About Me

Hi, I’m Alex.

I build communities, started one of the longest running coworking communities in the world, write a crapload of words every day, tweet a little too much, coach people to be the best version of themselves possible, can't stop learning new things, and do my very best not to take myself too seriously.

I have one goal: to fill the world with truly excellent collaborators so we can all work together, better.

Because let's be honest...most of us aren't very good at it.

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Alex Hillman

My Crash Course in Lighting Design for Coworking Spaces

Indy Hall’s first and second locations were essentially move-in ready. We made some minor improvements, ran network equipment, set up desks, and our community got to work.

For 9 years, we built the iconic and vibrant Indy Hall community and workspace on top of spaces that had been built for someone else. Those spaces had a lot of charm, but especially in our previous space, we spent a lot of time working to make the space work for us.

We slowly modified them to our liking, making incremental improvements as much as we could. Sometimes we were constrained by budget. More often we were constrained by the reality that the building was the way it was.

Then in 2016, we signed a lease on a new building. And for the first time, we got to design our own “perfect” workspace space from scratch. We could solve the problems that had plagued us in previous spaces, and make improvements that we had only ever dreamed about before.

But when you’re designing workspace for dozens or hundreds of other people, the stakes are even higher than when you’re designing to your OWN preferences. I think that’s a part of why most office designs are so bad: designing for averages means your results are going to be, at best, average.

In my experience, most new coworking spaces obsess over small things that are relatively non-permanent. Paint colors. Furniture and layout. Even building walls (or tearing them down) is relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things.

And then there’s lighting.

Next to flooring, lighting is likely to be one of the biggest single line-items of your fit out budget.

And like flooring, workspace lighting posesses 3 unique properties:

  • it’s expensive the first time
  • it’s even more expensive to change if you get it wrong
  • it’s MOST noticeable when it’s done poorly.

We’ve all been in workspaces where the lighting just feels shitty. Our previous spaces did not have great lighting.

But in those spaces I could blame the person who came before me. This time, it was on me to make the decisions. If I fucked it up, I couldn’t blame anybody else.

And since I was about to spend a new Toyota Camry’s worth of money on lighting, I really wanted to get it right the first time.

Thankfully, I was able to scrap together the help to learn the ins and outs of effective lighting design, why most offices lighting design is painful and oppressive, and how to do it all on a budget. 

In this article I’m going to share a bunch of those lessons, and the specific decisions we made along the way.

One important caveat before I get started:

It’s basically impossible to give direct advice on how YOU should budget without seeing the floorplans and even photos of the space itself. If you want help tailoring this advice to your own space (new or renovated), email me: [email protected] and we can set up a design review consult!

Oh, and ironically, I don’t have great photos of the lighting in action 😂 that’s coming soon with a revamp of our website. But you can see how it looks/feels in the background shots of this recent business profile video of one of our members:


Things started out pretty rocky.

I had a really hard time getting useful advice from folks who had lots of experience with lighting for “traditional” offices. Electrical engineers, architects, and designers all gave me tips that just didn’t add up to me.

It seems like the lighting design for most average workspaces tends to be based around two assumptions:

  1. brighter is always better
  2. desks and workspaces are bolted down and won’t ever change location (lol)

I kept noticing lighting design that was both inflexible, and gave off what I can only describe as “office vibes.” I’d never light my home the way these offices are lit.

I firmly believe that the best coworking spaces create spaces that feel as comfortable as working from home…but are more productive and professional.

Lesson #1: Lighting Designers Have Different Specialties. Choose yours wisely.

Believe it or not, the best design advice I got was from someone whose primary experience wasn’t office lighting design…but theater lighting design.

He really thought about how lighting impacts moods, how people move through space, etc. He also had a lot of experience adapting this knowledge to creative lighting installations.

Most importantly he totally understood what I was trying to achieve in terms of a lighting experience and that we still needed lighting that would be good for working under.

To maximize flexibility, the bulk of our primary lighting source are a standard (white, in our case) 3 wire “h-style” track system, which we laid out like this.

Now, this diagram is a little tough to understand at if you don’t know what you’re  looking at, and there’s one important piece that’s missing entirely. So here’s a breakdown of our strategy:

  • CENTRALIZED CONTROLS. We wanted to make it easy to turn all of the primary lights on/off without having to walk across the entire space (our old location had lights all over the place, turning them all on/off took a solid 5 mins of walking around the space).
  • CLUSTER TRACK POWERED FIXTURES AROUND ACTIVE CORE AREAS. We broke the tracks into “clusters” that would light each of the primary work areas, and allow us to flexibly move the track heads around.
  • For track heads, our first fit out used a direct-from-china track head that wasn’t available again when we expaneded. I had to look elsewhere and ended up finding a great dimmable LED track fixture that, even with domestic shipping, cut our per-fixture cost in half (from ~$60/head to around $30). 

