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

Don’t get confused, coworking is not an occupancy based business

The question usually comes from new coworking spaces that haven’t opened yet, and are still in spreadsheet mode. Sometimes, it comes from established coworking spaces who are trying to eek out some extra revenue to get profitable, or improve their profitability.

Either way, the question of occupancy estimation comes up pretty often in coworking. You might think to look to other industries like hotels and restaurants for ways to calculate capacity.

I think this is a fundamental mistake.

See, I’m in the camp that coworking at its best isn’t an occupancy based business at all. If the only time your members can get value from their membership is when they’re in the room, you’re limiting the potential of your community AND fundamentally you’re limiting the size of your business by tying it to your square footage.

This is why I get frustrated when I see people convinced that their only options for boosting revenue is to add more private offices and event rental options (both of which are almost always at the cost of their community experience).

In the long run, tying revenue potential so closely to square footage hobbles the growth potential of many otherwise wonderful coworking communities. Often worse, it creates a vicious cycle of “add more space! fill more space! add more space! fill more space!” as the best means of growth.

If your priority is to lord over square footage, power to ya. My priority is to bring people together, and square feet are valuable but overrated. More on that in a minute.

How I think about optimizing revenue per square foot

Since we do have space, I do have a strategy for making sure that it’s balanced functionally and economically. We’ve tweaked this a bit over the years, but…not a lot. And this spread tends to be one of my fundamentals in developing membership strategies for new spaces.

Within core coworking operations, I generally start building a model from a maximum of 50% of the workspace to be dedicated in any way (1-1 member to unit, or if you do team spaces, team to unit). Those spaces can only be sold once at a time, and are often the most expensive to replace when a member leaves.

The rest of the options is a variety of flex options, which can usually be sold 3-4x to 1 member to unit without any real risk of oversubscription. The income per member is less, but I can comfortably get 2-3x total revenue from 3 flex members per flex desk than I can from a full time desk.

@Angel_Kwiatkowski did a great breakdown of how this works on a small space too, showing that her revenue per square foot is basically 2x as effective on flex desks than private offices.

The way we get to 3x+ our revenue potential is because around 60% of our paying members almost never use a desk.

By focusing all of our energy on building a community that people want to be a part of, membership to Indy Hall is more like joining a professional association that happens to have a clubhouse. This turns our community into something where people can truly participate even if they’re not physically in the space. One of our members actually wrote something a couple of weeks ago that I think really captures this:

Your completely virtual People at Work Summit conference was my introduction to what virtual coworking could look like. I had used other collaboration tools before as a part of a team, but I was struggling to figure out how to leverage it to find and invite my local community to engage in similar ways. After the Summit ended, I was missing that creative energy, so I joined IH as a virtual member to see what it was like day-to-day (since I couldn’t convince my wife to move to Philly).

I imagined I’d show up and feel like a poor little street kid standing outside a restaurant window watching the “real” Indy Hallers enjoying the music and break room banter. I imagined myself logging in and holding my tattered little hat in smudged fingerless gloves, nose pressed against the glass of my computer screen, staring in from the cold snowy virtual sidewalk hoping someone would invite me in.

The actual experience of virtual coworking was more like walking up to an open air patio where the conversation trails out past the sidewalk and into the street. The members of Indy Hall are engaging and welcoming and there is a sense that you are encouraged to jump in and contribute. I experienced the pervasive mindset of ownership and inclusion that I’d read about and heard about in the podcasts and interviews.

Having my virtual membership has given me a way to find my tribe at IH and then venture out into my local community in new and more confident ways. I am learning great skills of hospitality, communication and creative growth from an IH family who is generous enough to share, and share well.

We’ve also seen dozens of similar stories of people seeking out our community before they move to our city, as a way to build connections (professional and personal – some have even found housing this way!).

