If we started talking about “community” in a traditional coworking environment, there's a strong chance that we'd be thinking the same thing - your local startup, freelancer, and SME community that does (or could in the future) frequent your space. Maybe in a densely populated city this may extend to include some spaces you partner with, or other groups such as meetups, but generally the commonly accepted idea is that this area is geographically bound.
In the last two weeks, all of this has changed within Australia. Now, when we say “community”, we’re talking about the coworking, startup, and freelancer community nationally (and in the coming weeks, this may extend internationally).
What’s brought about this change is not solely the COVID-19 outbreak currently sweeping the globe, but rather a response to this - finally, we are embracing the “future of work” we have spoken about for so long. A work environment where it truly doesn’t matter where you work from, the hours you work, or the setup you use as an “office”. I have presented on a panel, seated on the floor in front of my laundry cupboard as I have found this space to have the best natural light for a laptop camera, and I have seen others do the same (Zoom uploadable backgrounds are a blessing).
Finally, when geographical location is irrelevant and we are all forced online, we are all equal.
A fellow panellist of mine spoke about this recently and passionately articulated the opportunity this presented for CBD-based and regional spaces to collaborate and learn from each other, even though historically we may have seen little value in this. Now, a potential community member is free to join whichever community they wish - online, they could join a community on the other side of the globe if they feel that’s a better fit and the philosophy of the space resonates with their values - and this puts us in the same pot for a lot of what we can offer.
This doesn’t mean that online each space is much like the other - not at all, as each adds their own flavour to the mix - but rather when the expectation of in-person delivery of services, learning and networking is removed, there are a number of opportunities that open up for collaboration. Yes, coworking desks and event sales are the industry's bread and butter, but as these are beyond our control to bring back within the next 6 months, it’s time we started to take a wider look at what we can offer our national community.
So, here’s my three ways to start to open your scope for collaboration:
Being open to ideas is key in a changing environment - there is so much we can’t control, and so little we can use a template for how this plays out. This can be incredibly stressful for an operator, but also freeing in that ideas and projects that previously weren’t viable may start to be so now. If you have time in your day, reach out to your counterparts in other locations (does not have to be major cities). You never know what they’re working on, or have in the mix.
2) Sense of community
Community underpins what we do, however the definition of this can be broadened during this time. Can you open up sessions for affiliate partners to attend if you are running online networking? Can your community combine with another for events, talks, or skill share activities? How can we explore this new, expanded sense of connection during this time?
Having access to a team of seasoned professionals is key to underpinning a strong mentor program. Previously, mentor sessions were usually limited to not just availability, but also local networks. Now, everyone is home, and able to dial in to wherever, whenever. Do you run a mentor program, or does another space you can partner with? Is now a time to reach out to people you wouldn’t have normally approached, but now work from home has made them more accessible?
This is just a few of the ways I’ve started to change the way I work, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come over the following weeks, and months, as this lockdown continues.
If anyone has any ideas, projects, or is keen to spitball ideas around our new sense of self in the coworking ecosystem, please feel free to reach out and make time with me here - https://bit.ly/2Uxio5P