  • EVERYTHING ON DIMMERS. Some people like working in low light. Others like it bright. Give yourself options.
  • ACCENT LIGHTS ADD LAYERS. We used clusters of 3-5 white frosted glass pendant lights as “accent” lighting in corners and other areas that were likely to be cozy little lounge or breakout areas, like this.
  • SMALL SPACES NEED LIGHT CAST IN ALL DIRECTIONS. DIRECTIONAL LED TRACK HEADS. We found this incredible fixture for inside our meeting rooms, phone rooms, really any room that was going to have a closed door on it. It’s sleek, throws really nice light in all directions, and is easy to mount either nearly flush with a ceiling or, if you have the height to support it, suspended at a comfortable height. We get a ton of compliments on these fixtures.Bonus: they’re also only ~$120 US a piece. The only downside (and it’s a big one) is you have to order them in minimum of 10 units, and they’re coming directly from a supplier in China so it’s going to take a few weeks minimum AND shipping can get expensive. Thankfully, I was ordering enough (and early enough) to make it worthwhile.
  • GLOWY LIGHTS LOOK COOL BUT SUCK FOR SEEING. COLD LIGHTS ARE TOO SHARP. 3000k-3500k FEEL GREAT. When choosing color temperatures, I tried to get fixtures that were on the cool end of warm, more like residential bulbs. 3000k-3500k tended to give the best color, more feeling like natural sunlight without being too “glowy.” 4k seems to be more “popular” in office settings but in our tests it always felt too cold and sharp. At the same time, I learned that these numbers aren’t super consistent across manufacturers. When possible, try to get sample fixtures and test them in the real setting, mixed with whatever natural light you’re working with.
  • Lesson #2: Track lights work really well “upside down” if you have a light colored ceiling

    Originally, we installed all of our track heads the way you’re used to seeing them: pointed down and at an angle.

    The trouble we hadn’t anticipated was how often a light would end up pointed directly in somebody’s face. We tried tweaking track positions, but avoiding one person’s eyes almost always meant pointing them into someone else’s eyes.

    The other problem was that – and this might sound obvious but bear with me – lights work best when they have something to reflect off of. 

    The “shadow” problems that people often get with track lights are a symptom of direct lighting.

    We generally try to avoid direct lighting because it’s harsh (especially with glossy computer screens). The ideal balance is for the space to appear bright, but without any primary work areas work areas (desks, etc) feeling like they were under a spotlight.

    We tried filters and gels, too, but learned that the most effective technique for track head positioning was to make sure that our track fixtures were directed at a nearby surface: a wall, a column, a beam, ductwork…any surface that would help distribute the light to the surrounding areas. Like this example, in our gallery space, which shows the lights pointed at the walls.

    By pointing fixtures at the walls, the surrounding areas are cast in a very comfortable indirect light. That seems to be the key.

    The trouble we ran into with our space was that in so much of our space, the “walls” are just our windows to the outside world. They’re great for letting natural light in (and we have 300+ feet of giant windows letting in lots of natural light) but pointing lights at those windows looks horrible. They’d just shine the direct light back into someone’s eyes, and do very little to actually light the space.

    So one of our members had an idea that was just crazy enough to work. We decided to flip the tracks upside down so we could point the fixtures at our ceiling. Like this.

    There’s those giant windows. Note that this photo was taken on my iPhone and does a terrible job of showing the light quality itself, so I’m only including it to reference the track head position we use.

    By treating our ceiling like another wall (we’d already painted it a bright color to reflect the natural light), and now we’re able to get the same general effect of LOTS of bright but soft, indirect lighting covering almost every area of workspace. Nobody has to work under a spotlight. Success.

    When we expanded our space in October, we took the same approach of flipping the tracks from the start. The electricians looked at us a little funny when I asked for it, but after it was in even they commented how nice it looked.

    How much to budget for lighting

    These numbers are rough, but if I reverse engineer our lighting budget from the overall project fit-out….

    • We spent ~$7.50 per square foot on all of our electrical work, which was almost entirely brand new (new wiring, power sockets, breaker panels, lighting fixtures, switches….everything with power running through it was basically brand new.
    • Approx 25% of the electrical budget was lighting fixturesThat included tracks + LED track heads as our primary light source, accent lighting, and special fixtures for inside our meeting rooms. So that maths out to apprx $1.80/square foot on light fixtures alone. Note that this number doesn’t include installation, wiring, switches, etc.Keep in mind, that’s with all LED fixtures, which are often appear 2-3x more $$$ up front but save a boatload in energy costs and you basically never need to buy another bulb (which, in our old space, we spent several hundred dollars a year on replacement bulbs for various non LED fixtures). YMMV, of course, but stacking this number against other lighting upgrade projects I’ve seen and done…it seems about right, plus/minus 10%.

    Whew. That’s a lot, and kind of all over the place. But hopefully it helps you think through the decisions you need to make, which will include:

    1 – how to light for experience, not just function 2 – how to “layer” different fixtures to help indicate zones and uses 3 – making use of your existing tracks (or adding more of them to give you max flexibility) 4 – choosing fixtures, and finding ways to save $$ 5 – using your constraints

    If I can help more one-on-one, feel free to shoot me an email.

    CU Asia 2018 – Scaling community, avoiding burnout, & leading from within

    This video is from my visit to Malaysia for CUAsia 2018. I sat down with Ryan Chatterton from Habu for a quick interview, and by the end we’d packed a video with 20 minutes of pure gold for both coworking operators and peeps who get hired to run coworking spaces.

    Check out the full video below and let me know what you think on Twitter.

    Indy Hall is hiring for a very special role

    UPDATE: Applications are currently closed.

    Wanna spend your days surrounded by Philly’s smartest, friendliest, creative problem solvers?

    Our community members work in a wide variety of industries, and often at the intersection of creativity, independent work, and making Philadelphia a better place.

    And we’re looking for a new teammate to join our core team!

    Are you…

    • A self-starter? We’re looking for someone who’s going to look for things that need doing, and do them. Someone who’s going to spot problems, and find ways to fix them.

