Alex Hillman – How Can Coworking Cope During the COVID19 Pandemic


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For this Podcast, we have Alex Hillman, Co-founder of Indy Hall, a coworking space in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. 

In this podcast, Alex talks about his community’s reaction to the COVID19 crisis: what they did, how they started to prepare, and how they are keeping their community intact. He shares thier fears and struggles, the fears as many businesses have had and are having

What does Alex say about how any coworking community or business can figure out what works?

You may not know what your community would want to do online, it’s not your job to do it for them. It’s your job to figure out what they’re already doing and say, Hey, would it be cool if we found a way to do that together, and then use the online tools to do this, now is an unprecedented time to experiment. 

Not everything needs to be the most valuable or perfect because everybody is figuring everything out. I’m gonna talk more about some of the most experimental stuff that we’ve tried out. Just to give you an idea of how much range there really isn’t these tools, and maybe inspire you to be able to say yes to a member. 

Because that’s really been the way we’ve been framing it is when members have ideas, we say, yes, let’s figure out a way to do that. And a lot of cases the answer is I don’t know how to do that. But we get to figure it out together. Nothing is going to bring people together. Nothing’s gonna build relationships and bonds like figuring things out together.




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Bernie J Mitchel   0:04  

Hello everybody and welcome to this very special edition of the Coworking Values podcast. Normally it’s Zeljko and me interviewing someone or talking to each other but the world is, and our coworking industry is in one of the most unique places it’s probably ever going to find itself. And our friend Alex Hillman, from India, who sent us this recording of a call that he did earlier this week, about how he closed Indie hall, and all the membership procedures they put in place, how they dealt with a landlord. 

There’s a lot of very accurate, timely information that we get asked all the time in the European Coworking Assembly. We have a daily call in London and what’s in this call comes up all the time, so we couldn’t wait to share it with you. Zeljko  and I are posting every week on this podcast. There’s lots of information coming up on the new one, by the time you listen to this, probably the new and published European Coworking Assembly Website. 

There’s this information everywhere. If you just put into your nearest search engine, European Coworking Assembly, that will take you to our site and take you to the social media and stuff. You can get in contact with us by the website. There are tons of information that you probably need right now to help either run your coworking space, keep your members engaged, and keep your business alive at this critical moment in human history, so get in touch. We hope you’re staying safe. Take care of each other. It’s great to see how the community is coming together both in Europe and around the world. Be careful out there it’s a jungle, and enjoy. 

This episode is brought to you by Cobot, our leading management software for coworking spaces, office hubs and flexible workspaces around the world. You know one of the best things about Cobot is, it is produced by people who manage a coworking space and know the ins and outs of the main problems and issues, bugging coworking managers. So if you want more time for your co-workers and community, check out Cobot, and take your coworking management to the next level.

Alex Hillman 02:23

 I am going to get a started because I’ve got a lot of stuff to go through. Every couple of moments, I may pause to catch my breath, and when I do that, I’m going to let more folks into the room. So, to kick things off today is, first of all, thank you to all of you who have joined and those of you later who will be watching the recording, thanks for tuning in. I hope this is helpful for lots of you. 

What a strange couple of weeks it’s been and I want to start before we get to anything tactical, to just let you know that we’re one way or another all in some kind of the same headspace right now. Everyone’s got problems to solve, and in a weird way that unites all of us. You know, if you run any sort of business, whether it’s a coworking space or not, we run into problems, we solve those problems and we move on. It’s really rare that everyone in a particular group, or place or planet is experiencing some version of the same problem at the same time. So the optimist in me wants to say that there’s something powerful about recognizing that we are all dealing with this together. We’re all going to deal with it in different ways. My goal today is to show you how we’ve been dealing with this at Indie Hall as a team and a community. Hopefully give you some clues, some prompts, some ideas for how you can make smart decisions. Decisions over the coming weeks and from the looks of it, potentially months, so that when we’ve done all the right things, and we’ve beat this invisible havoc recur, that we can come back online and get back to the stuff that we got into this to do in the first place. 

So I want to start by telling a super brief story, it goes all the way back to about 2009. I was at South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas, with a group of people who had organized the very first panel discussion about coworking at one of the biggest international conferences in the world. That had never happened before, and one of the people in the panel asked to the audience of people, who many of whom were interested in starting coworking spaces, some who had actually started coworking spaces already to go through a thought exercise and a thought exercise is to imagine what would your co-worker space look like if it went away tomorrow, and realize that, you know, all that’s left at that point is people. And so you can start asking yourself questions, you know, who are these people? What do they do? What do they do professionally? What do they do to socialize? What do they do in their families and their communities? How do they interact with each other? You can think about these people, what are their goals? And what do they need in order to reach those goals? Think about these people, how they make money, how do they make a living? How do they grow and improve? What do they do when things go wrong? And how can you help them help each other? 

And that thought exercise back in 2009 was meant to illustrate that even when you do have a coworking space, it’s really valuable to go through this exercise once in a while and realize what it is that you really do? What can really be provided even when physical space and real estate is not the main thing. The thing that none of us could have predicted nine years ago is that for a lot of us, that’s not a thought exercise anymore. And it got really real, really fast. So I want to start by sort of framing out how I’m going to share what I’m going to share. And then the goal is to open up to some questions at the end. 

I want to be careful about making this prescriptive. This is not if you do this, you should do this, those sorts of things. This is what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, how we made those decisions. And the responses that we’ve seen to all of these things so far has been positive, in so much that our members are maybe tighter together than ever before, and we have a very, very small percentage of cancellations. Less than 1% of our members have said I need to cancel or suspend my membership, and just about all those cases, because those folks are concerned about their finances as well. We’ll get into that a little bit. But I want to take you through the timeline, especially for those of you who have either just closed your space, maybe today. I know a lot of cities over the weekend, a lot of places around the world have issued mandatory closure notices or if your city is about to, you’re thinking about getting ahead of this, I want to take you through sort of a day by day timeline of what my last week has looked like. Because I feel like you may be somewhere in this timeline, there may be things that you unintentionally skipped, or you go back and, and address. 

Now, this is not a perfect order that we did things in. And for those of you who are planning ahead, hopefully this can give you a little bit of visibility into the things that you are going to need to accomplish in order to navigate this smoothly because something that our mayor here in Philadelphia said last week is there’s no playbook for this. Which means that you know, every day I’m getting up in the morning and going, okay. What are the things we need to figure out today? And how do we as a team and a community do that, and at the same time document it for ourselves so that we don’t forget what’s going on and for other people. So throughout this entire timeline. A couple of things that have been consistent, I’m not going to reiterate at each point in the timeline, but you can assume that they were done essentially at each step. 

The first is all of our communication goes out to our members email list first. Whatever tool you use for that, whether it’s Mail Chimp or your coworking management software, whatever makes it easy for you to message every single active member at the same time. Use that, it’s going to make it easier on you and easier on them. If there’s any coworking software providers out there listening, I will say it is really nerve wrecking to not know whether or not these emails are getting to our members. So, if you would consider introducing open rates and things like that, just to know who’s potentially not getting these messages. 

We have been hearing from some folks that they didn’t get it but they were appreciative that we posted in other channels to let them know that there was a message that they might have missed. One of the themes here is going to be repeating yourself. People will forget they’ll miss emails because they’re busy. They’re super distracted right now, or just because an email, it gets dropped, and that’s just part of the unfortunate thing of communication.  This is the time to be patient and understand. And just be prepared to say the same things over and over with the same grace and compassion and enthusiasm you did the very first time. So we’re posting to our email list and we post to a channel that allows for member conversations and questions. The email blast goes out, you know, like a marketing, email, Mail Chimp, ConvertKit, whatever you use, and then we take that same message and put it into something where people can have a conversation, Slack is one of them. Group buzz is another tool that we use. We’ll talk more about tools a little bit later on. But we want to have that message in a public space so that if people have questions, concerns, maybe we forgot something, that those questions can be brought up in public, in addition to private channels.

And then the last thing we do is taking that message as much as possible, and making that available to the public as well. Taking that material, putting it in a blog post, sharing that through social media, making sure that people that are paying attention in the hall from the outside, know what’s going on. And then lastly, putting a big banner on our homepage that links to a blog post that explains that we’re closed. Here’s how we’re doing those kinds of things. And that banner should be something that can be easily updated as things evolve. One of the things that I want to urge people, if you have any sort of marketing automation setup, whether it’s you know, social media, drip marketing, email, turn all that shit off right now. Not that it’s not good, but now’s not the time. You don’t know when the timing is going to be off. It’s just safer to turn it off right now, and then turn it back on when you can look at it and improve it and make it make sense in this new context that we’re dealing with. 

So that’s the overarching strategy that has been something we’ve been working on every single day that we’re going through this so I want to take it back to Friday, March 13, which feels like a million years ago right now. I had just returned from the CEO Asia Coworking Conference, got out of Asia safely. We were able to return. Our flights were easy all of that. On Thursday night, Friday morning, woke up and started having the first serious conversations with my team about closing. Members were already talking about what was going on the news, there were rumours about state mandated closure coming down the road, but nothing was certain yet. So we started talking about what it might look like to close and we put together our initial response plan. I’m going to link this initial response plan in the chat room for anybody who wants to look at the details of it now. And again, this will all be included in a document that I’ll share out after this talk. After this conversation, with the document that I’m kind of running through as well. 

This first communication I wrote Initially, the team helped me a workshop to make sure that I wasn’t missing anything. But the goal of this initial communication first and foremost, is to reinforce how this has aligned with our values. You know, we got into this business to take care of people, keeping people safe, not just our members, but the people they come in contact with. And the situation where we’re talking about the transmission of a virus is serious. And that we’re going to make this the first of many communications, and we’re going to keep things open. 

That is all part of the communication. We let people know that upfront. The initial plan was to stay open, at least partially open and we were still openly communicating like this weekend, we’re going to figure out exactly what that means. But we know that the building has already ramped up their cleaning process, they’re sanitizing all of the common areas, doorknobs, buttons, bathrooms, all of those kinds of things. We’re already getting the extra attention. So we went ahead and let people know that was happening. And that for the moment, it was still okay to come in. We had the original plan of reducing stuff to one person at a time. Normally, there’s two to three of us on site at any given time, we were going to minimize that and have just one person at a time. Rotate that, again, to minimize the individual contact. We put a big emphasis on how we were going to take all of the things that we normally do in a given day. Whether that’s the sort of experience of working alongside other people, to our already scheduled events, to the way we support meetups, to the everything we organize, we were going to do our best to migrate everything that wasn’t already online to an online variation. And so to keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks, and then to let people know before we even closed, that we were going to insert introduced a membership rollover, basically said at that point in time, that for any unused membership, essentially any day passes or days or whatever it was, since we had no idea how long we were closing for.