Others keep a membership to stay connected. We just had a team outgrow us and move into their own space in the neighborhood, and around half of their team members decided to keep memberships because they didn’t want to lose the connection to the community. Others use it as a way to augment the stilted relationships in the stuffy office they have to go to with a community of coworkers that actually support each other.

There are so many ways to feel isolated in your work and your life – and so many ways to address the problem.

With this model at our core, we’ve been able to expand our membership & revenue repeatedly without needing to add the overhead of more square footage, and when we do expand physical space, it’s only because it’s strategically valuable in some way.

In 2019, the vast majority of our expansion plans are all centered around memberships for folks who don’t need a place to work but want the benefits of a creative business community that supports them.

Space might become a factor, but it’s secondary to everything else.

Community or commodity?

A while back I got an email from someone working on starting a new coworking community in her rural town.

She was doing the important work of building a community first – and things were going right! People were showing up to her gatherings, and coming back week after week. Relationships were forming among attendees. All the signs were pointing towards success.

Until her friend suggested “hey why don’t you start charging for this to cover your coffee & internet?”

This question froze her in her tracks.

Should she start charging? Would people even pay for a nominal fee to cover her expenses?

What would you do in her shoes? To help her get unstuck, I offered the following thought experiments.

Lets pretend for a minute that it wasn’t your friend who suggested you charge.

And pretend for a minute that you were the guest, not the host. You’ve never tried coworking before. You’ve heard of coworking, but haven’t had the experience yourself.

You have coffee and Internet at home. And you’re already at home.

Would you be willing, or even excited, to pay $10 to cover the cost of someone else’s coffee and Internet?

Now, let’s try a different thought experiment. Like the last scenario, you’ve never tried coworking before.

You’re sitting at home, working from your kitchen counter.

You’ve been working on a project all morning and are a bit stuck on a decision. You go back and forth in your head, over and over…but still can’t get unstuck.

You turn to the dog, who is looking at you with the same puzzled face you’ve been giving your work for the last hour. You start to ask the dog, “what would you do?”, before realizing that the dog isn’t going to answer you. 

After refilling your coffee, the clothes washer buzzes, breaking your concentration again. You should keep working on your project, but you decide to take another break to fold your clothes. Another unproductive morning at home. Man, working alone sucks.

Would you pay $10 to escape this hell?

Charging a nominal fee is neither right or wrong. What you’re charging for, however, is a critical difference between how people think about what you offer and how valuable it is to them. This maps directly to success vs failure.

Especially for early stage communities, the most common mistake I see is thinking in terms of charging for “stuff” instead of creating a valuable experience that they crave – being around other people – and charging for that.

Don’t make the mistake of positioning your value as stuff that people can get easily, for free, just about anywhere else.

Guest Post: 3 incredibly counterintuitive lessons that every coworking operator needs to learn

Howdy readers! Alex here, with a very rare guest post on my site. This story is packed with valuable lessons (and a smart, fun, honest approach) that I wanted to make sure as many people saw as possible. So please read, share, and leave a comment!  

Margo Aaron is the founder of The Arena, a coworking community of freelancers and solopreneurs who help each other kick ass in business. 

Without further adieu, here’s Margo sharing her story and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Enjoy!

This whole thing started with a Google Doc.

I emailed 66 people with a link to my Google Doc sales page and within a few days I had 30 applications for my virtual coworking space that did not exist yet.

I told myself if I could get 20 paying customers, then I would keep this thing alive and see if we could grow it. Over the next few months, I had almost 30 paying customers and doubled our prices. We were onto something.

Back when I was running my marketing consultancy, I was tired of working with corporate clients so I started writing about marketing on my website, That Seems Important, and began amassing a list of founders, solopreneurs, and freelancers. My people. The marketing contracts that you get from working with this population is tiny compared to the deals you can score with corporate clients. But corporate clients were driving me nuts and I didn’t want to work with them anymore.

After getting on call-after-call with founders who were stuck, I discovered something curious. All of them were coming to me with marketing problems, but NONE of them had actual marketing problems.