    • A people person? You’ll be meeting new people every day and learning about who they are and what they do, welcoming them to our community and helping them get comfortable. You will become a go-to person for people with ideas and questions throughout the day. You won’t need to know everything, but you’ll know who to go to to find out. You’ll also be giving new visitors and members tours around the space, and getting them acquainted and acclimated.

    • An organized person? Every single day at Indy Hall is a little bit different. Some days are a LOT different. There are some routine daily tasks but many days, you’ll need to be able to plan out your own schedule.

    • A good communicator? Written and spoken communication is super, super important. 90% of the work we do at Indy Hall is talking with people, listening, and understanding…and then working together to put good ideas into action.

    Working at Indy Hall comes with nearly endless experiences to learn and practice valuable professional skills, ranging from operations & management, communications & community building, and business & civic engagement.

    Yes, you will have a checklist of operational tasks that need to be done day-to-day. Every day at Indy Hall is a little bit different, with unique opportunities and challenges for you to tackle.

    You’ll also have the freedom to make Indy Hall better every day. To see your ideas in action.

    But the big difference between working for Indy Hall and working anywhere else is that you’re expected to explore the many ways that our community members work. How they use their skills, creativity, curiosity, and interests to get paid.

    Our ideal crew-mate is someone who want’s to do their own thing their own way – just like the members of Indy Hall – but isn’t quite sure how to get there on their own.

    Indy Hall embraces diversity and equal opportunity as core to our values. We warmly welcome applications from individuals of any and all gender and sexual identities; racial and ethnic backgrounds; experience and education levels.


    So ask yourself: “What do I want to do next with my career?”

    If your answer is “I’m not entirely sure, but I’m pretty sure that Indy Hall is the kind of place where I want to figure out what I really want to do”, you should definitely apply below.

    Nota bene:

    • This is a paid position.
    • We are looking for someone who is available between 9am and 6pm, Monday through Friday, but part time applications will be considered.
    • We have no minimum requirements in education or industry experience.
    • We have minimum requirements of passion for the City of Philadelphia, an understanding of the values and virtues of our community, and an aptitude for JFDI.
    • We expect all applicants to read, understand, and agree to our Community Code of Conduct.

    UPDATE: Applications are currently closed.

    And if you know someone who you think would love this kind of work, please share this post! Thanks 🙂

    Towards a More Diverse & Inclusive Coworking Community

    In early December, we launched the first version of Indy Hall’s Code of Conduct. Since publishing, I’ve had a number of great conversations with community members about questions and context.

    Each of these conversations has been a valuable exploration of my own understanding of why this new document is and will be valuable, and what we’re hoping to accomplish as it evolves.

    So I decided to write down what I’ve been sharing with others in hopes that it can help others who I haven’t talked to directly, and prompt further discussion both at Indy Hall and in the wider coworking movement. This post started as more of a Q&A, but I realized that there was story followed my own ability to answer the questions, so I wanted to share the context of my own learning at the same time.

    Here we goooooo……


    Last summer, Sam Abrams (one of my Indy Hall teammates) invited Sarah Carter to speak at our second annual People at Work Summit conference. Sarah spoke to us and around 100 other coworking leaders about active steps we could take towards being more inclusive, and which biases and blindnesses we may need to overcome to do so.

    This talk was a highlight of the conference for many, and a big eye-opener for a lot of us.

    Here’s one slide from Sarah’s deck:

    In another slide, Sarah says that diversity is:

    • Accepting and celebrating differences
    • Empathizing with the lived experiences of other people and identities
    • Recognizing the multiple and intersecting identities of each individual
    • Promoting inclusion and respect of all individuals.

    Initially, this list felt so deeply in Indy Hall’s DNA to me. It felt like what we already do, what we espouse, and how we’ve always operated.

    But in the past year, I’ve come to realize that it’s a helluva lot easier to feel that way when you’ve already been on the receiving end of being celebrated, understood, and respected. 

    In spite of our membership being nearly 50% women, only 20% of our full time membership is female (that’s 13 out of 63). In spite of Philadelphia being a dominantly non-white population, Indy Hall very poorly represents the ethnic diversity of our city. Our average age has trended up, but I’d estimate that we still average in our mid-to-late 30’s.

    So especially if you’re a woman or a person of color, it’s easy to walk into Indy Hall and see a room of people who don’t look like you and depending on your past experiences wonder…”do I belong here? Will I be celebrated, understood, and respected?

    And that’s also just a few of the more visible parts of anyone’s identity. We know from experience that every single member of our community has more to them than is obvious on first glance and there is so much to an individual’s identity that isn’t obvious at first.

    So I’ve started thinking about this in the context of Sarah’s slides.

    What can we do to help someone be certain that this is a place where they will be celebrated, understood, and respected, too? And what should we do when the opposite is true, in spite of our best intentions?

    My dear friend, Indy Hall champion, and super-connector Neil Bardhan shared this quote from a speech by a newly installed dean at Rochester University, which I think captures so many things that I’ve thought and felt about the difficulty of “doing diversity” but struggled to articulate from my own point of view. Emphasis mine:

    “I want [every student] to feel that they’re part of a community—one community—that not only respects but embraces difference in all its guises: racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, ability, and socioeconomic—and all the amazing intersections that make up our Rochester community.

