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The Importance of Rhythm & Rituals for Coworking Communities

4 minute read
by Alex Hillman

If knowing how to start is hard, and knowing how (or when) to stop is even harder, then knowing how often to do things between starting and stopping is the hardest. Because of this, EVERYONE is guilty of having a “great idea” that doesn’t stick right away, and giving up after the first (or even second or third) try.

An important element to coworking communities are the rhythm and rituals they hold.

This is different from “policy and procedure” mind you. Rhythms and rituals are more about establishing patterns than rules.

At Indy Hall, we use rhythms and rituals to allow members to regularly meet, reflect, interact, and evolve as a community and we make sure to pay close attention to this evolution as it informs our most critical business decisions. Some events and practices are weekly, some are monthly, some are quarterly, and many are “whenever we are inspired”.

The goal, though, is to establish a maintainable level of engagement across membership to help sustain vibrancy without the schedule becoming overwhelming. Ideally tuned, it should never be “too long” between rituals for somebody to start to feel left out if they miss a few events.

Here’s some of the simple rhythms and rituals that have helped us stay vibrant and growing.

Daily

  • Forum messages/threads between members
  • Chat room
  • Random snacks provided by members in the kitchen

Weekly

  • Weekly community lunches
  • Night Owls
  • New Member Welcomes

Monthly

  • Show & Tell
  • Happy Hours
  • Attend external events together

Annually

  • Barcamp Philly
  • Anniversary Party
  • Office cleanup/rearrange

None of these events are individually critical, but ALL of these events, work to keep the community healthy because they happen at relatively consistent intervals.

Sometimes, It Takes A While

Three separate times in our 4 year history, we’ve tried to establish an “evening hours” or “night owls” gathering for people who have day jobs and want to work on side projects/clients, or simply for people who prefer working after dark.

The first two times, we struggled to gain momentum. Invariably, something would come up and an evening session would be cancelled. Then another. After a few weeks of limited attendance and gaps in the schedule, we’d lose steam, and return to telling people “sorry, we don’t have any consistent night-time hours”.

Earlier this year, someone approached us interested in membership but was clear that she had a full time job and while she loved the vibe and people at Indy Hall, was really wanting a place to work after hours. I explained the trouble we’d had getting traction before, but unphased, she offered to help us try again. With the help of another interested night-owl, they planned to be present to help run the event every single Wednesday. If either of them had other commitments, they’d work to find somebody to replace them for the evening, so we didn’t have holes in the schedule.

We planned our former pitfalls out of the equation.

Indy Hall Night Owls started in February of 2011, and for all of February, March, and April, and even most of may…it was the same 4-5 people every week. The schedule stayed consistent, but we hadn’t really seen the kind of traction we’d need to make it sustainable.

Then, one night, there were 10 people. The next week, 17 people. The next week 23 people. For the entire month of June and July, we rocketed forward with 15-30 people attending night owls EVERY WEDNESDAY, and dozens of new Indy Hall members were showing up excited to join the new night-owls program.

Since the summer, Indy Hall Night Owls has grown to be the single largest contributor to membership growth in Indy Hall. An event that died twice before became rocket fuel for growth, once if found a rhythm.

Make the rhythm sustainable

The key to this success was the commitment from a couple of members to “own” the event, because they were interested in it for themselves, but also the ability to make it easy to sustain and share with people. It wasn’t “once in a while”, it was “every Wednesday night”. We needed that to be true in order to earn traction. At the same time, it wasn’t “every night”, which would be unsustainable to operate. Now that we have an extremely popular night of the week, we’re looking at opportunities to add a second night.

Iteration is a key to sustainability. You don’t need to launch with the final product if the final product isn’t sustainable yet. Where you start might not look anything like the final goal, but if it’s sustainable and gets you one step closer to the final goal, you’ve got a better chance of winning long-term.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.