16 life changing lessons about community


When I launched The Lab in 2020—early in the pandemic—I had no idea it would become the heart and soul of my work in coworking.

But it has.

Our community of indie coworking space operators has taught me more than I could ever teach them. Expressions of generosity, courage, business savvy, resilience, humanness, vision, service, kindness, strength, humor, creativity and intelligence are daily occurrences in The Lab.

It is an honor to hang out with our coLabbers, day in and day out, on Zoom, Slack and sometimes in person.

Here are 16 life changing lessons about community I’ve learned in The Lab.

1. Provide numerous ways to connect

People have different schedules, time zones, availability, interests and responsibilities. Be sure that everyone can plug into the community in a way that works for them. We have weekly Zoom events, but we also have a super active Slack, a weekly Lab Digest to capture the must-sees and must-knows, a Lab Bookclub, pop-up office hours and worksprints and more. This allows members to get in where they fit in.

2. Embrace and share imperfection

It can be challenging to show our imperfect selves to the world—especially if we fancy ourselves community builders and leaders. But, I’ve learned this lesson over and over and over: People don’t connect with perfection—we connect with realness. You’re not perfect, your space is not perfect and your community is not perfect. Embrace it! Share it! Your community will be much deeper and richer for it. Realness beats pretending every time.

3. Trust and empower your community

You may be the community builder and leader, but your community is the true source of power. Trust and empower the community to step up, help shape things, contribute and have your back. The more you trust and empower them, the more they step up.

Years ago, I was hosting a Lab accountability event when I got dropped out of Zoom and couldn’t get back in. By the time I was able to rejoin, about 10 minutes later, the accountability session was well underway, led by … the members. It was an unforgettable reminder that the community can (and will) take care of the community.

4. Be part of the community

As the community builder and leader, you have unique responsibilities. But, that doesn’t mean you’re above or outside of the community. You are part of the community. And the more quickly and deeply you get this, the stronger your community will be. No one wants to be community’d at. Your community is a circle of points, and you are one of those points.

5. Welcome new members in immediately

It’s intimidating to join a new community. New names, new faces, new culture, new people you know nothing about. It’s a lot. Take immediate and intentional steps to welcome new people into the community, let them introduce themselves, help them feel at ease and part of the group, and find out what they’re hoping to get out of (and contribute to) the community. Bringing people immediately and warmly in will strengthen the community, add to the unique fabric of the group and reduce your membership churn.

6. 1:1 connection is the foundation of community

Community is a group, but it is built through strong 1:1 connections. Give people ways to connect without you; encourage conversations; make connections with each member; introduce people who would be a good fit for collaborative projects. 1:1 connections, at scale, make an unbreakable bond of community.

7. Do unscalable, unreasonable things

As you build and grow your community, do things that are completely unscalable and unreasonable. For instance, have long conversations with members, write handwritten thank you notes, take a member to lunch, give meaningful feedback on their work and projects, give thoughtful gifts. These acts of hospitality can give members a profound sense of belonging.

8. Provide a place of belonging

As humans, we are desperate for belonging. It’s in our DNA. We quite literally could not survive without each other. To be separated from the herd means death for us. The more you can provide a place of belonging for your community members, the stronger and more connected your community will be.

9. Know that you’re not for everyone

The only thing worse than a non-member is a poor-fit member. It just doesn’t work for anyone when someone is not a good fit for the community. Knowing that you’re not for everyone requires knowing who you are for.

For a couple of years, I was marketing The Lab as a place for all coworking space operators and teams, even though I knew that it was the community-focused indie operators who were perfect-fit members and truly shining in The Lab.

I was making such a rookie move in trying not to limit my market that it’s a bit embarrassing to admit. I thought I had niched down far enough—but I hadn’t until I had a hard lesson with some poor-fit members. I was forced to look at who I’m for, and who I’m not. Doing so made a huge difference in the business of The Lab and our community. It also liberated me from the blandness of trying to serve “everyone.”

10. Focus on perfect-fit members

Once you know who your perfect-fit members are, focus one hundred percent of your energy on serving them. This involves deep and active listening, building things to support their direct and immediate needs, working every day to better understand them, their challenges and their vision, and taking a service mindset to support them in every way you can. Your perfect-fit members are the animating force of your community. Without them, you have no community. Proceed accordingly.

11. Model humanness and empower people to bring their whole selves to the community

It’s important to let people see your whole self. This means being open about your wins, struggles, life, joys, grief, overwhelm, vision, a-ha’s, course corrects and everything else. You don’t need to overshare, but if you don’t bring your whole self to the community, no one else will either. The more you’re courageous enough to be who you are, the more your members will be inspired to bring their courageous, whole selves to the community as well.

12. Seed the community with awesome people who know how to co

When people ask how I created such a great community in The Lab, I tell them that the community does the hard work. I just keep everything moving. One thing I did do well, at the very beginning, was to seed The Lab with people who know how to co: people who are generous, smart, collaborative, compassionate and community-minded.

The Lab started with a small handful of people, including Karina Patel, Katharine Chestnut, Hector Kolonas, Daryn DeZengotita, Stormy McBride, Christy Alexander, Kate Schwartzler, Jen Luby, Jessica Erickson, Mari Rosas, Iris Kavanagh and Ann Long. A tone of deep connection and generosity was set from day one. So, as new members joined, they were welcomed into a thriving, mutually supportive community. Now a community of 70-plus indie operators, the tone in The Lab remains one of connection, collaboration, authenticity and generosity.

13. Celebrate generosity

The more you model and celebrate generosity in your community, the more generous your members will be. Be generous with your time, expertise and resources. The community will pay it forward in ways you can’t imagine.

14. Fiercely protect your community

Your number one job is to protect the integrity of your community. That means watching out for self promotion, making sure questions are answered, being available to celebrate and cry it out, getting rid of bad actors immediately and staying hyper-focused on serving your members.

15. Build your community with your members, not for them

Every project needs room to breathe—to become what it wants to be. If you cling too tightly to your vision, you’ll miss the magic of co-creating your community … with your community!

Some of the best ideas in The Lab emerged organically, or at the suggestion of members. For instance, Katharine Chestnut encouraged me early-on to have a Slack for The Lab. That Slack has become the central brain, heart and connecting place for our community. Worksprints were born out of a suggestion to have some content accountability. The Lab Bookclub grew from a great conversation we had about books coworking space operators should read. Many of our guest teachers are Lab members themselves.

Don’t let your vision of what your community should be limit the infinite potential of what your community could be. Let your members in on your vision and process, and give your community room to breathe.

16. Ask members to contribute

The more members contribute to your community, the more they’ll feel a sense of belonging and ownership of your community. Ask members to teach a workshop or lunch and learn, have them write a blog post or create a video, feature their photos on your social feed, invite them to share their story with the group, ask them to host a game night or other event, have them sponsor a happy hour, see if they’ll make their famous cookies for the group.

Get creative about what’s right for your space, community and members. But know this (and I’ve been a member of seven different coworking spaces, so I have some experience here): We members don’t feel truly part of the community until we’re contributing to the community.

Indie coworking space operators

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