-founder, Nick Shewring. When you go to fill/turn on/empty the dishwasher, actively solicit help from other residents in the kitchen. “Hey, would you mind putting these away for me/grabbing the dish powder/rinsing those bowls?” At this point I don’t even ask when I’m emptying it, I just start handing stacks of plates or the cutlery basket to whoever is around me. Half the time I get residents jumping in as soon as I start.
2. Make them think.
We’ve had signage above the countertop - directly above the dishwasher, in fact - that says ‘Clean Up After Yourselves, We Ain’t Your Mamas’. Pretty blunt with a playful edge, right? You’d think that would do the trick, but nope… people become numb to things they’ve seen every day for a year. You have to keep signage fresh, and preferably it’s something that makes someone pause to think about for a second. With that in mind, behold: NSync. The number of times I catch new residents staring at it quizzically… priceless. But by the time you figure it out, you’ve been forced to actually process the message, which is DON’T LEAVE YOUR DISHES IN THE SINK! #result
3. Public shaming!
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I call people out (either politely or with a dash of humour) in public when they drop their dishes and walk away. I’ll also bring it back to your desk if I know it’s yours, AND I’ll take photos and post them on our private residents-only Facebook page. It’s not about being a jerk, it’s about developing a sense of accountability to their fellow community members - and yes, that means inspiring a little bit of guilt.
4. Gamify it.
In a bid to acknowledge the residents who do actively help with the dishwasher (and to be clear, that’s most of them!), I’ve initiated a chalkboard that bears the name of whoever did it last. This was actually a suggestion a couple residents made a wee while ago, and made me realise two things: I’m not alone in wishing everyone would clean up after themselves, and a little credit for helping out goes a long way. Today the chalkboard said ‘Satan’, other days it says ‘The Dish Fairy’, but often it bears two or more names in a touching reminder that collaboration is borne of the everyday.
5. Sometimes, you have to let it all fall apart.
The first time I went on vacation for a few weeks, back when I was the only community staffer at the BizDojo, was the single best thing I ever did for the dishwasher. Because eventually, once there is no more room on the counter and no more dishes on the shelves, our residents were pretty much forced to figure it out themselves. DREAM RESULT! So to this day, every once in a while I decide to go on a private mini-strike, ignore the dishes piling up, and let the community self-correct. It’s magical. (Provided you don’t have a high profile guest coming through the space at the same time you decide to let anarchy reign for an hour.)
I always talk about community management as being similar to teaching, in that theoretically, you want to become redundant because you’ve created a self-sustaining mode of thinking. Realistically, that will never happen - we will always need to be actively stoking the fires of communal responsibility to combat the natural entropy - but building a strong culture of self-reliance like we currently have at the BizDojo Auckland can certainly make your job easier.
Sarin is the Community Manager at BizDojo Auckland. Follow her on Twitter.