What they had was self doubt.

When you’re a company of one, it’s easy to get stuck in your own head. Constantly overthinking what to do next and nervous that you’re doing the wrong thing.

10/10 my conversations with founders went like this:

“I know I need to do XYZ”

“So why aren’t you doing it?”

“Excuse excuse excuse excuse”

We’d get off the phone and they’d thank me emphatically for my time and advice.

Only…I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t know. All I was doing was giving them permission and confidence to do what they already knew they needed to do.

And that’s when it hit me: Selling this population marketing consulting was never going to really help them because they didn’t have a marketing problem.

What they needed was the confidence to jump in, trust their instincts, and do things wrong.

Their self-doubt was exacerbated by the fact that they were all alone. Literally and figuratively. They weren’t in places like SF or Austin where online entrepreneurs running virtual businesses are a dime a dozen. They were in Fayetteville and upstate NY, where it is extremely difficult to find like-minded people doing similar things.

They had NO ONE like them to talk to, banter with, bounce ideas off of, or just normalize their seemingly “weird” behavior (all of us entrepreneurs are weird, that’s what makes us awesome).

Instead, every day they faced a sea of critics and “normal” friends with normal jobs who didn’t understand them or their business. They had no one to talk to when they got stuck or insecure. When I got on the phone with these folks, I never taught them anything about marketing they didn’t already know. But our conversation gave them the confidence to execute what they knew they needed to execute.

That’s when I realized how to solve the problem.

Lesson 1 – These people didn’t need more courses on marketing – they needed coworkers.

They needed people to brainstorm and banter with, people they could ask dumb questions to, people who understood what it was like to feel like you’re failing all the freaking time – but also have these HUGE wins (all in the span of a single day).

That’s what lead me to the idea of “virtual coworking:” It would be a community of like-minded people who are your coworkers, just like a real office. People (who aren’t your husband) that you can talk shop with, who LOVE to geek out on things like UTM codes and copywriting.

It would function just like coworkers function in a real office – where you IM between conference calls, have meetings to brainstorm stuff, and have a water cooler to complain about your industry or talk through stuff you’ve been marinating on for months.

That’s what lead me to this headline for my Google Doc:

“What You Need Isn’t Written Down. You Don’t Need Another Course – You Need a Tribe.”

To date, it’s the highest converting headline I’ve ever written.

Lesson 2 – The Portal No One Cared About

Once I had proof of concept, it was time to start investing in the space and turning this into something “real.” I took our profits and hired a developer to create a “proper” membership portal to replace our password-protected WordPress pages.

5 Months later it still wasn’t finished and full of bugs and was taking up the majority of my time. But I knew it needed to exist. We had doubled our prices and I couldn’t justify the price increase without a portal (or so I thought). It looked bad to be charging premium prices without offering basic functionality, like being able to update your credit card or cancel without having to email the founder. I also couldn’t protect my intellectual property (well) without a portal.

If someone quit and was no longer a member, they still had access to all our content because I didn’t want to change the PW to the WordPress pages each time. It was really unprofessional. Fine for a beta test, not great for a real product.

Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours later, we got the portal to “good enough” and announced it to the tribe. I was proud of what we’d built, but more than anything, proud of the content the portal displayed. We had a Video Vault of all our member-led workshops and expert interviews. We had tech tools that member’s recommended. We had a catalog of current members where you could look up who everyone was and find out cool fun facts about them. We had a calendar of upcoming events. And we had your account details so you could control your own payment and membership terms.

We had everything!

Except there was one problem: No one cared.

Despite having received criticism from people when I first launched about how “unprofessional” it was to not have a membership portal (and command the rates we were charging), no one used the freaking portal.

All that stress over design and functionality and keeping it updated and maintained – NO ONE CARED.