Alex Hillman 13:58  

if you kept your membership, we would maintain that as a credit to be applied in the future. That decision right there was met with the most positive response, because people knew that we knew they were thinking about cancelling their memberships, and that we were already thinking about a plan. A lot of people really appreciated that. And a lot actually responded and said, would prepayments be helpful? Or if I’m worried about money, what can we work out? We said, we hear you, we’ll figure this out together. But people just knowing that we were concerned, and knowing that we were aware of their potential financial concerns, before the chance to think about cancelling, opened up a line of communication that we were able to use later. And I’ll talk more about that in just a second. So that was essentially Friday.

 I published that internally. It was like mid-afternoon on Friday. Within minutes and hours, we were getting responses from members saying how appreciative they were of the style of communication and then they felt like We were looking out for them. And that was the most important thing to me with all this communication as I wanted to be crystal clear. Everything we do, even if it hurts, is all because we’re looking out for you. And because we want you and everyone else to be alive on the other side of this. Over the weekend, I’ll be honest with you, I did not sleep a lot. My brain was super busy with just trying to imagine all the things that we need to do to really close. For those of you that are in this stage right now, I feel you. That was probably the worst part of the entire process right up until the actual decision, because while you’re imagining a million things a minute, it’s hard to write them all down, but that was the best thing that we did. 

If I think of something, I’d write it down rather than try and come up with a solution for it. Everything that rushed into my head, wrote it down. I’ll solve this at some point, but I don’t want to forget about it. And so, over the course of the weekend, I started turning some of those things into ‘next time’. I started drawing up a revised closure plan that we could finish on Monday, and I’m going to share the updated closure plan that we republished in the chat room. A couple of things were going on in my head while we were writing this closure message. First and foremost, this is not a place to place blame. We did mention that this was a city mandated closure. However, it was not blaming the city for forcing us to close. This was us collectively, acknowledging that closing was the right decision, that we were in agreement with the government recommended closure, and that we were going to follow all these steps as best as we possibly can. 

One of the other messages that was really important to communicate is that this is not just about changing where you work and your office not being available. This is about everything in the world being turned completely upside down right now, and acknowledging that this is not normal, that this is going to impact lots of people, potentially even you and people that you love. And that the most important thing right now, as a community of members, even if all we have in common is that we’ve had membership to work in this place, is that we are here to be able to get through this together, we can help each other out in ways that even we haven’t figured out yet.

I also borrowed a sort of communication technique from a local journalism outlet in Philadelphia that I love, called Billy Penn, that I’ve watched cover tragedies and crises in the past. When you’re covering breaking News where you don’t know everything, there’s a bunch of things that are really difficult. We’re used to sort of having a complete thought, a complete message and sharing that with our members. That’s not going to work here. We’re communicating to them a moving target. What Billy Penn does in a crisis is, they have a live updating article post, whatever you want to call it, and they break it into categories of here’s what we know now, and here’s what we don’t know yet. 

The key to that is, it allows you to take the things that you do know and communicate them as clearly as possible, communicate them with the goal of helping them understand where you are, and that you have a sense of what they’re going through as well. This isn’t all about you. This is about how this is going to impact them and that you understand and empathize, and that you’re here to help and that we’re going to figure it out together. But then, for all of the things that you don’t know yet, that list of things that I haven’t figured out an answer to, to be able to communicate that, a “I thought about it be we’re going to figure it out”, means that it basically removes or at least mitigates the opportunity for people to sit there and go, well wait a second, they didn’t say this, so maybe they’re not thinking about it, do they really care about that? 

And it’s okay to say I don’t know, it’s going to be critical to say, I don’t know, because anything else in a lot of these scenarios is going to be a lie, and that’s what you absolutely don’t want to do. You don’t want to make promises that you can’t keep, and you don’t want to say things that in the future may become true. So everything is the status of, here are the things that we don’t know but are figuring out. And if you think we’ve missed something, it’s not because we’re ignoring it, it’s because we’ve got so many things to pay attention to, so please come talk to us and let us know what we missed and then use that as an opportunity to invite people into that process and problem solve. 

Again, this communication was received extremely, extremely well. We amended our original communication about rolling over coworking days to keep alive policies. So what we basically said in this new version is that if your membership is kept active, you’ll be credited in future months, for however much we are closed, right? That effectively is buying us time. Now, obviously not everyone’s going to be able to do this. And if you’ve got, customers and clients who are renting out lots of office space and things like that, this may be a harder thing for them. However, something I’ll talk about a little bit more later, is that it’s easy to spend a lot of time worried and fearful and even internalizing every single cancellation email that comes in. And what I’m going to encourage you to do is, to gracefully support those people and I’ll talk about that next. But don’t stop paying attention to the people who are still members who haven’t made a decision yet and be proactive and yoga therapy. 

People whose businesses are healthy and are going to remain healthy, and potentially even be stronger through this process. People use entrepreneurs in our community, who may turn on a dime and find a new revenue stream that’s going to keep them more than solvent, it’s going to actually help their business grow. We won’t know that but we know that there’s people in our community who still are making money. And it’s easy to over index the people that need to leave, and forget that there’s people who may have the ability, if they’ve given to either prepay membership, or other offers, you know, zero low interest loans, things like that. The people who aren’t cancelling aren’t just people who are still paying, they are an asset to help you stay alive while people who need to cancel will write.

One of the things I mentioned in terms of gracefully handling cancellations is, we let people know in this communication, and with every single cancellation request we get is that if membership becomes a hardship to talk to us, we’re being proactive and letting people know that we’d like them to talk to us before they make the decision to downgrade or cancel. But, even when they do get our messages, this community has helped here to help you stay sane and alive, whether or not you can pay right now, right? This is not about the dollar. This is about making sure that you are alive and solvent on the other side as best as we can. And if that means that, you know, our community can support you, and maybe you get back on track, and you get back to earning revenue a little bit quicker, because you were kept out of isolation, you’re kept out of depression, you were inspired by somebody who figured out a new channel of business and you realized, oh, shoot, I can do that too. 

I know that’s possible. And so I want to make sure that members who may have to reduce or completely eliminate their payment, do not lose access to all of the things at the moment where they need it most because those are the people that are going to come back first. Those are the people that are going to come back and pay first as soon as they have the opportunity to, so we’re also building in the opportunity for work exchanges. So, you know, we don’t have a physical space to run right now, but there’s still lots of work that needs to be done. We’ve got all the online stuff, which we’re going to talk about in just a couple of minutes. There’s an opportunity for members to pitch in, and if somebody feels like, or if you feel like a work trade of some sort would be valuable, asking somebody to help run, or moderate, or activate a Slack channel, or have them run a weekly online event, or help, whatever it is, you know, there’s no one size fits all. 

The key here is to figure out what, specifically for the person that wants to or may need to cancel? What are their interests, your skills would be valuable to the rest of the community right now? And how can you set that up in an exchange scenario, where while they’re unable to pay, they can still contribute something valuable and get something out of it themselves? So, a keep alive plan has worked very, very well. So far, we’ve had a couple of folks who; the two top reasons why people have actually cancelled, one is they’re preserving their own resources because their business was running on extraordinarily thin margins to begin with, and we’re an expense that just doesn’t make sense for them. So we’re keeping a list of those folks and looking for ways to bring them back in and in other ways. The other is people are just in pure panic mode, and I think that’s a really important thing to remember and realize that a lot of people are going to make irrational decisions right now, even if you’re able to help them, they may not be able to see right now. 

So it’s totally cool to say: “okay, please don’t be a stranger, we’ll be in touch”, and then set a reminder for yourself to check in, in a couple of weeks. Not to see if they want membership, just to see if they’re okay, right. That’s your job. That’s all of our jobs, whether they’re current paying members, or alumni, because everyone who leaves right now, I’m considering alumni, and everyone who leaves is someone who might come back. The other thing, mind you, I’m still on Monday, so one week ago today, this is the day that we closed the other big thing besides all of this, this communication was logistics. And some of you are going to have more complicated logistics things to figure out then than we are. We run a fairly lean operation by design, the more logistical complexity you have in your organization, the more things you’re going to have to figure out. But a couple of the key things that we needed to figure out; one was figuring out what our building was doing. We don’t own our building, we’re a tenant in a multi-tenant building. In our case, the building owners also occupy the building, and so I had no idea what they were up to. And there’s a very good chance that your landlord is, even if you have a good relationship with them, is not going to be great at communicating right now. So you may need to be proactive.

 In our case, our landlord didn’t tell us what was going on until I was asking. And worse, in my opinion, they waited until the last minute to send a lot of their employees home. The issue with that is, that made our building sort of a trap for transmission and in many, increased the risk of every single Indian member walking in the door of either bringing something that could get one of them sick, or one of the hundreds of them on the fourth floor above us, getting one of our members sick and then the network effect of that problem. So it made me really, really anxious about contact with the building at all because of how the landlord handled things. If you’re in a multi-tenant building, there is a possibility that will happen. I’m saying to you today, prepare yourself for that and prepare yourself to have a conversation with your landlord not to make them do anything but to find out what they are doing. Right, don’t make any assumptions about it. I assumed that they would send people home, they waited to the last minute.

At this point, the state has mandated a shutdown, mandatory shutdown. And so, within those rules and regulations, those are going to vary depending on where you are in our state. Essential building staff, you know, to get the building safe and operational are still allowed. So, I’m pretty sure we’re down to one security and one maintenance staff. Thankfully, we have good relationship with them. We’ve been able to be in direct contact with them. If you have any lines, are there any barriers of communication directly with the people who operate your building? Now is a really good time to get to know those people. Those people are in harm’s way for us and I don’t take that lightly. As things need to change, I can’t have lines like multiple layers of communication getting in the way, so build those direct lines now if you don’t already have them.

The biggest logistical questions from our members that we had to get answers from the land board in order to answer were, what’s going to happen with my mail? And can I come in the building if I need to get something? And I’m going to talk about both of those in just a second. The last of the major logistic things where I’m just going to do a quick rapid fire is about your cancelling supply, you know, supply deliveries and services and things like that. If you buy from local businesses, and if you can at all, even if it’s just for the next few weeks, cancel those local businesses, lastly, if you’ve got a cleaning service, or whatever else it might be, if you have a local, especially if it’s a solo business owner, that’s doing some service for your coworking space, if you can keep paying them, and then ask them to credit you in future months, you’re going to make them cry in the best way possible. 

