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People need each other | lessons learned from 5 years of coworking

coworking lessons
Groundwork’s early incarnation as a beta space in 2014.

This month marks five years since Groundwork began in its humble “beta space.” Back then life was all about assembling IKEA furniture and spending long days alone until our first member Doug started showing up.

Obviously a lot has changed since then, and I’m marking the anniversary by sharing five of the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years. It’s hard to distill hundreds of learning moments down into just a few, so I’ll give it my best shot. Here we go…

Lesson 1: People need each other

It’s the premise of coworking: we get you out of loneliness and isolation so that you can work alongside others. I was driven to start Groundwork after years of working at home myself. After living in a big city I spent a long, lonely winter in my hometown of Cape Cod where the coffee shops close at 2pm. I chatted with a few people in the coffee shops, but mostly they were nameless bodies I watched from afar, wondering what their story was.

Adults don’t know how to make friends

Which brings me to my next point: how many true friends have you made since you left college? Hopefully you are the exception to the rule, but most of us adults have a hard time making friends. We tend to stick with our family units in adulthood, which is wonderful, but it doesn’t challenge us to understand different points of view and ways of life. Friends can push us out of our comfort zones, and help us to become well-rounded humans.

Community doesn’t happen by itself

Here’s a lesson for would-be coworking operators: don’t throw a bunch of desks in a room and expect to have a community. Since it is hard for adults to make friends, you must be willing to do the awkward work of pulling people out of their shells and introducing them to one another. As an introvert myself, this has been a huge challenge and a growing experience. Many days, I’d rather bury my head in work and hope that the community takes care of itself. But the truth is that most of the people who come to Groundwork are exactly like me! We’d all rather bury our heads than attempt the foreign process of friends-making with the person next to us. So while I sometimes fall into old habits, I’ve learned on my better days to get out there, do the work, and plant the seeds of friendship.

We need to care about each other

How does one plant the seeds of friendship? I think it comes down to caring. At Groundwork, caring about each other is one of our core values, and it’s the one that resonates the most with me. There’s a level of generic friendliness that is expected with customer service, and then there’s genuine caring. I think this is what separates a true coworking space from those glossy “shared workspaces” that are popping up in all the big cities.

Last night we celebrated our 5th Anniversary with an intimate party for our members and their partners. The highlight for me was the champagne toast, which ended up with several members stepping forward around the room to share what our community means to them. In that moment, it felt so much more like a family party than a work party. I realized that I couldn’t imagine my life without these people in it. We have all grown so much together over the past five years, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings. I have no doubt it will be bright, because community brings out the best in all of us.P

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