Which was my first #facepalm moment: Stay focused on your REAL value proposition. People were paying a premium for the connections to quality people like them. Not for content. The buyers (people who were actually members of the space) never complained about not having a membership portal or a hub for content. They just wanted a place to connect with each other.

And even more interesting (but not surprising), they wanted to connect in places where they were already hanging out. Meaning: no one wanted to login to something new. They wanted to show up where they were already showing up. Which in our case, was Slack and Zoom.

Takeaway for us: get clear on what you real value proposition is and don’t waste time on the things no one cares about.

I wasted months and a lot of cash creating something that was irrelevant to my end user’s experience. I was constantly paranoid about fixing bugs no one noticed and keeping content no one accessed up to date.

Caveat: the perception of having a portal did have a halo effect on new users. It acted as a feature that justified a higher price. Something people expected to be included with membership. They liked knowing it existed. But they still (dramatic pause) didn’t use it.

Lesson 3 – Exclusivity Is The Key To Community

I know what you’re thinking. Community is supposed to be about belonging and inclusiveness. Exclusivity is literally the opposite

But hear me out.

The paradox of belonging is that in order to “belong” to something, you by definition don’t belong to something else. If you make “soccer club” inclusive of other sports, it stops being soccer club. It’s just “sports club.” And if you make “sports club” inclusive of people who paint and sing, it just becomes “club.”

Some call this “niche-ing down,” but I’m going to argue that it’s more than that. We have a niche – that’s for sure. You get to our home page and either you get the joke or your don’t. You know within minutes whether you’re “one of us.”

That part is “niche-ing.” We appeal to solopreneurs, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and freelancers. And a specific type of each of those. They’re after more than just money – they’re after impact.  They want to make a difference, but how they make that difference varies. Within the world of entrepreneurship, it’s sexy to be building the next “disruptive” technology, but our people aren’t interested in building the next Facebook or even building the next TOMS. They make a difference through the quality of their work and having a business that serves their life.

For example, one of our members has four kids under 10. And he is changing the world by simply being a more present dad. He built his business so he could pick up his girls from school and not have to take meetings after 3PM. Those are the people we are after. The people who have families and mortgages and aren’t interested in “working from the beach.”

Anyway, it’s a very very very specific sect of people.

On top of that, to be a valuable member of a community is different from being a wonderful customer. It is a specific personality type that works well in a tight-knit group of people. You have to care, you have to be willing to give as much as you take (if not more), and you have to actually want to participate.

I’d made the mistake of letting the wrong type of people in when we started out and I saw what it did to the group dynamic. In order to cultivate community, my folks needed to feel protected. Instead of simply being the founder, I became like a fiduciary to the tribe.

It was my responsibility to find and include people who were “one of us” and part of that required actively excluding good people who weren’t a great fit.


And it cost me a lot of money.

Most spaces that bill monthly with a membership revenue model make money by adding more members. As a result, they often let anyone in because, duh, that’s how you scale. In our competitive set, the qualifier for most communities is revenue.

I refuse to judge our members on revenue because that doesn’t tell me what I need to know about you. Our members are defined by their action not their success. We don’t care if you’re failing as long as you’re out there, brushing yourself off, and getting back up.

The only thing we don’t want are people who are all talk, don’t take action, and are constantly asking for advice and feedback, but never offering help to others.

Unfortunately for me, those are the people who pay for these kinds of things. We call them “wantrepreneurs.” They’re the ones who jump from idea to idea and never really commit to anything. They like the culture of entrepreneurship, but aren’t actually entrepreneurs.

We don’t let those people in.

It hurts. every. time.

Because those people sincerely need a tribe. And they’re good people who need support. We’re just not the right space for them.

I am fiercely protective of who we allow into the space. Our members are the most important part of what we’ve built. If the portal and Zoom disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter because our people are what make this thing valuable.

Here is how I managed to successfully exclude people and foster a strong sense of community among our coworkers.

First, we made it a lot of work to get in: To get into the Arena you have to fill out a long-but-entertaining application, qualify for an interview, endure said interview, and then wait for us to determine if you’re in.