I’ve been trying to do that personally with all of the businesses that I buy from, but we try to do the same with Indie Hall. When it comes to national brands, I’m going to cancel them. There, the impact is just greater and my priority right now is on our local business ecosystem. So you know whether you use Amazon or some other service for your supplies, deliveries and things like that, now’s a good time to cancel those subscriptions. If you got food or snack deliveries, cancel those, if you’ve got refrigerators or if your members have refrigerators, obviously going to want to stock those things and creamer and whatnot. But you’re also going to want to plan a time in the next week or two to go in and clean that stuff out before it gets really nasty. So, those are just like a quick hit of stuff that we had to cancel. That takes us through Monday, the day we closed. The day after that was a lot of one on one time with the team figuring out how we were going to do a lot of this stuff as well as turning to our community. In our public channels, things like Slack, and, text message, really wherever you communicate with your members. I had folks reaching out to us all day long ,some of it was, hey, what’s the deal with this? And like I said, be prepared to repeat yourself. 

Do yourself a favour, and if there’s something you’re repeating yourself, write it down, make a short link to a Google doc or a page on your website or blog, whatever is publicly visible, make it easy to share with them. I also recommend that don’t just respond with a link respond with “Hey, all good. I wrote down an answer to that you can read that here. Let me know if you have any questions.” Remembering that there are people asking these questions, they’re just stressed out too, is important in this. So the next day, we started getting the answers to mail, building access and things like that and started crafting our next communication, which I’m going to drop in the chat room as well. So this one is about mail and building access. Couple things I just touched on a couple of minutes ago. I’ll provide a caveat. Here, we do not sell ourselves as a mail service. 

There’s not really a way to sign up for Indie Hall, just use our address for mail. Some people do it, we don’t sell it that way. Expectations at this point are as such, so we don’t consider ourselves as an essential service in terms of being able to access people’s mail every single day. However, I understand that people rely on their mail. So with that caveat in mind, you may have different legal agreements and things like that with your members. Now it’d be a good time to revisit those. There also may be different regulations locally, keep under consideration. Rather than go all in or go to zero.

Our goal was to find something in the middle. And this may help you find something in the middle that works for you as well. Once we, Oh shoot, I’ve been sharing the links in the waiting room.

Everyone, thank you for saying something. I’m sorry about that. Give me one second. I’m going to drop these links in here one more time. That is the first one. There’s always got to be some technical difficulty, right? Thankfully, this is a pretty small one, and the third one has called now, great. 

Thanks for bringing that up, Anthony. Awesome. So, where was I? Once we confirm the mail was going to be delivered and on what schedule, that was information we had to get from our building supplier. Again, your building situation may be different if your mail person comes directly into your building, you may need to communicate directly with them. Currently, at least in the US, all males and delivery services seem to be working relatively normally, if anything a little bit better. I’ve been seeing things that are two or three day shipping showing up in 24 hours. That whole industry is working overtime. So once we confirm that mail will be delivered, we want to minimize opportunities to spread, minimize the danger for our members as well as for our delivery people. So we put signs on the doors, the front doors to the street, the doors to our building, letting delivery people and everyone else know that we’re closed for this. Here’s a link to find out more information if you need to reach us, email is best. And that way everything is coming into one place and when we can see that. We also put a hand sanitizer near our front door. So anyone who’s coming into handle packages, while we’re not there has access to that. 

We also installed a touch of soap dispenser with antibacterial soap in the kitchen sink. If anybody wants to go to the kitchen and wash their hands appropriately. When it comes to managing the mail itself, we wanted to come up with a workflow that would again keep our members and the delivery people safe. So I’m linking to an Instagram post that I made of our table on that. We’ve put together a friendly sign, we said “ hey, delivery, folks, please leave stuff here, we’ll process it on what days”. You know, “thank you for what you do”, appreciation for them. The hand sanitizers sitting on that table as well. And currently what we’re doing is we’re sending myself and one other teammates, all donating, and going in twice a week to process mail and packages that come in, going in one person at a time. So one of my teammates is taking Tuesdays. I’m taking Fridays, because a couple days in between naturally. But right now, I think it’s the right balance of making sure people have access to the things that they need, and things not stacking up for weeks and weeks. We are doing it by appointment only. 

We’re using a tool called Calendly that we already use for our tour bookings. We set up specific one hour blocks on those Tuesday and Friday sessions. So we’re only there for an hour and people are being asked to schedule time to come in and pick up their essential mail. We’ll talk about how they can identify what’s essential mail in just a moment. We currently set it up, where currently, up to two people can book the exact same time slot. We were originally going to do one and realized that, that only allows for like four or five people to come in in an hour and that could easily just become too much, so two people seemed like enough to minimize. The message is when you confirm, say, if you’re coming in you seen another person, take the elevator separately from them, sanitize at, both doors that are there. That’s all in our communication. When mail does come in our mail processing days, we go through with rubber gloves on and a mask. We’re going to be putting a little coloured sticker on each piece of metal. It’s been processed and sorted, so that we know that it was processed and sorted. We’re alternating colours to make it easy to know who did what. And then we take a picture using our a cell phone, a smartphone, of each piece of mail specifically with the name, the address of the individual or the company, so that we can then offsite, go through and process and let them know what mail is there so they can come in and pick it up on the next day. 

The way we’re sending those notifications is a little DIY notification system that we have, because I was frustrated with all of the other tools out there being clumsy, really complicated to add people to. This is a DIY system built using Air Table Zapier and postmark for increased email deliverability. I’m not going to go into details on that right now. But I am going to put together a video of how to build this yourself. Which may be, if you don’t have to be super technical, but there’s some lightly technical things in it, might be something you can have a member or an IT person help you build. But for literally, a couple of dollars a month. We normally have been using the system to let members know that mail is there and needs to be picked up once a week. Now we’re sending it twice a week and the message again, that when they get the mail notification, it includes a picture of what the mail is, and a description of how to book a time to come in. And we’re asking people to get it, specifically if it’s important , like a cheque or a bill, It’s really important. And if it’s something that you don’t want, and we can shred, to reply to the email with an authorized authorization to shred it, so that we can get rid of it. That’s going to keep our mail area neat and tidy. 

Let’s switch gears a little bit to the building access side of things. We sort of questioned earlier on. Do we let people into the building even if the key holding members to get their stuff, full time members leave things in their office? Do we let them in? We haven’t decided to turn off key cards yet but depending on how things go, and part of that is because of the building. Finally, if the landlord had not sent all of their employees home, we would have said sorry, members, you can only come in by appointment. But now that there’s only really essential staff on site, I feel like the building’s not as unsafe. And so we decided to let people in by appointment only and we’re keeping a paper trail of everyone who comes in, in case there are any reported cases in the building. So we can let everyone who came through the building know, as quickly as possible that they may have come into contact, right. That’s something that’s challenging and new and I hadn’t thought of something to be aware of.

 I found out that our building is requiring a sign in as well. Their sign in is having everybody use the same pen. So we’re going to have them stop that. And we’re going to have them take down people’s names and have them write it right. The person at the desk will have to sign them in. So do not have people share paper, pens, pencils, all those kinds of things. These are the little things that I have never in a million years, I would have thought we’d have to be thinking about but actually matter right now. The last thing I want to talk about on this Wednesday of this timeline, is the importance of giving your team space. We’re not talking Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for six days, right less than a week, but before roughly, four full days of pretty intense problem solving, and that’s just work. The world is going crazy outside of this and whether you’re paying attention to social media, the news or you’ve got family that is maybe vulnerable or sick or whatever it is, your team is not going to be operating at 100%. You are not going to be operating at 100%. Do not expect that of them and they should not expect that of themselves. Let them know it’s okay and let yourself know that it’s okay. Deadlines are going to be missed, it’s like deadlines don’t matter right now. Progress matters, obviously, but missing a deadline right now isn’t going to kill anybody. This virus actually could. So care for your team in ways that maybe you haven’t before and all of you will say, team has everything. 

They may not take time for themselves, if necessary, force them to this is an endurance race. I tweeted the other day, and a lot of people appreciated the message that we all got signed up for a marathon. Except, no, it’s not a marathon, we all get signed up for a race, except no one is telling us how long it is until we get to the finish line. And that’s the truth about the situation we’re in right now. And so, pacing and self-care, and caring for your team is super important. One last note on that is, I let my team know that if they needed anything to outfit their homes, to be more comfortable while working, that we’ll pay for it. We’re talking about a few hundred dollars on way fair or from a local, pack and ship furniture distributor. There’s a very strong chance here that your team does not have a home office setup because they work for you and in a coworking space.

So, the comfort to work from home is super important. I see a question of what work to do from home. We’re going to talk about that in just a minute. And before I do, and actually it’s a perfect quick segue on one of my key priorities from the start of this was also letting my team know that, the core product that we sell is, access to other people, experiences that bring people together and have them help each other. The coworking space is a tool to do that. But it’s only one tool on one way to do it, and the coworking spaces that are going to survive this are the ones that realize that it’s not the only tool to do it. The thing that I’m going to encourage you to introspect on is, think about what are the specific things that members get value out of other than a desk to work at. And we’re going to talk about ways to recreate those specific things online. If you don’t know what the answers to those are. I’m going to hopefully give you some examples, some clues that might resonate with your community. Your community is also likely different, and so it might be different things but the key here is, this is a chance to figure out what it is that was making them choose you besides the space. 

And if you don’t know the answer to that, now is a really good time to be talking to your community about it. Again, figuring out what you offer in terms of how people support each other, it’s not just the word community. Work community doesn’t mean a room full of people. The word community means people were actually there to accomplish something together to help each other in their professional and personal pursuits. This is no different from that, so there’s lots of opportunity. If anything, I would say this is the biggest opportunity for a coworking space that has ever existed, to be forced to reckon with the fact that there’s ways to create value for your members that don’t require a desk. It just means you need to understand who they are, what the problems are, and how to help them solve them for each other. So with that context, on Thursday, March 18, we published the next post which I’m going to drop into the chat room right now. So the most direct answer to the ‘what work do they do at home’ is ‘the same work they’ve always done’. They’ve just got a new set of tools to do it, right. So if you’ve got community staff whose job is to check in with members, see how they’re doing, see how their day is going, find out what they’re working on, look for opportunities to connect them, look for opportunities to help them solve problems, let them know about things that are going on that might be useful or interesting to them. 

All of those things are what your community staff should be doing on a daily basis. And that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing online. They’re just a new set of tools to do it. Almost everything you can do in a physical coworking space you can do online, and if you don’t believe me, we’ve been doing it for the past week. In a lot of ways it’s actually been nicer, at least for me. I mean, I’d much prefer to be in the coworking space with people. Being in a spare bedroom is totally not my jam. But we’re operating at a better than average facsimile of a lot of the most valuable experiences that can be created in a coworking space through online tools. So before we even get into tools, there is a barrier worth acknowledging.