    We typically talk about this in terms of diversity and inclusion, diversity of background, diversity of opinions, and everyone feeling that they’re included. However, I’m starting to prefer the language of “belonging.” This institution belongs to all of us. If you’re here, you belong here. This is YOUR institution. This is subtly different from inclusion, which still implies that something from the outside is in some sense inserted, or added, to something that already exists.

    Belonging means that someone here is an equal member. Belonging has a kind of an “ownership” feel: the institution belongs to us all. I want everyone here not only to know they belong, but to feel they do. It is THEIR institution.

    And I will work as hard and strive for that goal. It will not be easy, I know, but it’s essential to say it out loud and work toward making it happen.”

    I think that many members of Indy Hall community and supporters would nod along with this idea. Among the things that have made our community strong over the years is that sense of ownership. I’d go so far as to say it’s what we’re known for.

    But what if you don’t see people like you feeling that sense of ownership? And what happens when someone (knowingly or not) undermines your sense of ownership? It’s very difficult to feel a complete sense of ownership when you also feel ignored or unsafe.

    So after hearing Sarah Carter’s talk, Sam took the lead on doing some research into how other coworking spaces, community organizations, and conferences implemented visible, actionable tools that encourage a diverse, inclusion, and that sense of belonging. 

    Quickly, she found was that while CoC’s have become increasingly common – and in some cases demanded – at professional conferences, very few coworking spaces had an explicit (or public) code of conduct at all. And Indy Hall was one of them.

    Sam wasn’t the first person to suggest that Indy Hall should have a code of conduct, and to her credit (and my embarrassment) this wasn’t even the first time she’d suggested it.

    But this time, I started to understand a code of conduct as a tool for specifically and clearly communicating something that I had intended all along but wasn’t saying out loud. 

    “This institution belongs to all of our members, and together, we’re prepared to help protect that.”

    We wanted to figure out how to say this out loud and in writing, and in a way that gives someone the confidence that they can belong, too.

    So we set the goal of creating our own before the end of 2017.

    During her research, Sam had also found that it was surprisingly difficult to find good examples of a coworking-centric code of conduct. They’re out there…but most didn’t quite resonate with our objectives.

    So true to Indy Hall form, we were able to turn to our community’s expertise! We learned a ton from Indy Hall members who have experience developing these kinds of documents for meetup communities, university settings, and even the nonprofit organization behind the massive community-edited Wikipedia.

    In December, Sam shared the first draft of our Code of Conduct with the Indy Hall community for additional feedback and questions.

    Indy Hall’s code of conduct is now visible here and is referenced prominently in multiple points of during new member onboarding. And when we launch a (long overdue) updated website, the plan is to make this code of conduct even more visible to the public.

    Many suggestions from our community have already been integrated to make this better, and we’re still developing our own flavor of borrowed Code of Conduct language with the goal of staying clear/unambiguous. As one member said:

    Might we work with this Code draft so that it could easily be read aloud? I feel that written things that are easy and/or pleasant to read are more likely to be understood, taken to heart/followed… right now, it’s really chilly writing, which of course comes from the topic a bit.

    And I totally agree.

    Maybe even more importantly is how the Code of Conduct is upheld. 

    I will admit that I was concerned about how a CoC would turn us into the “conduct police” but even just writing that down makes me realize how much worse it is to have ZERO mechanism in place for when something goes wrong.

    Said another way: I’d rather have this thing and never have to use it, than need it and have nothing to use. 

    Instead, we’re taking this as an opportunity to be equally intentional about how we respond. The response team includes a mix of our core team (myself, Sam, and Adam) as well as a rotating team of volunteers from the community.

    The goal is to make it clear that any member of Indy Hall has a clear path for asking for help with resolution, and they have a way of choosing who they get that help from.

    Our goal is to create safe channels for discussing the problem and looking for ways to resolve them. We’re also researching alternative models like restorative justice for guiding resolutions in ways that are more in line with Indy Hall’s values of treating responsible adults like responsible adults, rather than defaulting to punitive measures.

    And already, having this document has opened the door for valuable conversations with members about issues they’ve had. I’ve never been so naive as to think that these issues weren’t happening, but I think I mistakenly expected people to just come talk to me if they did. Knowing that the Code of Conduct may have played a small role in people feeling comfortable asking for help – or even just knowing they can come to someone in confidence.

    There are a few other things I’ve found myself repeating while talking to members about the Code of Conduct that I think are important and helpful that I wanted to share here:

    • Having a Code of Conduct does not supersede or “undo” any of our existing core values or expressions of who we are. Instead, this should add additional depth and dimension to our core values by making existing expectations more clear, and reducing opportunities for confusion & hurt.Our core expectations of “take care of yourself, each other, and this place” are still the rule of thumb. If there’s ever doubt in what that means, we can use the CoC as a guide.
    • A Code of Conduct helps promote communication and transparency. Bad things can and will happen, and a CoC doesn’t prevent that. Instead, having a CoC encourages people to speak up when something is wrong so it can be addressed.Especially during tough transitions, I commonly repeat “If anything is unclear or you’re worried about something I said, you can come talk to me” but I’ve realized that a more explicit invitation and channel for communication only serves to promote that trust more.The best I can promise to do is listen and work to understand.
    • There’s no single event, or experience, or complaint, that triggered this as a reaction. I think this is the most common question we got when sharing the first draft of the CoC. The answer is no, this is not a response to any specific thing including the public reckoning with sexism that many industries underwent during 2017.Accessibility is a core value of Indy Hall and the original coworking movement. My own understanding of what “access” can mean has changed over the years to include more nuance, especially as we’ve grown.