If you’re not serious about being a member, this process will discourage you which is exactly what it’s designed to do. We want to deal with only qualified leads and by making it a little difficult to sign up, we end up with only people who are serious.

Second, we added qualifying questions to our application. In the beginning, I was wasting a lot of time interviewing people who I could tell were not a good fit from the first 45 seconds. I couldn’t figure out how they were getting through, until I realized I wasn’t asking the right questions on the application.

So, I used the application to vet and qualify candidates. We have questions like, “If you got in, how would you help your coworkers in the Arena?” This does two things.

First, it subtly emphasizes that you’re not immediately accepted despite having filled out an application. This adds to the scarcity and exclusivity of the space. Second, it primes you to think about what you can offer instead of what you can get. Which is the basis for any good community, but the opposite of what we consider when we’re about to pay for something premium.

When we’re about to pay for something premium, we think, “What’s in it for me?” (understandably). But asking the question in this way helps us select for people who get joy and value out of helping others – those are the kind of people we want.

We also added a question about willingness to invest in something like this. If people only have $40 in their budget, they’re not going to be interviewed no matter how great they are. Our prices are published on our website. We’re not hiding how much membership is. If you didn’t do your due diligence or cannot afford our space, it wastes both our time and yours. So we added a question to make sure people know this isn’t a free Facebook group (you would not believe how many people think that). It’s a paid space, that’s carefully and deliberately curated.

Third, we proudly exclude people. It sucks. And I hate it. And it never gets easier. Especially if the applicants are colleagues or people I genuinely like. But what the member’s need is more important than my desire to stay liked. And the lost revenue is offset by the high retention rates we have as a result. People appreciate the lengths we go to to keep the space intimate and high quality. We will never take anyone in just because they offer to pay or because “it’s more scalable” this way. In fact, we know this model doesn’t scale and that’s precisely why it works.

Fourth, we make 1:1 introductions. When you are first accepted into the space, there is a formal onboarding process that happens. (This is why white labeling what we do hasn’t worked so far, btw. There is a manual component that NO ONE wants to actually implement. They just want to throw a bunch of people on slack and expect them to interact – which doesn’t work). Even the most outgoing extroverted people have trouble being thrown into a sea of strangers online. You cannot expect awesome people to connect without giving them some prompts and making them feel comfortable.

So part of our onboarding process is introducing you, personally, to other members, so you go in seeing some familiar faces. We choose which members we intro you to based on your business needs and/or if we just think you’ll get along and be friends.

Note: We do NOT say “Hey John, meet Sally. Sally, meet John. Kbye!” Our introductions are long and personal. We give members a lot of background on each other and (most importantly) tell them WHY we think they’ll get along and should connect.

Fifth, we have standards for how you’re allowed to participate. There is nothing worse than a group that is either being dominated by the founder or is full of meaningless self-centered posts, like, “Hey guys! I just wrote this! Could you share?” I publicly shame people who post like that (though tbh those kind of people don’t get it in).

We have quality standards for interaction and participation that we are very strict about. If you’re going to pose a question to the group or share something you wrote (or read) you must give us context and explain why you’re sharing it and what you want from us. Are you looking for feedback? Vanity likes? Did you learn something and want to make us aware too? WHY should we read this?

The most valuable asset we all have is our time. And to post vapid and meaningless self-serving content is disrespectful to your fellow coworkers.

As a result, our community threads end up being really substantial and very personal. People post long, personal, and detailed posts about their business questions and the dialogue is RICH with insights, personal experiences, and advice.

You Cannot Fake This

The thing about community is that everyone claims to have it, but few actually do. The irony is none of this is rocket science. Anyone could steal my model (not my trademark, though #boom) and the reason they don’t is because it is a LOT of work.

If you don’t genuinely care about your people and get in the weeds with them, you’re not going to succeed in building community. There is no way to short cut this.