 Andy has always had a pretty active online community, about 70% of our members use a desk once a month or less and get the majority of their value from their membership through our online community and activities. That is also how we’re able to have members quite frankly, all over the world. So for all the years that I’ve been saying, don’t limit your membership model to square footage, now’s a chance for me to show you what that actually means. That being said, access and accessibility requires proficiency in these tools. And if you work on a remote team, or you’re into tech and all these things, you’re familiar with tools like zoom and slack and they all have ceiling names. And that’s the thing, one of the first things we did was acknowledge that some of our members that don’t participate in our online community do that, because they don’t understand how to use the tools. And it’s not because they’re dumb, it’s because we’ve never done the job of showing them the value. And also, we’ve never done the job of helping them become literate in those tools, right?

 The analogy I’ve been using is like learning knife skills. Everyone here knows how to use a knife, right? But learning how to use knife skills shows you that you didn’t really know how to use a knife, and it makes you better at using the knife. I’m suggesting that we need to create our knife skills, not life skills, but knife skills for online tools like zoom and slack, and whatever it is that your community uses to connect. For the people who know the tool exists, but when they open it, it’s just so many things to think about, so many things to be overwhelmed by, and they’re unintentionally being left out of some of the most valuable experiences, especially in this time where it is the only way we have to connect you. Looking after their proficiency, and acknowledging upfront, which you’ll see in the last post, the link that I post about on doing community online, letting people know that if you don’t know how to use this, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, and we’re here to help. 

One of the ways that we’re actually helping with that is creating a scheduled set of remote tools, one on one, that’ll be group sessions, led by members who have been part of remote teams, they know these tools as well, if not better than I do. And so we’re letting and encouraging those members to help train folks and then one of our other members suggested something we haven’t done just yet, but I think it’s a beautiful concept that really speaks to what I’m saying, is having a small group session to teach somebody the fundamentals but then doing like a buddy system. When you get stuck and you’re like, wait, I forgot how to do this or I’m trying to do something you didn’t show me how to do, to have people teamed up and not feel like they’re asking someone and bothering them. Getting members to volunteer and say I’m here to help. I’m your buddy, help you navigate, help you find your way, help you figure it out, I’ll help you troubleshoot. You don’t need to have a big IT system and I assigned the team to do that. They’re almost guaranteed members in your community that would be willing to contribute if you give them the chance to, but onboarding is key. This is true before there’s a crisis. 

This is especially true in a crisis. So we’ve been using a tool called loom l’m calm, that’s free. There’s paid upgrade, but the free version has plenty to record, screencasts that show people how to do things, and written documentation is useful and great, but it’s way faster to sit down and show somebody without moving your cursor around taking them through the steps and just talking them through it.

Nicole in the chatroom just mentioned that Wim is letting people create unlimited videos right now, because they’re trying to help with situations exactly like this. The last thing that I’ll mention is that this is to embrace member contributions, you may not know what your community would want to do online, it’s not your job to do it for them. It’s your job to figure out what they’re already doing and say, “hey, would it be cool if we found a way to do that together?” and then use the online tools to do this. Now is an unprecedent time to experiment. Not everything needs to be the most valuable or perfect, because everybody is figuring everything out. I’m going to talk more about some of the most experimental stuff that we’ve tried out. Just to give you an idea of how much range there really is in these tools, and maybe inspire you to be able to say yes to a member. Because that’s really been the way we’ve been framing it, is when members have ideas, we say, yes, let’s figure out a way to do that. In a lot of cases, the answer is ‘I don’t know how to do that’, but we get to figure it out together. Nothing’s going to bring people together. Nothing’s going to build relationships and bonds like figuring things out together. 

So we’ll talk a little bit about our top tools. The first one is zoom. We’re on zoom right now. Congratulations. I am so impressed with this tool. I’ve loved this tool for a while. But the fact that this tool works as well as it does, and it hasn’t completely crashed in the last week, while the entire world seems to be discovering it, and really beating the crap out of it is truly remarkable. So if you find yourself in zoom’s support chat, their support queues are literally hundreds of people long. So good luck. But if you do end up talking to somebody, please be nice to them and let them know how much you appreciate that they’re keeping the service up and as well as they have. That’s top tool number one. We use zoom for basically anything you would use a meeting room for, or gathering around the dining room or kitchen table on any conversational medium that you would have in a physical space. We’ve been able to recreate, and zoom and makes it accessible to more people because they don’t have to change where they are in order to participate in. Whether it’s a five minute conversation, a 15 minute conversation or an hour long experience. 

The other tool that we’ve been using for a long time, I didn’t Really think shining at this point in time is slack. Another popular chat tool is Discord. I use what your community is used to. But I just want to focus on these two top tools, how we’ve used them. I’m going to talk a little bit more in just a second, listen specifics. If you’re not using them and are confused by them, I think there’s an opportunity for us to be doing sort of a, a crash course for communities getting their first online community started first online events. Later this week, I’m co-hosting an event with Tony Bacigalupi, specifically for conference organizers that have had their conferences cancelled and are moving their events online. A lot of that stuff is going to translate to meetups and, and other like mini conference type experiences. So if you if that’s interesting to you, I’ll be sending out a link about that later, in the next couple of days. I’m going to show you some of the things we’ve done in the past that have worked really well. And the people that worked on it a couple of years ago, some of these techniques will look familiar to you.

 A couple of other tools that I’ll mention. And if anybody wants to link to tools in the chat room, I would love that. I already mentioned zoom and slack next to Rodrigo linking loom. We use group buzz, which is actually a forum platform that I co-developed with a business partner years ago. A few dozen coworking spaces are already using it. The reason I like it in addition to slack is it’s good for slack is sort of like it’s good for the conversation that happened, you know, to be there in real time. It’s really good for that, but it’s very overwhelming when there’s a lot of activity to go and try and read the entire scroll back. An email discussion list tool of some kind of group as being one of them. It could potentially help reach more members. 

The next tool I want to mention is a tool called tandem, sort of a compliment to zoom. A lot of people have been asking how do you do coworking through the internet. And if you think about what is coworking really in terms of the act of sitting in a room alongside other people working, other than being able to see other people working has some psychological effect on us that I think is really is really powerful. And so one option is to set up a zoom account that just runs in the background, and people can come in on mute and just log in and see faces. tandem is a tool that’s designed specifically for that experience. And we’re using it too to run sort of a video on sound off experience for people to log in during the day and just have a sense of other people around who are working. It sounds like a small thing, but everyone that’s used has said it was remarkably effective. 

Even if it was just on for an hour or two while they were feeling kind of a slump, to see other people working helps them continue working. So from energy and productivity management, it’s been really remarkable. It is a brand new product, so be aware of bugs. But I’ve been pretty impressed with it for the tiny team that runs it. The last thing I’ll mention, all of you probably already know, Google Docs. Tanna link to tandem really quick. We’ve been using the daylights out of Google Docs, including some ways that we’ve never used it before. I’m going to show you in a minute. But Google Docs has allowed us to communicate this complex communication quickly, to edit it as a team, to share draft with trusted members early, to make sure it reads as we intended to and then get things out as well as accept comments and revisions. 

Over time, one of the challenges with a blog post is, I think people, even though a blog post can easily be edited in people’s head, once it’s written, it’s both in your head if you’re writing it, and then people’s reading heads, it feels static. The truth is you can update it, whereas a Google Doc, I think people psychologically, are prepared for it to change. So we found that to be quite useful. The next section, and you’ll see this in the link that I dropped earlier, the doing community online link, I’ll drop that again. Now for anyone who might be missing the scroll back. We had some conversations with members who about a bunch of new members who had not previously participated in the online community. It’s not that they were misbehaving. It’s they didn’t know what the social etiquette was. And for people who have sort of grown up on the internet, and spend a lot of time in chat rooms on video chat, there’s a lot of unspoken rules and that’s not great. In fact, I would argue from an accessibility perspective, it’s pretty terrible. And there’s a lot of value again, in terms of creating great experiences for our members in helping them know what the rules of engagement are. And just setting those expectations before somebody does something unintentionally embarrassing, or obtrusive, or whatever it might be. 

So I wrote a section in there about what we call netiquette or net etiquette. And we got three points Indie style netiquette. One is that all of our code of conduct transfers online. If you don’t have a code of conduct, you can google Alex Hillman code of conduct and see my thoughts on that and why it’s valuable as well as you can find ours on the Indie Hall website. If somebody wants to grab that and drop it in the chat room. That would be awesome. So all Code of Conduct rules apply online. Simple. 

Number two, when posting links post with context, especially the way social media works, it’s so common to post a link to whatever. The terrible thing that’s happening right now is wanting to post it without context is sort of like walking into a court, walk into a conference room, shout ‘terrible thing is happening’ and run away, right? It’s, it’s kind of rude. It doesn’t feel rude to the person posting, and especially if they intend to share something, they think would be useful or, or interesting. But we’re trying to encourage members to post something. So when you post something, post why you’re sharing it. What did this make you think or feel? Who do you think would find it useful and why these are all good rules when it’s not a crisis? But in a crisis when lots of information is being thrown around. 

Information is changing quickly. It’s really easy to become addicted to whatever is happening in this particular minute on social media. And we did not want to turn our online spaces into another version of that, that requires setting expectations and curating, and the truth is that not everyone reads everything, like I said earlier. And so in some cases, we’ve had to message somebody one on one and say, Hey, thank you for being engaged and sharing. We really appreciate that. And then we share that with a little bit of context, we actually link them to the netiquette poster. They know that it’s not just them that we’re singling out, that’s really helpful to have it written down. When you send somebody something, they realize, Oh, it’s not me. I just miss something totally cool. And everyone that we put on  said, Oh, I totally get it. I appreciate that. Thank you for letting me know.

And then the third thing about online spaces that is not obvious, is to ask for consent before sharing things publicly. People are having conversations. People are sharing what they think is useful. We’re in the zoom chats. It’s easy to want to take a screenshot and share it. Not everyone has the same level of comfort with their name, avatar, whatever it might be. Be, on the inner, reminding members and yourself, remembering that if you’re going to share something on the internet, make sure that the people who you’re sharing it are okay with that. Most people will say yes, and appreciate that you asked. Occasionally somebody will say no, and really appreciate that you asked. So it’s a really easy opportunity for you to sort of look out for yourself. 

The next thing I want to talk about is, we launched and this is still on Wednesday. So Wednesday of last week, we launched a new website that I’m going to not give out the URL right now, just because there’s a bunch of Indie home member specific stuff on it. But I will take a screenshot of and share with that stuff kind of scribbled out so you can see what it looks like. But what I will tell you is that we created an easy to remember URL so that people don’t have to worry about what was that Google Doc again, it’s super easy to remember. And remember, people will forget, they’ll miss emails, don’t get upset, short email or short URL, easy to remember, you all will help. And that URL just redirects to a Google Doc. And like I said before, the Google Doc is great, because it’s not a website, there’s no design necessary. It’s a structured text with some pictures and some emojis and things like that to make it a little fun and interesting. And it’s easy to update. And it’s easy to invite other people to update, which are critical, as we have a lot of information coming in. And we want to deputize the updating of this document as effectively.