    Finally, I want to credit Sam Abrams for her leadership on developing this particular tool towards a more accessible and inclusive Indy Hall, as well as the support that she garnered from members who had experience with CoC’s.

    And if reading about my experience sparked you to consider creating (or re-thinking) your own Code of Conduct, Sam recommended this anti-harassment resource as a valuable starting point.

    Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond

    The last couple of days at Indy Hall have had that awesome new year buzz that we get, as members shake off their holiday slumber and get back to this thing we call “work.”

    I’m very excited for this year. At the end of 2017 we experienced a bit of a homecoming as a bunch of long-time members returned from time away to re-embed themselves in the Indy Hall community.

    The last couple of years feel like they’ve been infrastructure focused.

    • In 2015 we learned we were going to have to move.
    • In 2016, we found a new home. For the first time, we designed a space just for us. We solved long-standing problems like where to take phone calls and host meetings. Just about everything about Indy Hall got a little bit better, and a few things got a LOT better.
    • In 2017, we learned to adapt to our new surroundings. We worked on getting back to our roots, of doing what we do best: helping awesome people find and help each other. Then we grew our physical space by another 50%. For the first time, we started creating the tools to support certain kinds of small teams as they flourished within Indy Hall. And of course, we drafted this Code of Conduct.

    I want to think of 2018 as an invitation. To you. To make Indy Hall yours. 

    Regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sex, sexual orientation, disability, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, age, political affiliation, or religion;

    If you’re here, you belong here. This is YOUR institution.

    Wanna come say hi at Indy Hall, or catch up over a cup of coffee?

    RSVP for our free monthly “Open Hall” days on First Fridays (RSVP here for Friday January 5th) or just shoot an email to [email protected] and ask about scheduling a visit.

    What did you want to be when you grew up?

    One of my FAVORITE talks I’ve ever given, in spite of it being so early in the morning, was at Creative Mornings Philadelphia.

    The theme for the month was “Work” and I decided to share some of the surprising lessons from early in my career and how they informed my choices later in life. You can think of this like a “prequel” to the Indy Hall origin story.

    The first 20 mins is storytime, the second 20 mins is an audience-driven Q&A. Enjoy!

    “What is a community, really? How do you know that you have it?”

    I’ll start by saying what community is not. 

    • Community is not a place or environment
    • Community is not a particular kind of event (though certain events are better at stimulating the elements of community than others)
    • Community is not a business model (though businesses who understand the communities they operate within and interact with have access to unique economic models that others do not)
    • Community is not a service or a commodity

    All four of these things are the most commonly mistaken for community, either as a mechanism or an end goal.

    A better question is…what kind of community are we talking about? There’s many different flavors, but the two most common types of communities that you’ll encounter are communities of interest, and communities of practice.

    Communities of interest are all around us, and are exactly what they sound like. People who come together around a common interest, and it can literally be anything. Most meetups are communities of interest. Most “tech communities” are communities of interest. Some social groups are communities of interest. They scale very large, can grow quickly, and are relatively easy to recruit for. They’re also the easiest and most common for people to leave, when their interests or focus changes.

    Communities of practice are usually a smaller subset of a community of interest. People in a community of practice often find each other within a community of interest. But the thing that draws them together goes beyond the interest…there’s an element of mutual self improvement that pulls them closer together.

    Communities of practice take many forms, but they have a few crucial attributes:

    • Trust. People in communities of practice tend to bond more slowly, but also more deeply. When trust is formed, new opportunities and real collaboration is possible.
    • Multi-directional dialogue. In communities of interest, most of the visible dialogue is one to many. Presentations & talks are the primary vehicle for gathering. But in a community of practice, anybody can hold the floor. Anybody can pose a question, or provide an answer. Value can come from anywhere, and discussions can be started by anyone.
    • Visible growth and improvement. In a community of practice, people are working towards some kind of “level up” and in that pursuit, are doing it alongside others who are working towards something similar of their own. The visibility of people growing and improving provides incentive for others to put in the effort (“I want to what they do”) as well as opportunities for anybody to teach from their experience.

    For these reasons, communities of practice are generally smaller, and tighter knit. Even if they’re informal, members are generally a part of them for longer.

    Swedish scientists have done extensive research on this and they found we first lived in small groups of 20 to 100 people who in any given week averaged 2.5 days for gathering and hunting and 4.5 days on talking. The conclusion they came to from this data was that the brain, the neurological system, and our hormonal systems have had 90,000 years of programming us for talk and collaboration, and only 10,000 years for competition and fighting. source

    Two out of the four “happiness chemicals” we’ve evolved to have are only released in the presence of others. Serotonin is the chemical that makes loyalty and allegiance feel good. Oxytocin is the chemical that makes trust and safety feel good.

    Back to my definition between communities of interest and communities of practice, you might see that communities of practice are far more likely to create experiences like loyalty and trust.

    Without those, collaboration is possible but it’s much harder and brittle.

    Hopefully you see how these answers are building on each other 🙂

    Many coworking spaces are commodity offerings…at best, a comfortable place to work with a community of interest where the people are interested in working in that place. They may even have professional interests, be it tech or startups or social entrepreneurship.

    But these commodity spaces are also the most brittle, because people lack the social incentive to invest and the experience of being invested in by their peers.

