We opened our home in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood this week as a free coworking space, Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to start. If you’ve done something like this, or are planning to, I’d love to hear your “how to” because we’re learning to do this and need all the help we can get. Steps so far. The numbers indicate the order I did things in and aren’t necessarily a suggested order.
1. Discover the idea and watch your energy skyrocket. I was so excited by this idea when it dawned on me a few weeks back that I immediately started telling close friends about it before I asked husband and housemates. Whoops. That’s a fun conversation. “Honey, how would you feel about having our home become a free coworking space and, oh yea, I already sort of invited my Seattle Consultants Grotto group?” Fortunately, we have a ACOF partnership. That is, we can always count on forgiveness.
2. Receive support from those in your home. I asked Daniel, housemates Chris and Emil, and backyard cottage-renter Kristine if they’d support the idea and asked if they had any concerns. I received only support. Good sign. I felt I didn’t need to ask Grady (dog), Ansel, Bella, and Joe (cats) because they’re the ones that gave me the idea in the first place.
3. Receive support from neighbors. I then sent email to all the neighbors that I know up and down our block to see what they thought about the idea. Fortunately, thanks to progressive dinners, tool sharing, our front yard “neighborhood fruit” garden, annual block parties, front-porch gatherings, and the community pit-stop Central Cinema (half a block from us, plus owners Kate and Keven are our friends and neighbors), I know almost 30 of my neighbors. I told neighbors about the idea and asked them if they had any concerns. I expected someone to worry about impact to street parking and created a detailed approach to ensuring this wouldn’t be an issue before I sent the message. I woefully underestimated my neighbors. Here’s what I heard back:
“Lori, I LOVE this idea. We’re actually renting out desks at my employer’s office downtown… It’s been great to get to know new people, have people to bounce ideas off of, and made for some really interesting lunch conversations….I’d love to be my own ‘boss’ and just write….I may take you up on the offer. This is very, very cool. I hope you get quite a collective together! Thanks for doing this.”
“Great idea! I’ll pass this on to friends who may be interested.”
“That sounds so great! I wish I was in a better position to jump in with freelancing. What a great adventure. I hope it works out! Keep me posted!”
“Hi Lori. This is such a cool idea! Unfortunately, I have to be at my desk at work five days a week. Boo.”
4. Become grateful, thankful, more humble. Wow. We’ve lived in our neighborhood almost 10 years now. It dawned on me as I heard back from my supportive neighbors that this wasn’t actually my idea. This is a need that my neighborhood has that directly maps to my own need. I finally slowed down long enough to recognize that. I’m so lucky to live where I live, surround by these neighbors. I can’t wait to meet more of them!
5. Connect with others learning in the same direction online and make friends via learning and sharing. A few months back, a person I didn’t know (a fan of the Collective Self blog at the time) added me to the Facebook group called Coworking Worldwide. I didn’t realize I was part of this community until he added me to it. He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. I now consider him a friend. Thanks Bert-Ola Bergstrand! I’ve been lurking in this group for months, watching what others in the coworking community are doing, not realizing that the idea to morph my home into a coworking space would come to me. I respect and trust many people in this online community today. Favorite found resources in the past month:
- Coworking Seattle group
- Coworking News and their Global Coworking calendar
- Desk Wanted
- Global Coworking Unconference Conference
This was technically the first step for me. Could have put it first and called it “Receive an invitation to join an emerging community.” But think perhaps this was a Lori-specific first step, because I study emerging community and self-organizing groups for a living and it’s the nature of my work. If everyone waited around for invitations into emerging communities like I do, we’d probably never get anything done, so don’t let lack of invitations stop you. Just follow your energy!
6. Connect with others learning in the same direction locally and make friends via learning and sharing. I contacted people within two more formal coworking spaces I know about in Seattle this week: Office Nomads and The Hub. I told them I love what they’re doing for our community. I also told them that if they learned of anyone in our neighborhoods who couldn’t afford their spaces, I’d appreciate it if they’d tell them about me. Again, I received a ton of support. I haven’t met these folks face to face yet, but I already think they rock and am planning to become friends with Susan at Office Nomads and Lindsey at the Hub whether they like it or not!
From Office Nomads: “Hi Lori! Wow – what an amazing email that was to get! I am so excited that you’ll be hosting regular Jellies at your place – that’s fantastic! We’ll be sure to share the info. And I’ll have to swing by sometime – that’s just a block away from the last house I lived in, and just a few blocks away from my new place (I’m also in the CD). Let me know if there is anything that you need, or if you need help getting the word out. Take good care and thanks again for all the kind words.”
From The Hub: “Hi Lori, This is wonderful news! I’d be happy to spread the word to our fellow Hub members, including in our next member email. I used to live in the CD and would have loved this option had I the chance – so am excited to pass the word on to others, too! Thanks so much for sharing”
7. Small pilot the idea. I strongly suspect that we will love having our home be a free coworking space. In fact, one day we imagine converting our back rental cottage into a larger community space. But we don’t know this for sure. What if we hate it? This is why we decided to start small, one day a week, for eight hours. Seems like a good way to test the idea. If the community here grows, then we will too.
8. Grow slowly and with collective intention/intuition. Studying community and self-organizing groups for the past few years has taught me a thing or two. So has gardening. Weeds grow quickly and crowd out other plants. Weeds often piss me off. Trees grow slowly and branches leave space for other branches to receive sunlight (Thanks Ali for that image/idea.) I love trees. I want to live the tree and forest experience. Want people around me to have space and be comfortable telling me when I’m being a weed. For us this means that the invitation to join our coworking space went out to friends, neighbors, and friends-of-friends-and-neighbors only first. Only one person showed up this week. And this is a good thing. I asked Office Nomads and the Hub folks to give us only personal referals for community members who really need our space and NOT to advertise in their newsletters and things yet. I want connection and friendship to be at the heart of this space–and making one new friend this week seems like the perfect way to start. We may advertise in the Central District News eventually, and through the coworking community networks, but I want that to be group decisions. So for now, very small is very good.
9. Play. For me, this started by reflecting on what I like to do and don’t like to do and then making that visible. For example, I don’t want to be in charge of our coworking space. I like to spend my time gathering, hearing, documenting, and telling community stories. I want to be a member of this space, not one of the “people in charge.” In my groups, everyone is a leader or nobody is (depending on how you feel about the word leader). However, some people like visible leaders, so we have those too. Grady, Ansel, Bella, and Joe are a group already really good at making the space playful and fun. So, they run our space:
- Grady, Exercise and Outdoor Activities Director
- Joe, Director of Napping
- Ansel, Chief Play and Innovation Officer (Ansel answers to Batman, Ansel, and Honey Badger)
- Bella, Dispute Creation and Resolution Smackdown Specialist (she starts and breaks up fights for fun)
They created one rule for the space: people with severe dog or cat allergies have to sit outside.
10. Self-organizing groups build community, so get out of their way. In my experience, individuals find and receive community, while self-organizing groups build community. The first person to show up in our new space this week (besides the executive staff and me) was another community story gather, like me! He said “I just love to learn and love to be surrounded by learners.” This is the only thing I look for in new friends and work colleages. And this stranger just walked in my front door and said that out loud. How cool is that? I shared with him a new idea: starting a Central District/Capital Hill Story Tellers and Gatherers meetup group to find others like us. He said he’d add members and find a public space place for us to meet. He also told me about another new formal coworking space in my neighborhood: Agnes Underground. I felt like hugging him as he left but didn’t. I’d just met him. Didn’t want to weird out the first person who showed up. Thanks Michael!