I launched a virtual community during the pandemic and it transformed everything.
The Lab, which went from an idea to an actual community of 30-plus people across four countries during lockdown, changed my work, priorities and days.
But I didn’t know that would be the case when I launched it.
The Early Vision
My vision was to create a resource library of marketing materials for coworking space operators. And the Lab is that. However, it is so, so much more than that. The Lab is, in every way, a community.
Not a community-in-name-only-wishful-thinking-kind-of-thing, but a real community of people who support each other, share ideas and resources, learn together, teach each other, and have walked each other through impossibly difficult times together.
During the pandemic, Lab members were—like everyone else—scared, unsure, under financial stress, facing empty coworking spaces and wondering how on earth to stay afloat.
Our Cry-it-Out Slack channel got a lot of attention. But so did the Celebrate channel. We focused on small wins, leaned in to each other, spent countless hours in Zoom together, and stayed focused on pivoting, marketing new offerings, revisiting existing strategies, and laying a solid marketing foundation for the post-Covid wave—which we’re now seeing—of newly remote and work from home people into coworking spaces.
The Lab Turns One
As we get ready to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Lab on July 15, I want to give a peek into our community, celebrate the coLabbers who show up week in and week out for each other, and share some lessons learned about what a virtual community can be.
Building the Lab
During lockdown, I had time on my hands. Lots of time. So, as my friend Hector Kolonas suggested, I got to work building. One of the projects I had been thinking about for a while was the Lab. I knew what I wanted it to be but I wasn’t sure how to create it. So I figured it out.
I chose Teachable to house the Lab Library of resources and Coworking Convos Archives (a perk of membership is access to Convos recordings and chats). Teachable is technically an online course platform—and we do use it for that—but we hacked it a bit to make it a membership site and it works great.
Shortly after launching, I invited Karina Patel, CMO at Pacific Workplaces and CloudVO to help me coach and create Lab resources. She agreed and immediately became a force and beloved friend in the Lab.
The ultimate pro, Karina is an organizational superstar and smart, generous teacher whose expertise ranges from SEO to Instagram Reels. I’m honored and grateful to collaborate with her.
I wasn’t initially sure we needed a member communication tool.
I was dead wrong.
Katharine Chestnut from Alkaloid Networks in Atlanta encouraged me to use Slack and I’m so glad I took her advice. Slack is the heart of our community of coLabbers. Most days, our Slack is buzzing with conversation. I seeded a few channels then the coLabbers took over, suggesting channel ideas and activating the ones we had in fresh and cool ways.
I could not be happier about this. If you want to cultivate an engaged community, give members ownership of the community.
It is very much our Lab.
At least once a week (sometimes several times a week), we get together for informal worksprints. We jump into Zoom, chat for a few minutes, workshop any challenges or questions people might have, screenshare a timer for 25 minutes, then we work. After 25 minutes, we chat for a few minutes, then we kick off another 25-minute session. It’s a lightweight way to check in with each other, build connections, get to know each other better and get some work done.
We recently opened up the format and invited any coLabber to call a worksprint at any time. We’ll see how it goes but I’m excited by the possibility of more frequent, come as you are connections.
The Lab is, at its core, a resource to learn more about marketing, improve your existing skills, learn from industry experts, explore best practices, streamline your marketing and content efforts, organize all your todos, learn how to use tools to make your life easier, hold yourself accountable, and level up your marketing in every way.
We do a lot of comfort zone stretching, interactive learning, peer to peer sharing and swapping ideas, strategies and resources.
The Lab Library houses downloadable workbooks, cheat sheets, guides, worksheets and group coaching recordings. It’s available 24/7 to Lab members and is getting so deep that it’s probably time to reorganize it into smaller sections.
All this marketing education pushes me to expand my comfort zone, my sphere of expertise and my teaching methods and style. Teaching is not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. It requires regular course correction, self-assessment and deep listening. My intention is to improve with every resource, workshop and coaching session.
Let It Go
There’s a video of Snoop Dogg sitting in his car, listening to that Disney song, “Let It Go.” And he’s feeling it. It’s not a joke or a spoof. He’s letting it go.
Every time I think about that video it makes me smile because letting it all go is maybe the most important thing we can learn as humans moving through life. When it really comes down to it, we’re powerless about most things—the good and the bad.
Life offers so many amazing things—so much beauty and opportunities to truly connect with each other. But we have to be willing to let go of control in order to receive all those things we never could have planned for ourselves.
The Lab went from an idea I had to a project that was created collaboratively. As Daryn DeZengotita from Table Coworking likes to remind me, I have completely lost control of the Lab. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are just a few of the Lab projects that were not started by me:
- Pop-up Happy Hours
- Lab Letters (an opt-in penpal club)
- Daily Accountability
- Bookclub Slack Channel
- Peer-to-Peer Trainings
- Cry-it-Out Slack Channel
- Celebrate Slack Channel
- Editing each others resource guides, ads, web copy and mailers
- In-person visits to fellow coLabber spaces
- In-person workations with coLabbers
- A forthcoming Lab World Tour to go visit each others’ spaces
Getting Out of the Way
Last week I shared a LinkedIn post of two ways to build community. One was to find ways for people to contribute and the other was to enable people to connect directly with one another and get out of the way so they can do so.
One coLabber pointed out that I don’t comment on every Slack post. They assumed I didn’t see all the posts. I assured them that I see every post on our Lab Slack but that I don’t need to chime in on all of them because our community does. Sometimes I just sit back and let the Lab do its thing. And it does.
Generosity and Humanness
One thing I can take zero credit for is the unfailing generosity and humanness of the Lab members. The Lab is abuzz with marketing nerdery…and human connection. From day one, the Lab members created a tone of generosity, fun, support and real deal connection.
I credit our founding coLabbers for jumping in and creating something extraordinary. I’m beyond proud of what we’ve built.
In the Lab, we held each other up through a pandemic and are now pushing each other forward into the future of work.
CoLabbers work with purpose, with drive and with a vision to serve, support and connect people in their communities.
What a joy to watch them receive a thousand views on their first Instagram Reel; fix their Google My Business and see an immediate increase in leads and meeting room rentals; publish strategic and targeted blog posts; create and use their first content calendar; stream a series of live videos; rewrite website copy to hit their target keyword phrases; propose and execute a direct mail campaign; ideate and create a local business resource guide; land on the cover of local publications; and be courageous enough to step forward into themselves and their brand.
It is more than I ever could have imagined.
Heart and Soul
The Lab reflects the heart and soul of work…and coworking.
My sincerest gratitude to our Lab members. I’m so proud of you. Here’s to a bright, bright future for coworking.
P.S. If the Lab sounds like your kind of thing, join us. We’d love to welcome you into our community.
December Special: First month free in The Lab
Use code LABONEFREE at checkout to get your first month of membership free!