    Notice that I said by their peers. That’s key. Lots of spaces provide resources from the top, but the spaces that thrive have unlocked something powerful in their members’ willingness to invest time, energy, knowledge and effort into each others success.

    Now….you can’t manufacture this. But you can create the conditions for it to emerge, and grow. I think of it a bit more like gardening. You can’t make a plant grow, it has to do that on it’s own. But you can create the best conditions for its growth to be possible.

    How to get people more involved in your community without forcing it

    This question shows up more and more in my channels, especially from community staff that have been hired and are essentially inheriting a challenge of turning a room full of still relatively disconnected people into a dynamic, interactive community.

    On one hand, you’re telling prospective members about how great it is to join a community. But on the other hand, you can’t remember the last time YOU saw members really interact with each other. It might even make you feel a little bit dishonest about your offerings.

    As lots of people learn – and often the hard way – it’s not enough to just say the word “community” 100 times a day. You can’t wish that people would interact more. You can’t force people to interact more.

    But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything!

    There’s one fundamental that I think plays out across ALL community building exercises: create opportunities for people to talk and discover things about one another that they have in common.

    Psychologist Carl Rogers said “that which is most personal, is most universal.”

    In simple terms: get people in a place where they can share something personal about themselves and good things happen.

    Here are a couple of things we’ve suggested for people who are trying to bootstrap a room of relative strangers into something that looks more like a community. And bonus, this stuff works for breathing new life into already vibrant communities, too! We use both fairly often to periodically rejuvenate Indy Hall.

    1 – Everybody has to eat.

    Depending on your community, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners might work better but finding a time when people were going to have a meal and inviting people to have that meal together.

    During our member lunches, we often let people mingle and chat on their own for a little bit and then warm up the group by having everyone go around and say their name and something about themselves. We pick a prompt question like…“what’s something you recently started learning” or “what’s the best thing that happened to you in the last week” or “what’s your favorite spot in Philly that nobody seems to know about.” These questions give everyone a chance to share something small and simple, learn what they have in common, and there are ALWAYS conversations that extend beyond the lunch.

    You don’t even HAVE to provide lunch, just a time and a place for people to bring theirs often is enough to get started. Down the road you can get fancy and try pot luck sharing…but I say down the road because that’s much easier once people are already in the mind/mood for sharing.

    Sharing a meal is probably the simplest to execute, lowest barrier to entry, beginner community building event. Don’t be afraid to personally invite people one-on-one. They might say “no” but that doesn’t mean “no, not ever” it usually means “not this time, I’m busy!” or “no, that doesn’t sound especially interesting to me” (which is a clue that you need to figure out what WOULD be interesting to them).

    Personal invites are super important – you might be worried about bothering people, but the alternative perspective is people saying “I didn’t know that was happening, why didn’t you tell me!?” 🙂

    2 – Group Projects/Activities.

    This move is a bit more advanced than a community meal, but works VERY well when executed properly.

    There’s sooooo many ways to do it, too. Here’s a couple that have worked well:

    • You could find a local charity that is having a volunteer day, and rally some members to participate in volunteering together.

    • There might be something in the space that needs improving, and your members very likely have ideas for how to make it better. DIY projects are awesome for fixing problems in coworking spaces partly because they can save money but more importantly because they give people a sense of pride and ownership once they’ve played an active roll in making the space.

    • Is there a band or show coming to town that people would want to go to together? Or the opening of a new park, or museum, or other activity? Don’t feel like everything needs to happen in the space. My favorite “hack” is to ask members what stuff they do for fun (movies, music, books, food, sports, etc) and then ask “is any of that more fun when you’re doing it with others?” and when the answer is yes, suggest that they organize a group to do that within the community.

    #Repost @jagtalon ・・・ Hiking with #IndyHall peeps

    A post shared by Indy Hall 👌 (@indyhall) on

    Again the goal with ALL of these ideas is not to get 100% participation in any of them…but to get even a small core group of 5-10 people to come together in a way that you can make visible to the rest of the community…which starts the snowball rolling downhill.

    Repeat, repeat repeat!

    This last part is SUPER important: the key to success, especially with an otherwise dormant community is, to do it more than once.

    Lots of people try something once, maybe aren’t super impressed with the turnout (“it was just a couple of people!”), and decide not to ever do it again. Don’t act like it’s a failure, or else it will be one. In reality, if two people are there it’s a success.

    Instead, follow through and next time you let people know there’s going to be a member lunch, talk about the great conversations you had last time to get people interested in the next one. Small successes add up to bigger successes over time, and in a community setting, growth really tends to pick up once you’ve created something contagious.

    I really hope this helps lots of people. If you try any of these ideas (or modify them in some cool way) I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

    Indy Hall <3 Philly Dev Night Community

    Roberto Torres from Technically just shared a really great article about something that I’m really excited about: the Philly Dev Night community finding a home with Indy Hall.

    This is notable because historically, we’ve been pretty intentional about not treating Indy Hall as an event-space-for-hire. There are events, of course, but the events are almost entirely for and by our own community. Renting out our space for events might bring in a few extra bucks, but it’d be like coming home at the end of the day to find a complete stranger in your kitchen making porridge, sitting in your chairs, or trying out your beds.

    The bears weren’t thrilled to find Goldilocks commandeering their digs (and I don’t think that they’d put their house on AirBnB).