That sort of front door signage that you probably have in your coworking space to let people know what’s going on today. This is that, but it’s a lot more, right. So what’s in this document? So we open this document with actually a table of contents that Google Docs has a feature if you’re on Google, Google Docs table of contents, you’ll see how it works. It makes it very, very easy to keep a clickable Table of Contents updated. That’s been a lifesaver of a feature I had never used before and hopefully helps you. And that lets people link to the different areas of this document. In the areas of the document include sort of a welcome letter that includes that little bit about netiquette and how we do online community and so on and so forth. It’s pretty darn close to what is in that how we do community online blog posts that I shared in the chat. And then below that it’s broken down into a few sections. 

The first one is our events. Events are broken down into two categories. One is recurring daily events. There’re  few small things that we’re doing, it’s daily glue, daily experiences, to bring people together, and then there is scheduled events, things that have a specific day and time that you want to RSVP, I’ll get into the specific events, what they are, in just a minute. Within this document, we also created a one-click iCal feed. So we’re using Google calendar to keep track of all these things. Whatever you use for your calendar, Google calendar is really, really great for some things and terrible for others, for I would not expect other people to put things on the calendar, what you want is one person, your team to own the maintenance of the calendar and this document so they all stay in sync. But having it in Google Calendar means you can give people an iCal feed that they can add to their Google Calendar, or their phone or whatever it is. And that way they go wake up in the morning, there’s a thing coming up in 30 minutes. I think I need some human contact right now in the same way that somebody would be in a coworking space, realize that there’s something coming up in 30 minutes and realize, oh, I could use some human contact right now.

In terms of updating it, we’re making it an effort to update a once a day minimum. Again, one person owns that and updating it means making sure that the events that we’ve new events we’ve scheduled are in there, old events that have now passed or moved into an archive, so on and so forth. The next section after events, I should say, with events, each event includes it’s obviously a title. When it is a brief description of what to expect and who it’s for, do you not expect people to know what the event is just from the title? Most of the time you title an event, your event title sucks, it’s meant for marketing, it doesn’t actually tell people what’s going to happen inside. 

To tell people what’s going to happen inside. And then tell them specifically how to join, whether it’s sign into a zoom link, or RSVP on this partners event brighter, whatever it is, every single event got the same information. And again, I will share a screenshot of what this Google Doc looks like after the call. The next section is a Slack channel guide. This is something I’ve been wanting for a long time. And then I said this is the time where we really need it, where people that are coming into slack for the first time expecting. One of the beautiful things about slack is you can create channels that are kind of like virtual rooms, where people can join with a specific goal or topic or activity, or interest or whatever it might be. And it’s infinite. It’s like having a coworking space with infinite rooms. It’s actually really cool. The problem is, is a coworking space with infinite rooms is a nightmare to navigate. It’s sort of like a long hallway with a bunch of hidden doors to awesome things except, nobody knows where the door actually is, or what’s behind it. 

So the Slack channel guide gives them a list of channels that you know what it’s called, what goes on inside of it, and how it would be interesting or useful to them. And then a direct link into slack to join it. We chose three of our most active, valuable and currently positive channels to launch this with. The first one is a skill swap channel where people log in and say, Hey, I’m looking to learn x Does anybody know that? And they know it’s a place where they’re not going to interrupt anybody, because it’s a place where people specifically go to see, Oh, I know how to help with that, right. And so lots of knowledge gets shared there that I could do a whole hour on how we do or slack or skill swap Slack channel, and perhaps I will.

The next channel is our daily goals channel, which is a place for people to post the three things they want to get done today. And it’s truly a little group accountability thing. What’s really magical about daily goals, though, is not just the group accountability, it’s that when somebody feels stuck, or unmotivated, it’s very common for somebody to drop into that channel and say, Hey, I’m feeling unmotivated, does anybody want to do a virtual work sprint with me? And all that means is, we agree for the next 30 minutes on a thing that I’m going to do and you agree anything you’re going to do, and then we check in in 30 minutes. That’s it. You don’t even need to be on a video call for it. It’s just a brief period of accountability to another person, which a lot of times people find really, really valuable. So that happens sort of ad hoc impromptu in the daily goals channel as well. That’s just one of the bits of culture that’s built up over time. 

And then the third is a brand new member created channel that’s been one of my favourites called Bright Side. In a world of doom and gloom, every time you open up social media in the news, every link is something catastrophic, and so one of our members named Lydia, who actually created Daily Goals as well, she created Bright Side as a place to share good news and positive links, and just have a place where you can go and find some good news. Right now it’s really, really useful, and that’s entirely member generated. And it’s currently one of the most active channels other than the COVID- 19 channel itself, just because it’s literally night and day COVID is the dark place, Bright Side is the light place and having them as sort of the antidote for each other is going really, really great.

Unknown Speaker  1:05:58  

So that’s the beginning of the Slack channel, guys. In the document, our goal is to get more of these channel guides contributed by members. What’s your favourite channel? How do you use it? How would somebody else find it valuable. And then we’ll add that to the document over the next couple of weeks. And then we have a section this document called elsewhere on the internet, our members our network, or you know, we are a network of networks are our members belong to other communities, other industries, other businesses, and people are doing interesting and valuable things. So we’re catching and highlighting things in the community outside of Indy Hall, that are useful to our members, but also useful to those people outside because there are opportunities for commerce. You know, someone who teaches a fitness class no longer has to teach fitness classes at the gym. So they’re teaching fitness classes online. 

Now, if you hate going to the gym, you can sign up and pay $10 to do a live fitness class with that person, or 25 bucks for the whole week, which is a great deal compared to the price of a gym, and you don’t have to leave home. In this case you can’t leave home so bonus What are some other examples of people that are offering meal services, somebody started a channel and a collection of restaurants that are offering takeout and delivery, that’s going there as well. So elsewhere on the internet useful and mutually advantageous links, it’s not an area to promote, as such as, find things that will be mutually beneficial, if that makes sense. Some of our best events in terms of things that are actually scheduled and done 100% online are as follows. 

And before I get into this, I want to thank all of you who are still sticking around. I know some folks had to drop off, because I’ve gone over the hour. I’m going to keep going through the outline and still do time for Q&A at the end. So if you’re able to stick around great, I super appreciate it. Our best events so far, we set up a using zoom at 9am and 10am. We’re just calling it morning john JWN. JOHN is a local Philly, slang that can be used for anything, it may as well be translated to morning thing, because not everyone’s a coffee drinker. Not everybody drinks anything in the morning. So coffee, john, use it as Yeah, Bernie knows. So but you could call it you know, morning tea, whatever, whatever makes sense in your community, again at 9am and 10am. It’s a 15 minute window. So it’s short. Sometimes people stick around afterwards, which is totally cool. Zoom can be configured in that way. And that’s another one of those literacy, technology literacy things that I was talking about earlier. Having zoom set up so that people can use it without a host is really, really useful. And I’ll show in another video how to do that.

So these 9am and 10am gatherings right now one of them is being hosted by a member, the 9am one, the 10am. One is being hosted by one of our team members. These generally have between six and 15 people in them, and I will tell you what, they are the best way to start the day. I had one day last week where I missed it and It was worse for it. So if that’s not something you’re already doing, I highly recommend it. 15 minutes, same kind of coffee, you know coffee, water cooler banter, and then you’re like hey dang got to go start work Have a great day. Having people to say, have a great day too, that are not your family or your spouse or your housemates or whatever it is, is really nice right now. So hook that up for yourself and for your members. We also adapted our show Intel which is our longest running event. We do that the third Thursday of every month, it is three presenters 10 minute presentation, five minutes of Q&A on whatever they want. Just know sales. It’s all teaching, all sharing. Share something you’re working on, share something you’re interested in, share something learned whatever it is. 

We have not missed a month since October 2007, and damn it if we’re going to miss this month and it actually ended up being one of our best ones ever, in terms of attendance because surprise, surprise, everyone can attend on the internet. And everyone was looking for something to do at lunchtime. So it was really, really good. And it was one of the first tests for us of how great an online experience through Zoom could be. Show until it was amazing. It was so good that we’re taking our monthly show until, and at least for the time being, we’re going to make it a weekly thing. So it’s going to be an every Thursday thing. And part of the reason we’re doing that is because we had a lot of members that were interested in hosting something to help other members. But the notion of running their own event was super intimidating. And for those of us who run events, it’s really easy to forget that people who don’t run events all the time, it’s really scary to get up there and show until it lowers the barrier where somebody says, Oh, I don’t have to worry about everything. I just need to show up and do my 10 minutes really well. And then somebody else will go up. I’m not up there by myself. 

So we’re going to make that a weekly thing. Every Thursday going forward, we’ve already filled up our next one. We also have now, since South by Southwest, major US conference, major international conference was one of the first really big ones to be cancelled due to the virus. We’ve got a lot of local people that were slated to give talks at South by Southwest. And now they’re like, well, I can’t give it to south, but the talk is done. So maybe I’ll just do it online. And so we’ve got members that are coming and giving their SXSW talk for Indie Hall members, but we’ll also open that up to the wider community as well. So it’s an opportunity to start thinking about the way you historically host events. You can do that online as well. You know, having events that are for members and for the public. You can still do events for the public on Zoom as well. And then the last event that I want to talk about is our town hall. And for those of you that have been following me for a while know that town hall is something that I think is super important. Every major decision we’ve gone through everything single major decision we’ve gone through, oh Simon posted about the presenters count on zoom. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that from our friends at Proximities Space. We’ll test that out and let folks know as well. Actually, that would be really great. Maybe at the end of this, I’ll include links to potential discounts in what ways people can save money. There’s also, you can ask Slack for a free three month trial upgrade to their paid account, so that I can let them know that you use it for your coworking community. I have a template for that as well.

 Oh, boy, where was I? So townhall is usually around some sort of decision or inflection point. And it’s an opportunity to bring the community together, share sort of a status check in, you know, past where we’re coming from, where we are today, and where we’re going and plan something together and to bring everybody together. This context feels super different. And there’s not really you know, I’ve been hammering people with information all day, every day for a week. And so we didn’t want to do more of that. And instead, what I wanted to do was facilitate something that was a little More of a check in, a how are you doing? Because getting all the way to the top of this conversation. Remember, our job is not to get people to keep their memberships. Our job is to make sure people feel taken care of, and looked after. 

Because those are the people who will keep their memberships, if they have the means to write. So in our town hall, we did an exercise that I learned from a buddy of mine, who had run this exercise with his fully remote team as well. It’s a variation on the red light yellow light green light exercise, where we have everybody come into a zoom, similar setup to this where everybody is on mute. We chat via the chat room. And for 60 seconds, we ask everyone to sort of close their eyes and think about what in their life right now is red being shits on fire? Everything’s terrible right now. What’s yellow, meaning it’s not good, but we’ll be okay. And what’s cool? In that, what’s actually good right now, because while everything is chaos, not everything is chaos, and there are moments of good in our day. And in those 60 seconds to try and identify what are the things in each red, yellow and green? And then also to identify how you carry those things. 

