This post was originally intended as a guest blog post on behalf of Welsh ICE. However, given that it’s quite personal in nature, we agreed that it’d be a best fit on SEOno instead.
People who know me personally or via Twitter might see me as a (mostly!) cheery, friendly, positive guy. However I’ll be the first to admit that when I was growing up, I wasn’t happy for a lot of my early life… I was bullied in school, suffered from depression as a teenager, and also experienced bullying in the workplace in some job roles that I took on. I’m in my early thirties now and I’m pretty happy about my life and where I am at the moment… And recently, while looking back over key moments in my life, I noticed an interesting pattern in the times that I’ve been happiest in my life so far:
- 2003-4: Working behind the bar at a live music venue in Leicester (The Musician Pub – I recommend it if you’re ever in the area)
- 2005-7: Helping to run LULUMS (Lancaster Uni Live & Unsigned Music Society) while studying at university
- 2013-present: Joining Welsh ICE, a coworking space in Caerphilly (on the outskirts of Cardiff)
In each of these instances I was in a fun environment and working on things that I love, but there was another key ingredient: a sense of community. When I worked at the live music bar, I became friends with my fellow bar staff, the pub managers/owners, the regulars and the performers (especially the locals on the open mic circuit), and we bonded over our love of good music. Similarly, with the live music society at university, I became good friends with other members of the society, the venue owners that we worked with, and the bands that we put on. Jump to the present day and I’m a self-employed online marketing consultant working out of a coworking space, and the people who run it – as well as my fellow members – have become such good friends that they feel like family.
…I know I know, it sounds mega cheesy. And obviously there are other non-community-related factors that are likely to contribute to happiness: I’ve also started a family, started a relatively successful freelance consulting business, and started to run a regular industry meetup event which has garnered great feedback so far. But when you could be working with people for up to 40 hours per week (maybe more!), the people that you surround yourself with become an absolutely crucial part of your overall happiness on a day-to-day basis. After all, we spend roughly a third of our (awake) lives in these environments.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed a fairly big gap between the second and third happy periods that I listed above, so basically from 2008 to 2012. I was working a number of different jobs, and while I met some great people and made some good friends (some of whom I still keep in touch with to this day), I never truly felt like I ‘fit in’ at any of them. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily blaming my past employers… Given that I’ve been self-employed for more than twice as long (nearly 4 years) as my longest stint in any one job (about 1½ years), it’s evident that a self-employed life suits me a lot better than working under somebody else. But even so, as a self-employed individual, I could be working from home, or alone at an office, or at another coworking space where I didn’t feel so connected with the other people there…
To be fair, during the years that it’s been running, Welsh ICE have done an amazing job when it comes to fostering a sense of community – and I’d argue that it’s gotten stronger in more recent years, compared to the earlier years of my membership. They have dedicated Community Manager/Assistant roles now, to make sure that new members are looked after and introduced to the community with ease and effectiveness.
I even remember having a conversation with Gareth (ICE’s CEO) early on shortly after joining, telling him that he was missing a trick by not allowing people to use the desks on a day rate (as ICE mostly only offers part-time and full-time membership options). He argued that if people only turned up to the space every now and again, then there simply wouldn’t be a sense of community amongst the members. However if most people are there (pretty much) all day every day, then they bond, connect, collaborate, become clients of each other, become friends and so on. I honestly thought that he was being foolish at the time – missing out on an additional potential income stream – but he persevered, and it’s still the case today, years later. He was turned out to be right y’know, and now there’s egg all over my face. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now.
So here’s my advice to coworking space owners: do everything you can to grow and nurture a community in your own space. I know that may seem like really obvious advice, and you might be doing it already – but actually commit to it. Don’t just say you have a good community, like some sort of tagged-on benefit of joining – actually [email protected] mean it. Do absolutely everything in your power to make sure that your members have a strong sense of community among them and you will inevitably create a group of loyal ‘lifer’ members who will refer you on left right and centre. Hell, I’ve referred ICE to some people so much that I’ve ended up irritating them, haha! And I’ve visited other coworking spaces where that integral sense of community hasn’t been present, and in comparison those spaces often flounder as a result.
To paraphase one of my favourite TV shows: “You need to stop being just a coworking space. Become something unstoppable. Become a Community.”
[Image credits – Welsh ICE; Den of Geek]