    So obviously, Philly Dev Night is different. In the past, we have had a similar relationship with the Philly Cocoa community, largely because it was run by Indy Hall members, but this new relationship with Dev Night has actually made me want to rekindle that connection. Zorn & crew…look out for a note from me soon. 🙂

    For the unfamiliar, “Dev Night” is a confusingly named community of people who love making and playing games. I say confusingly named, because you don’t need to be a developer to be a part of dev night. I’ll explain more in a minute.

    But I’m especially happy with the article’s intro line:

    ““Indy Hall celebrates a lot of the same stuff that we do,” said Philly Dev Night organizer Tabitha Arnold.

    Because Tabitha’s so, so right. Believe it or note, we didn’t coordinate our quotes with Technically.

    Below is a more set of notes that I sent to Roberto about why I’m excited about this potential and what I have learned about the Dev Night community, and some of the important cultural roots and values that we share:

    We’ve been friends with a lot of the early Dev Night crew since the start, even before the Game Forge was a thing. Will and Dain from Cipher Prime are longtime friends. Indy Hall was also home to the local chapter of IGDA back in the day, including their annual global game jams. Those meetups were how Flyclops co-founders Jake O’Brien (then an indie iOS developer) and Parker Whitney (then Indy Hall Den Mother) initially met and released their first game together.

    As The Game Forge began to come together, it gave birth to Dev Night. A weekly event that really was more of a community unto itself than an event.

    I had lunch a few months ago with the Dev Knights – the leadership crew behind Dev Night. They were looking for advice on finding a venue, but knew that their needs just didn’t match most places.

    And the more I talked to them, the more I realized why. What they call “Dev Night” is actually three distinct experiences that the Game Forge space made possible in somewhat unique ways….and those experiences made Dev Night difficult to host in a “normal” event space.

    One, it’s a place to create together. Creating is in the DNA of the Dev Night community. Every month (and sometimes every week) their game jams were encouraging people to embrace constraints of time and themes to make something new. The Dev Night crew had figured out something that Indy Hall learned a long time ago: one of the most powerful ways to build lasting relationships is to make stuff together. Communities thrive on this particular kind of doing.

    Two, it’s a place to share together. There’s an inherently generous nature to Dev Night. Everyone wants to play everyone else’s games. That makes people want to share their games. For feedback and critique. For fun. The built in motivation of sharing what you have – the abundance mindset – is also a big part of why Indy Hall exists the way it does today.

    And three, it’s a place to learn together. The foundation of Dev Night was always to help create the game dev ecosystem in Philadelphia that didn’t exist. Will and Dain sunk a lot of their resources into a very forward-thinking objective: to bootstrap what a community that wasn’t there (or find one that was here, but seemingly hidden) and make it visible to newcomers. I literally have notes form when we were getting Indy Hall started that set two objectives: first tell Philly, then tell the world. It felt like we didn’t have the kind of tech/creative community that I crave but saw elsewhere. So we found it, and built a home together.

    All of this is to say – the more I heard Jake, Kotaro, Shawn, and Tabitha describe the Dev Night community the more I realized that our communities exist for the same reasons. They didn’t need an event venue, they needed a reliable clubhouse for their club. That’s a very different kind of need, and it’s pretty rare that TWO communities have the potential to contribute to each other in the ways that Dev Night and Indy Hall do.

    I’ve already seen the nascent bridge between our communities spark a few times – for some of our alumni like Flyclops it’s kind of a homecoming, and they get to show another community that they’re a part of what Indy Hall has been about for them. And the Indy Hall community has always been playful, but we’ve never had a consistent group of champions for intentional play like the Dev Night community has been.

    We’re not forcing a crossover here – that kind of “partnership” doesn’t work anyway, at least not long term. And a big part of me advocating for this was the long term, especially knowing that Dev Night has had rocky footing for the last year or so. They’re important for Philly, and I want them around for a long time.

    This is much more than symbolic, I think this is us each bringing our unique strengths as communities to each other with the curiosity for what happens next.


    It’s early days for our communities playing together – we’re still figuring some things out – but as you can probably tell I’m optimistic 🙂

    If you’d like to meet the Dev Night crew, check the calendar on their website. They have gatherings planned at Indy Hall the first and third Thursday of every month, ranging from creative, inspirational, and educational talks; to nights for playing local homebrew games; to collaborative game jams where you can literally make a game, even if you’re not a developer (and even if you’ve never made a game before, but always wondered if you could).

    Welcome aboard, new friends. We’re so glad you’re here!

    there’s no such thing as a collaborative space

    Every time I read an article about a new “collaborative space” that’s opened, I hear the voice of Derek Neighbors repeating the following:

    “You can’t do collaboration, you have to be a collaborator.”

    Proof positive, I see a lot of comments like this one that I got over the weekend:

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    And every week I hear from dozens of community members and community managers who notice the same thing about the coworking spaces they interact with. What’s wrong with so many self-described collaborative spaces that even when they aren’t empty…the people in them barely interact at all?

    Soooooo in my latest podcast episode (number 40!!!) I share a story about finding a thriving community in a place that was literally designed to keep people separate from each other. It’s the kind of experience that makes me happy to say “welp, I was wrong about that!”

    Give episode 40 a listen now, or save it for listening on your trip home today:

    You can listen to the episode on the web now, tune in on iTunes or Overcast.fm.

    And don’t forget to share the episode with someone who you think it could help!

    Oh, one more thing. Can you do me a HUGE favor? Take a moment to give the show a rating and positive review on iTunes. The show has a perfect streak of 5 star reviews, and 30 amazing reviews. I’d love to see how quickly we can hit 50!