So if something makes you feel red, what does that mean? Does that mean? Your shoulders are tense or your jaws tense? Does that mean that you’re short with your spouse or your housemates? Does it mean you’re exhausted? Does it mean you’re hungry? Does it mean you’re stressed? Cleaning the entire house like I’ve been doing, just see how each of these things red, yellow, and green show up for you. And we give them 60 seconds of silence to do that. And at the end of those 60 seconds, the first thing I ask is how do those 60 seconds of silence feel? And people will have different answers and not everyone will answer but there’s a sort of a hidden exercise in here that most people haven’t had 60 seconds of silence to themselves in a little while now. So you’re giving them that gift. And then we ask people to jump into the text chat and zoom and say, hey, share a little bit about your reflection, what for you was red? What was yellow? What was green? How are you responding to each of those things? What percentage? Are you like? 50%? Red 25% yellow 25% green? Is it 50/50? Is it changing depending on the context of the day just like again, it’s trying to get people to be to sort of recognize there that we have the awareness of, of this and then we ask them, so we just share that in the chat room and you start seeing some patterns and what people are typing.

 I’m usually reading them out to the room, you know, some highlights and things like that. And then we invite people one by one to volunteer to unmute their microphones and expand a little bit about why something is red why something is yellow, why something is green? And it lets people open up about what’s really going on. We’ve had people talk about their fear for their families, especially the parents that are older, or family members who are at risk. We’ve had people talk about, you know, the anxiety they have for their career or their work. We’ve also had people talk about things that are actually really nice and how they’re making time to connect with people, maybe they haven’t talked with in a while. And just sort of going through this experience together is deeply cathartic. And you know, we did the first one on Thursday of last week, we did another one this past this past Monday, a few hours ago, yet longest days ever. People came to the second one. It was the first one was, so good, we’re likely going to continue to do them at least once, maybe twice a week as things change and evolve. 

We can invite people that didn’t make it to the past ones to them, because I think that creating the space to check in with people, and let them vent, and realize that they’re not alone is literally what we’re designed for, it’s to help people feel like they’re not alone. You don’t need a space to do that, we can create these experiences. And so the red light, yellow light, green light, town hall has been great for that. And the last thing we use that time for if there’s time, and if people are in the emotional state to do it is to brainstorm what kinds of things that people like to do. Whether that’s things they want to do with or for the community, or projects outside the community, you know, for people talking about organizing ways to help support the local restaurant, ecosystem, and so on and so forth. So it’s sort of like create the space for people and the same way that you created a workspace for people with, create the mental and emotional space online for them to do this work. Because this work is really important for them. Getting through this as well matters the same way. I’m helping you get through it.

And that takes us to today, Monday, March 23. The good news is today has been the best day that I’ve had in like 10 days. There’s less reaction and planning, and there’s more implementing, there’s more creativity, there’s more inspiration. I’m still stressed. But I feel like we’ve made some good plans in the last week or so. And now, it’s just all about implementing them and being prepared for any of them to change. I said this earlier, I’m going to repeat it that, you know, give your team space. Then I’ve been repeating that to our team on a daily basis. No one is supposed to be operating at 100% right now. You are okay if you need to take a break. If you need anything you check in with me.

And then give yourself that as well. Breathe. It’s a hard thing to remember. But if you need to, in this moment right now, take a breath. You deserve it, we all need it. Before I switch over to Q&A, I want to give you a little bit of a look ahead of things that we haven’t done yet, but are coming up next. The first one that people are probably wondering, “hey, Alex, you haven’t really talked about the landlord or finances”. That’s because the problem is going to be there no matter what. So I needed to get the immediate things, which is taking care of our people, out of the way so that I can think critically so now that all businesses are closed here in Pennsylvania, I think it’s even easier to talk to a landlord about options. I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way. You need to kind of evaluate your relationship.  with your landlord and what you know about them and their priorities and their psychology. If your landlords a big corporate real estate developer, they might be great. They also might not give a fuck about you, and I think that’s just the truth. It sucks, but that’s truth. You know, your options are going to vary. Now is the time to get creative and look for mutual benefit with your landlord.

 The other truth is, is in most places, you are going to be an expensive and difficult tenant to replace. And they probably rather avoid replacing you in the exchange for missing a few months of rent, right? Make sure that they know that, don’t expect them to do the math. Do the math for them, show them exactly how much rent that they may lose with you and have them reconcile, how many months will it take you to find a new tenant? And how much will it cost? Getting a new tenant is very expensive. And so show them how much cheaper it is to keep you and let you either skip or defer rent. One of the options might be to, like I said to defer. If our landlord doesn’t outright let us skip these next few months, I’m going to ask if we can defer them meaning, if it’s three months, extend our lease by three months and put it on the end, or give us a low or no interest loan to spread however many months are over the remainder of our lease. 

Again, an opportunity to get creative and mutually beneficial. I don’t expect a landlord to give a handout. If they did, boy, would I be pleasantly surprised. And I’ll talk a little more about government too, because that’s going to vary from place to place. Another thing I’ll say about finances and things like that is something I mentioned before. It’s really easy to get hung up on the members who can’t continue paying and want to continue paying. This is a good opportunity to again, handle them with grace and look for the ones who can and will. Whether it’s membership prepayments, which is to some degree, kicking the can down the road. It’s a cash flow solution, not a long term solution, but at least buys you time. To solve the problem later, we’ve also done low and no interest loans with our members. If you have members who want you to be around in the long term, give them the opportunity to play a role in that with the finances. It’s not a guarantee, but there’s zero harm in asking.

 The truth is, when it comes to the government, this is going to vary from place to place. I’ve been seeing some government support packages being announced around the world. Some are quite good. Some are not if you’re here in the US, keep your expectations low. Philadelphia just announced their first draft of the support package. I’m pretty sure that Indie Hall won’t even qualify because a lot of these packages for supporting businesses are going to be tied directly to the priority, and the dollars will be tied to whether or not you preserve jobs. And because your members are not counted as your jobs, only your employees, if they’re full time. We’re not going to qualify for these packages. I am working with our city hall to help rectify that, but I’m keeping my expectations low. And the last thing I’ll say about this is to be transparent about the problem with your members, unlike hiding and pretending that everything is good right now. Now’s not the time. Don’t be tough. Let people know exactly what the problem is, let them know exactly what the shortfall is going to be. And whether that’s your community, your members, your wider community, alumni, your local government to say, “hey, we need $100,000 to stay alive for the next six months”. Give them the number and let them respond to it. I think the problem right now is everyone’s asking for support, but no one’s able to be specific. So it’d be advantageous for you to do the math and say, how much money do I really need? And what is 100% of that? Get me which is 70% of that get me with this 50% of that, get me what’s 30% of that get me right, and show them what you can do with the money, because when you have to sell it right, and I believe you can sell that to your local council right, they will prioritize that. 

Even if you’re not creating jobs, if you can show them how many other small businesses you support. But you have to do the math because for them, we don’t exist. We’re a blind spot. They’ve got so many other people asking for things. And our ecosystem, our economy is in almost every case going to be the last thought. On further next steps, is updating our website more to make it clear that our community still exists, we have not gone out of business. And here are the on ramps to get involved. Truthfully, amazingly, to me, I did not know that if this was going to happen. We’ve had people signing up for our online membership. Since we closed, we haven’t promoted it at all, other than talking about all the things that we’re doing, but we’re not overtly saying like, sign up with a virtual membership help us you know, we’re not doing all those kinds of things. We’re just telling people what we’re doing. And that means that once we do actually promote it, I think we’re going to actually be able to grow membership. And this time, it’s just not going to be desk usage membership, its membership that I know a lot of people struggle to grow, because people don’t realize that they need it because they have access when they can get out of the house.

When everyone’s trapped in their house. People’s problems are different. And that’s an opportunity for us to really understand and support people in this new environment. So we’re going to be making some of the events that are in our calendar public, they’re going to be hybrid members and public events. We’re also actively working with the meetups that we typically host to use our broadcast infrastructure as well as develop a best practice for running a meetup online. So my goal is for every meetup that hosts at any hall over the course of the month to, within a couple of weeks, be back to running like normal online and continue supporting them. And then there’s room for joint partnerships and events in ways that maybe you never have been able to before. You know, thinking about the coworking space across town that you were in competition with because their space was a little bit nicer because we’re a little bit bigger, whatever it is, guess what? Everyone’s fucked right now, let’s band together and look for an opportunity to get two or more communities together and do an event online together, where your members are teaching, there’s their members, you’re teaching yours, so on and so forth. Again, this is an opportunity for radical experimentation, and really opening up and seeing who shows up for you. This is also an opportunity as we stabilize, to reach back out to our old members who have cancelled or who didn’t need the space anymore, who never really engaged in the online community, including the members who have had and will cancel over the next few weeks and say, hey, we’ve been really beefing up the online community experience we got onboarding better. Would you be interested in trying it out for a week or two and seeing if it helps you stay productive and connected online while you’re stuck at home during the mandatory closure? Also, are there specific problems in your business that you’re facing? Maybe we can help as a community. Not that you have to join, but those members that cancelled? I’m still here to help you, your problems may have changed. And we’ve got a new membership that you can call on board again, if you can afford it.

But really using this opportunity to try out this new stuff for old members, those alumni who’ve maybe faded away, invite them back in now, these things have been activated in a new and intentional way. And the way I see it, is as before we split our energy and attention between operating the physical space and events and community, all those things, and the online. We ran both and we did a really good job at both. Now we don’t have to run the physical space because no one’s in it, except for the main things that I talked about earlier, which means we can allocate the other 48% that was previously being put into the physical space, into making the online community space station. Much more valuable. 

The reason we’re doing all of this is twofold. Number one, it’s to continue creating value for our members so that we can outlast whatever it is that we’re signed up for here. The other thing is to keep our payroll alive, right, my number one priority right now is making sure that my team is not worried for their jobs. And all of this work is going into making sure that my team is not worried for their jobs. Because the truth is, if the landlord doesn’t come up with terms for, allowing us to defer rent, I just won’t pay it. Right. I will continue paying our members. I will continue paying our staffs salary as long as I possibly can. Everything else can wait. We’ll figure everything else out later. That’s my priority. And it’s up to you to figure out what your priorities are. But that’s the way I’m thinking about things. 

So, the core thesis here is that your job isn’t to run a space anymore. I would argue your job was never to run a space. And if that’s the way you ran it, sorry, you got distracted. Your job is to support people in their work day. And your team, the same. And to build a community. When I say build a community, that means to build a network of mutual support in the times of need. Typically, when it’s not a global crisis, the time of need is, hey, do you know how to do? or, hey, have you ever used this tool? Or hey, do you know anybody who? right those are times of need. Time of need looks different right now. And now they’re just deeper, but I think that depth is also richness of opportunity. So the good news in all of this is everything that we get good at as over the coming months, however long this goes on, is still going to be valuable when you’re allowed to open your space again, right. 

Thinking this is a crash course in understanding why coworking has always been valuable beyond the; I’m going to keep sharing what we try. If you try any of this stuff, I want to hear about it, reply to any of the emails that I send you. You know, let me know what works. Let me know what doesn’t work. I’m super interested in that too. If you try an experiment that blows your mind, like I can’t believe that that actually works, hear about it, I will signal to use that and share that. That’s what I’m here for.

The last thing I’ll point out is to use the Global Coworking Forum, is the deepest resource of knowledge about coworking through its entire history. There’s almost 15 years of discussion archives there. If we participate there, we will not only help each other but we will have the documentation for the future for whenever the next crisis comes up for the future generations of coworking and everyone who solves these problems in public there is not only helping each other, but you’re helping everyone else who’s going up against the next whatever, who knows what it is? Someone just asked about the articles that I’ve shared. The blog post through this article Indie Hall org slash posts, asked if I’m okay with using them as templates, I’m going to say yes but with two caveats and these are both very important. One is do not say anything that you do not truly believe. And I mean that seriously. Those are our words and everything I wrote, I believe, do not say it to make people feel better say it because you believe it. And because you’re willing to back it up. If your actions don’t match my words and you use them, I’m going to test you, and that’s the truth, right? So if you use them, fucking back it up. That’s number one. 

Number two, if you are willing to, I would appreciate since we’ve put a lot of work into it, letting folks know where it came from. Even if you did say inspired by our friends at Indie Hall, whatever it might be. I totally understand if you may think that’s inappropriate, or be concerned about that, but I won’t be upset about that and I won’t be pissed. But if you think that you can, I would really appreciate the nod to that let your folks know that you’re not the only one dealing with this, and that you’re collaborating with other people. I think that would be valuable in communication as well. That’s all I’ve got planned. That’s all just a few things. I am willing to stick around for another 30 minutes or so and answer some questions. And here’s how I’d like to do it. If you would like to ask your question. I’m going to ask you to click on the attendees button, I think it’s what it’s called on your screen. I’m sure it’s our participants. And if you click on participants, there’s a little button that lets you raise your hand. If you have a question, click that raise hand and I will call on people and go through them. 

It is entirely up to you if you want to ask that question in the chat room. Or if you would like to unmute yourself. I’m totally cool with that too. Whether you want video or audio, that’s entirely up to you. But if you’ve got questions, go ahead and raise your hand. And you should be able to unmute if you like. Otherwise, I’ll look out for a question in the chat room. The first hand up is from Simon?

Simon  1:33:42  

Alex, can you hear me?

Alex Hillman  1:33:53  

You can hear me but I can’t hear you. Interesting Some people hear him and some people don’t. Give me one second. Okay, Simon’s going to direct message me, I’m not sure it might be him honestly, it might be me. Maybe your battery might have died? Simon’s question is in regards to members cancelling. I’m going to turn on my video and see if that helps and switch my earbuds. Go one more time Simon. If you want to ask the question in the chat room. Sorry about that. I’m not sure if it’s you or me if other people are hearing you, but some aren’t, I’m not sure if it’s Zoom or what? While Simon’s asking the question, if anybody else wants to raise their hand to get in queue for questions. We’ll get those lined up.

Simon  1:35:35  

I’m here, I can hear you Alex.

Alex Hillman 1:35:54

 Oh, I figured it out. Okay, hopefully everyone else can hear me now too. All right. Well, thanks, learnt a lesson, don’t change any settings while you’re on a zoom call. Cool, what’s your questions? 

Simon 1:35:56

Firstly, Alex, just appreciate you doing all this. It’s been super informative. You know? Most co-workers like myself feel alone, maybe here and it’s just been very stressful to say the least. I expect that everyone’s going through the same things. But, I’m about 80% dedicated offices, my coworking is not my main priority, even though it is just to keep everyone sort of non-panicking and trying to keep my doors open in general. But I’ve had quite a few cancellation requests, which is the outside of their actual termination clause in their membership agreements. Yep, most of my offices go with a two month termination clause, and they’re requesting termination immediately. And I’m finding it difficult to reply to them. Most of them at this point, I’ve just said as I see your request, give me a few days to pop in and go over it. Before I respond, and a lot of them, truth be told, they asked, they could be struggling, or they could be panicking. But you know, as we know, businesses, might not bounce back for months. So they’re looking, they’re looking at long term saying, we’re not going to be able to recover within the next few months, and possibly, they would be re-joining in June. But, how does that that affect my termination policies? 

Alex Hillman 1:37:35

Sure. That’s a great question. So I have a couple of thoughts. One is that the question is enforcing the policy, right? If you come at this and say, it’s two months, sorry, you’re never getting them back, whether they come off in a way, no matter what happens in the future. So I’d be looking at this from the perspective; is there an opportunity to split the difference? And what is a way to do the right thing in a way that that shows that you totally understand where they are? And that they don’t owe you anything. But is there an alternative that will be amenable, given these extenuating circumstances? I think there’s two parts to the response that I’d be thinking about one is, trying to get a read for where they are, right? And that might be worth getting on a video call and say, Hey, I’d love to get a sense of where you are. I love it, you know, and maybe frame it as something where it’s like, it’s, you know, I want to solve this in a way that works for both of us, but I also want to see if there’s a way that I can help you not have to leave, whether that’s helping with the business or helping you see a new opportunity or be on the lookout or just to care, right? 

To show that you care, I’d start there, and then from there, I would be looking for opportunities to say, you know, normally it’s two months’ notice. You’re asking for immediately. I totally get it. Is there an opportunity to split the difference? Could we make it one month? That would give me a little bit of time to sort things out. And it would give you a break for the two months that you’re technically committed to, but I don’t want to be a dick about it. That’s where I would start. I’m going to struggle. I’m cautious of being prescriptive about anything else. But that’s the way I would be going into that conversation. The reality is, most of your members are private office members, and they’re used to paying for what they need, which is a private office. The biggest opportunity here is to figure out if what I’m offering you is not as a private office, and that I can’t offer you that anymore. What else can I offer you as a business to help you succeed while this is going on, and make a lead with that right? What is that thing? And then once you know what that thing is, then you can get creative with the numbers because you can say, hey, maybe we can do some one on one bit, business coaching, consulting. Or maybe I can bring in an expert to help you or we can work on, like a member driven business development. 

I’m not sure if my cell is still here. But I was talking to somebody who runs a space that they were talking about basically building an agency around members, businesses and their services and selling that mass because not the truth is, not all businesses are falling apart. Some are falling apart in spectacular fashion. But a lot of businesses are going to feel a crunch. But, if they think about who their customer is, and how they solve the new business problems, money is still going to flow. This is a catastrophe on a new level, and obviously, this is not me making predictions, but like 911, for instance, like the economy didn’t grow to a halt, it was screwed up for a while. But money still kept getting spent. And helping them survive as a business is now your number one priority. Getting them to stay paying rent for two more months is a by-product of that. That make sense? 

Simon 1:41:17

Yeah. Definitely. 

Alex Hillman 1:41:20

Awesome. Great question. So I had a question in the chat. Somebody said, how do you respond to members who are not willing to be involved in your online virtual community? Do you encourage them to do so? or do you leave them be? You can’t make anybody do anything that they don’t want to do. Period! Ever! I would say think about why they don’t want to be involved in it, right? Is it because they don’t believe they’ll get value out of it? In which case maybe it doesn’t solve a problem. That is their number one problem right now, in which case, you have two options, to say, okay, no big deal, or what problems do they have? And how do you adapt your online community to solve those going online? Communities and coworking spaces are the same thing and that they are inert, pointless tools to accomplish a goal, right?

People don’t want to participate in online community. It’s not because they hate people, it’s because they don’t see how they’re going to get value out of it, or you haven’t shown them right. So earlier on I was talking about  how you got to show, not tell. One of the things that we started doing maybe six months ago or so, maybe longer, is when people tour our physical space before a week ago, part of the physical tour is also opening up a laptop and showing them the kinds of activity that happens in our online community. Expecting people to instantly get the value of online community, even when you describe it to them isn’t fair, but especially because most people haven’t had that experience yet. And in addition to that, I would say there’s the accessibility point that I talked about before is, if it’s one more distraction, one more tool, one more blah, blah, blah, like you’re asking them to do more work, not helping them. So the real key here is understand what problems they have and then showing them how the tool will help them solve it, whether it’s online community or otherwise. 

The key here is to realize that the context of the problems that people are dealing with right now are really different than they were a week ago, and they’re also going to change a little bit. You know, the isolation sales pitch for, so to speak, for coworking historically was that it works. You know, that it works. When people feel like they’re going stir crazy at home, or they just want some social interaction. Now, I think there’s a different level of connectedness that people are feeling when there’s a big difference between working from home and being forced to work from home. And I think recognizing the differences in that and how that shows up for people. Some people really want the help with their business to survive whatever is about to happen. Some people want the catharsis of knowing that they’re not going through it by themselves. I think that’s fairly unique versus whether or not people know they want it. 

You know, a lot of folks are, yes, you can get social interactions online. Somebody messaged me yesterday, there’s a Facebook group that is an open Facebook group and one of the counties outside of Philadelphia, that is kind of an inside joke for the region. They’re kind of the ‘I love to say there’, it’s an inside joke. It’s a very self-deprecating community. And somebody told me that there is a Facebook group with thousands of people self-organizing, karaoke, and delivering pizza to the local hospitals and drinking games and all kinds of silliness, which on one hand is amazing. On the other hand, the challenge there is, you’re in this massive open space and I think one of the opportunities here is to show people yeah, you can get. So you’ve got your closest inner circle, right? And I hope you do. And the other thing is to realize that not everybody has that right. Some of our members, we are their inner circle. And that’s, I take that very seriously. But on the other end of that spectrum is a Facebook group with 3500 people in it, or 5000 people in it, cracking jokes. Not everyone’s going to feel safe. Not everyone’s going to enjoy that experience. And so, the flip side that I think is somewhere in the middle, where it’s a bit more extended than your inner circle, but there’s more trust and safety, than a massively open area on the internet. So, I think that’s an important piece of the communication. That’s all context to realize that you can’t force somebody to do something  they don’t want to do. 