    Upcoming Q&A Marathon

    In a few weeks, I’m thinking about doing a coworking & community building Q&A marathon LIVE, online.

    Would you tune in to participate? Do you have any questions you’d want answered?

    Let me know in the comments!

    Lets cheers to the next 10 years

    Seldom Serious October 7th 5-9pm

    I like to start tours of Indy Hall in our art gallery space.

    It catches some people off guard, but I’ve learned that the gallery can be an easier place to explain how our coworking community really works, sometimes even better than the workspace itself. We don’t produce art shows so you can look at art on the walls, we produce art shows to connect people with each other.

    Some of our best examples include massive group shows – ones where dozens of people all riff on a shared theme or a set of constraints. Others are shows where artists riff on each other, like jazz improv performance, even borrowing inspiration across mediums by turning written words into visual art.

    Can you can see why I start in the gallery? Every day, all throughout Indy Hall members achieve things that would’ve been much more difficult without the shared momentum and resources of the community they’re a part of. 

    Desks just don’t really tell that story. 

    Our solo art shows are something special.

    A handful of times, we’ve broken form and done a show that thrusts one artist in our community forward.

    Calling these shows “solo” might be misleading. A solo show focuses on a single artist, but it happens because of a lot of people. One person might be in the spotlight, but the reason we do these solo shows is to celebrate. To bring people together, around that person.

    “This was the first time I truly felt like an artist. And I wasn’t icked-out by that. I was owning it. I had students coming up to me, wanting advice on how to hone their style and make it. I was on a cloud bopping around hugging and shaking hands and sipping punch.

    Everything about the night felt so right to me. All of the fear I had about not having enough “personal brand” to create a “show” … well I did, and it came together naturally and, to me, it told the story perfectly.

    Not to be dramatic, but this was an overwhelming experience of support. By the time the show was hung, I was so tired and so excited and so grateful.”

    -Kelsey Stoler

    I’ve always seen these shows as more like chapter markers for people in our community.

    People like Saul Rosenbaum.

    I’ve known Saul since before we had signed a lease on the first space for Indy Hall.

    Saul and I connected as fellow independents back in 2007. We both made websites for clients. We both liked learning and playing with new technologies. Saul was already a fixture in Philly’s creative & technology community for a while before I showed up on the scene.

    So there’s a special excitement for me, personally, that we get to celebrate Saul in Indy Hall’s new gallery, in our new home at 399 Market Street.  

    Indy Hall has given me the ability to watch many people transform. The most remarkable transitions aren’t always the most drastic. It’s one thing to change what you’re doing entirely, to press the reset button. It’s another thing to find a better way to do of whatever you were doing before.

    In people like Saul, I’ve gotten to see both of these kinds of changes simultaneously. From a veteran web designer, to one of the most prolific artists I personally know. From a quiet creative, to someone who celebrates each piece of work, even if the celebration is the small simple act of smiling and finishing a cup of coffee.

    And in addition to celebrating the culmination of this body of work, we’re also celebrating the launch of a new book featuring Saul’s work! In collaboration with Indy Hall’s own independent publishing duo Amanda Thomas and Christine Neuleib of Lanternfish Press, and with supporting literary talent from my dear friend and colleague Adam Teterus, Saul has published a coloring book titled “Other Worlds” that will be available for purchase at the show!

    Another launch. Another collaborative production between talented friends.

    That’s what Indy Hall does best.

    We have a lot to celebrate, so I hope you can be here.

    Saul is in the spotlight for this show as we highlight over 200 individual pieces of artwork from his collection…most of it priced between $30-80, so almost everybody can afford to take something home.

    You read that right, over 200 pieces. And that’s whittled down from his entire collection.

    Having this as the first show in our new space is perfect: it’s all about celebrating something that’s taken a long time to get good at, while simultaneously creating an entirely new experience.

    Come by 399 Market between 5-9pm to enjoy that experience with us. Members, friends, neighbors, and families. Share some space, share some time, share some laughs and smiles, and revel together in Saul’s night.

    Help us make this house a home.

    If you’ve been following along over the last 18 months, you know that we’ve put in a ton of work to make Indy Hall’s transition into our new home as smooth as possible.

    But any move, no matter the size, happens in stages: There’s moving into the new place, and then there’s making that place feel like home.

    At Indy Hall, there are two ways that everyone can help make our place feel like home:

    Contribute to the places we share

    We could have easily covered every wall in our new space with the art of our members, but instead we chose to hang a much smaller collection, and leave lots of room for the future of our community to fill in together.

    Because it’s one thing to have art on the walls. It’s another thing to put art on the walls.

    Just because a piece of art is in one place doesn’t mean it needs to live there forever. Very few things at Indy Hall are permanent. That’s important, and on purpose.

    You don’t have to create art to contribute. Pick a space you want to make nice for yourself and the people around you. Pick a project and invite people to join you in working on it. Ask if someone is already working on something you’re interested in, and see if you can add to it.

    Spend time together

    Indy Hall is a club with a clubhouse. Whatever we spend our days working on, we’ve chosen to do it alongside each other.

    Sometimes the time we spend together is brief and focused. Other times, it’s relaxed and casual. Sometimes it’s about work, sometimes it’s about our personal lives.

    No matter which you crave, I believe you’ll find both on Friday night.

    Come by 399 Market between 5-9pm to enjoy that experience with us.

    The first of many, many more in our new home.

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