You can help people do things they do want to do, and so your job is to figure out what they want to do and how you can help them do that using online tools. And if they still don’t want it, that’s okay. Not going to make everybody happy. That’s just not possible. I’ve got a hand up from john Mercer. What’s up? JOHN? Do you want to unmute yourself? or chat? What’s up dude? fellow Pennsylvania.

John Mercer 1:46:30

Oh, yeah. 45 minutes north. Yeah, just want to get clarity on the crediting that you’re doing for active memberships? Is it crediting days or crediting dollar value? And then also for your full time dedicated desk folks. How are you handling that? And then probably have a follow up question from that.

Alex Hillman 1:46:48

 Cool. So I’m going to answer this with the caveat that this is the current idea it might change. And when we communicated to members, it said the same thing, our goal is to do right by you and here’s the goal, how we do it? Kind of a moving target potentially. So the initial plan was effectively with a flex membership, you’ve got six or 12 or one day, and we would basically give everyone a credit to that in the future. And when we said that, I was like, I don’t know what we’re going to do for full time members. And then when we were really getting closer to closing, I was like, we just have to credit everybody the dollar amount’s equivalent going forward. So that the plan right now is however long, we’re closed, that number of dollars, so long as you keep paying, it will be applied as a credit at some point in the future. Now, that might sound like I’m creating catastrophe for myself some months down the road. And I might, however, we have thought about this. It’s not me, I’m just delaying problems. It buys us time to be strategic, right? Be it allows us to spread out those credits, right. And so one of the ideas is to make it so that when credits come back online, we say, you need to use the credits right now. Here’s the cap of credit redemption we’re going to do this month. And then when that’s full, here’s the crap of credit recap of credit redemption. So that could mean one of two things. It could mean only a certain number of people are able to redeem in a given month, it could also mean, you can only redeem a certain portion, like we kind of got to figure that out. I don’t have a concrete answer. But I feel fairly confident that we can do something that is fair and allows us to spread the pain out. It’s sort of like a member driven version of having the landlord differ and then spread out, right. 

The other thing that we may do, and if there’s any home members on the call right now, you’re you. I don’t want this to sound out of turn because we haven’t spoken about this with numbers. And this is not an expectation that anyone will do this but an idea over the years and as recently as six months ago, we had a conversation about Opening up scholarships to Indie hall for people who would really benefit from having a community like ours, and a to work, and a community like ours, whatever that may be. And we had members pledge. We had several thousand dollars of money pledged by people willing to do it. We did not execute that just because we didn’t get to it. 

 So one of the opportunities that we may offer when we come back online is the option to essentially bring your credits online for yourself or to donate some of or all of your credits into a scholarship pool. I think that in terms of using the ecosystem that we have to benefit the wider business community, I think there’s some number of people that are going to be interested in doing that, who is either careers or remote workers, you know, there for them. Not a lot is going to change, and unless they’re laid off, in which case we figure that out, but it’s more the entrepreneurial folks that I think we’re bound to get the most from that opportunity and being willing and able to pay that forward is another option. And again, those are just a few. 

As things become clear down the road, we’ll get creative. But the goal here is to create sort of mutually beneficial arrangements. And they’ve asked most people, that’s like, really the whole thing. So, in one way, by saying we’re going to credit the whole thing, some people have said, you know, I’d be okay with half. You know, I don’t expect that, you shouldn’t expect that. But I think this is an opportunity to lead with generosity, and doing the right thing and then letting the members who have the ability to step up and do a little extra do that, I think it will create more positivity for more people going forward. Did you have a follow up question?

John Mercer 1:50:55  

Yeah. So that helps us on the fence on how we’re going handle. So, all our membership payments hit on the 23rd of every month. So we’ve lined that up for the upcoming month. Though, last week when things were uncertain, made the announcement that we would pause, we wouldn’t run the payment on the 23rd until things are a little clearer. Now we’re at the point where things still aren’t any clear, really. We know that it will be going, at that point it looks like we can potentially open up April 1. Yeah. What’s going to happen? Same feeling there at that point of now how to handle that next phase. So some full members already said don’t worry. Don’t pause it. Just keep running it. Yep. So I’m thinking of reaching out. We have 80 members so I could reach out individually to some of the full dedicated desk members and office members to see what their feeling is. 

Alex Hillman 1:51:50

If I were if I were in your shoes, invite the conversation. I’ve had an unprecedented number of one on one conversations in the last week. So I would say like, set yourself up for that, because I think that’ll be really valuable. A lot of this being handled that way versus over email. I think it’s going to be really meaningful. But also maybe you know, in doing that, Also, make sure you give yourself some breathing room between those zoom calls. And take a break and learn to pace it out. 

John Mercer 1:52:21

Got it?

Alex Hillman 1:52:23

 Cool, man. 

John Mercer 1:52:25

Yeah. Cool. Thank you. 

Alex Hillman 1:52:28

You’re welcome. And the last hand up I’ve got is Julia, do you want to unmute yourself, Julia? 

Julia 1:52:37

Yes, I have two questions, the virtual events that you’re doing? Are you promoting those out to the general public or primarily to your members? How are you doing that? 

Alex Hillman 1:52:52

Good question. So I’m thinking about this. And it’s sort of like a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/concentric circles of influence depending on whatever framework floats your boat today. So right now priority is, you know, personal and team and then community. And as we stabilize that stuff, then looking for ways to open up some of that to the public. And being strategic about what we open up to the public in terms of things that we think will really show off the what’s possible with an online community experience. So experimenting a little bit rather than inviting the public to the experiment is kind of the way I’m thinking. And, and then the last layer outside of that is partnerships, joint events. So I’ve got one of those coming up this Thursday, which is a little ahead of schedule, but it was already scheduled and a good opportunity to work with someone who I enjoy a lot. The other thing I’ll say is, so again, a little bit of a technical piece of this. So with zoom, you get a personal link that becomes your like it’s like a static link. It’s always the same URL that and you can leave that room open. I have to do a little like, add, like zoom admin, one on one video, I think. 

But there’s also the ability to create scheduled meetings. And scheduled meetings are like these little throwaway links that you can share publicly without having to worry about giving your it’s like without giving somebody a key to the space. And so for instance, this past Saturday morning, I woke up way earlier than I wanted to, and I was like, you know what would be fun. I’m going to pull up some Saturday morning cartoons on YouTube, and stream that over zoom and just share the link on Twitter and in our slack chat room and see who shows up. And we had between like four and 12 people hanging out for a couple of hours, and I ended up some, someone who I only know from Twitter, based in Portland, Oregon, logged in and was like, really doing the job of going out and finding great classic cartoons and 80s commercials and stuff like that. And so it was super silly and fun. And I consider it a total throw away experiment. And so this link was a throwaway and everyone’s like, Yoh, can you do next weekend? or people were like I missed it, I was sleeping in or out with my family going on a walk. And so we’re going to do Saturday morning cartoons over zoom. And then I have another friend who, on Friday night, organized karaoke over zoom. Like the range of things you can do over zoom is kind of nuts. I’ve now done on Saturday morning cartoons with a group, which means you can also do movie night.

 We’ve done the karaoke, which was amazing. And there’s a battery game, it’s called ‘I see someone posting happy hours’, we agreed, we’re keeping our happy hours on for sure. There’s a game called quip lashes, if you google quip lashes zoom, you’ll find instructions for how to play that game over zoom. Some of our members organized a game last week. I played with some friends last Friday night. All the stuff that we would normally go to our spaces to do you just do from your camera table or whatever. 

Julia 1:56:08

Yeah. So we’re trying just the opposite. You and I’ve discussed this before, we have a remarkably unresponsive community online, they love each other in person. We have had zero success in getting them to engage. So we’re launching some events, some 3pm coffee breaks, and some meditation sessions and things that there is an outreach to the broader teleworking community. Because we feel like we want to do something. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Alex Hillman 1:56:37

I think that’s a great answer. And I think a great thought and a great self-awareness. Again, everything I said, you know, it works for me, because I know Wendy Hall really well, you need to adapt for yours, and you can use this as an opportunity to solve problems. 

Julia 1:56:52

We hope it’ll draw some of our members in because ultimately you have to have someone there participating to make any of these funds. So we’re going to try that. So, the other question I may have just forgotten, people are in great need right now, you just talked a lot about that. And I see all kinds of activity  in other connection platforms, you know, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, where our members are doing some amazing thoughtful things to help other people. I’m not sure how to get them to turn that inward to this and it has to do with them not really viewing this community in a way that they would think to do that. I just wonder, are there any words you’re using or anything that you’re doing that are working to get people to think about supporting this community here? 

Alex Hillman 1:57:50

I don’t think there’s words that do, and I think there’s actions that do it. I think that the best thing that we’ve done is to recognize when other people are doing things and use our presence to signal boost that. So, it’s not about boosting them internally, it’s about boosting them externally and showing them that we noticed and we care. I could probably think of some examples off the top of my head, but I’ve been talking for two hours. So you have to forgive me. But I think that the best answer here is, when people are doing great things, this is an opportunity to signal those people, whether they’re your members or not. Be like, you know, we recognize you, and we’re grateful, and we’re impressed. And I would add, actually, I’ll give you the words, what can we do to help? love what you’re doing? What can we do to help? The answer might be nothing, the answer might be I’m not sure. Or the answer might be something that you actually can do that for me, that’s the magic word. What can we do to help? 

Julia  1:58:45  

Okay, thanks. 

Alex Hillman  1:58:48  

You’re welcome. All right, gang, that’s it for me. Thank you to the 37 of you who have hung out with me this entire time. You’re awesome. I will share this video recording and more to come over the email. If there’s something specific, I will ask this, if I said something and I don’t send it out, please be patient. I’m going to have one of my teammates go through this and pull out the things that I said I was going to do. Or if one of you wants to be awesome and go through this and pull up things, I said I was going to do, and send me one list. That would be aces. Let’s consider this the beginning of something. Hopefully folks can learn from this. And if there’s specific things you want to learn more about, like sort of get the next few things planned, but if there’s specific things, I’m open to hearing those over emails, so I’m going to say good night. Good day. Good morning, wherever you may be. love y’all. Good luck. Wash your hands.

Bernie J Mitchel   1:59:54  

Cheers. Thanks, Alex. Thank you very much to Alex, thank you very much to you for giving all your earbuds to that time. And hopefully that information is very, very valuable for you. You can go to the European Coworking 70 website page for this podcast episode and there’s extensive show notes and links to all the things he mentioned in the podcast there. You can find Alex at if you google ‘dangerously awesome’, that’s his actual website there. And that’s where most of the links go to from this episode. Also sign up for email newsletter from the European Coworking Assembly, where every week we gather up all the links from people in our community and share them in one easy lead digestible, don’t really know how to say that but anyway, email about what’s going on in particularly the European coworking community especially at this unique time in the coworking industry is history. Take care of yourself. Be careful, out there is a jungle thanks very much for listening.

Transcribed by Otter.

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