Adding people into a Facebook group or giving them access to an online message board where they can post questions doesn’t equal community. Community happens when people interact with one and other. Outside of you. Your job is to create the container and facilitate the interaction – and that’s the part you can’t half-ass or fake. Because you end up with superficial or transactional relationships instead of real ones.

Community doesn’t work if it’s not based on something real.

In the end community hinges on one thing: people. If you think about your people and what they need instead of what you want to build or what “makes sense” or what your competitors are doing, you’ll have a lot more success in cultivating community. Finding a way to facilitate real, genuine connections amongst your members is what this is all about.

It’s more than building a sales pipeline or networking or partnering on deals. It’s about relationships.

When we were collecting feedback from members on why they stayed in the Arena, I was expecting people to say, “EXPLOSIVE GROWTH!” since that was sorta what I was aiming for. My thought was if I connect you with people like you (or a few steps ahead of you), you’ll have no choice but to level up. (Remember this came out of a MARKETING consultancy and a hypothesis that if I connect you with people like you, you’ll have more confidence to do what you know you should do to grow your business).

And I was right. Just…it wasn’t in the way I expected.

“The Arena improved my marriage.”

Yeah, I know, I was shocked too.

Over and over I saw the same response from members. Having coworkers to talk to about their business allowed them to be better husbands, wives, moms, dads, managers, and friends. Their businesses grew along with their confidence, but that’s not why they stayed.

There is more to business than financial growth.

That’s where community comes in. We’re the other part.

Think you need investors for your coworking space? Here are four alternative ways to get funded.

I’ve been where you are.

About to open a coworking space with limited cash. Banks don’t want to talk to me (a business with no track record isn’t a great candidate for most loans).

What about investors? Depending on where in the world you are, or your experience in business, you’re likely to encounter the reality that lots of people don’t really “understand” coworking, so convincing a funder is even harder than convincing potential members about the value of this idea.

Gatekeepers, ugh. Amirite?

Indy Hall is famously bootstrapped, largely by following a path of building our community before we even went looking for spaces. I’ve helped hundreds of coworking founders start coworking communities this way, too.

But once you’ve got the community…how exactly can you close financial shortfalls? 

Nearly every day of the week week I get a question from someone about pitching investors for their coworking space…and my first question is “what other funding sources have you tried?”

The answer is almost always “none.” At most, they’ve applied for some small business loans, pitch competitions, or possibly even are thinking about a crowdfunding opportunity.

That’s when I remind them that I’ll do almost anything to avoid having an “investor” involved in my coworking business – and here’s why.

Investors are essentially business partners that don’t work on the business every day.

And I also have a philosophy around business partnerships: they’re relationships, and not casual ones. I think a lot of people mistake “business partner” as a kind of special coworker when in fact partnering in business is a lot more like getting married than being coworkers.

And honestly, business partnerships are often more difficult to undo than a marriage. And in that vein, bringing on an investor is an awful lot like marrying for money. It happens, but it usually doesn’t end well.

Yes, there are great investors out there – “some of my best friends are investors” – who bring a lot more value than money. But even the best investors are someone else to answer to, and to explain yourself to.

And I hate nothing more than giving up control over my decisions. Related: this is why I’m a great consultant and a terrible employee. But I digress. 

The only people I want to answer to are the people I create value for – in the case of Indy Hall, our community and our team – and to be able to make decisions that I believe are in the best long term interest of how we serve the community.

With an investor, things are peachy if my decisions create value for our members and our investors. But if I’m in a situation where I have to decide between creating value for our members OR our investors…you had better believe I’m going to side with our members and that is going to make for a very uncomfortable conversation on the investor side.

So I place a very high value on control over how I make decisions, especially after seeing how often people find themselves torn between the interest of their investors and the interest of their community. I actively avoid anything that clouds my long-term decision making abilities.

Plus – if you ever do want that you want to grow to a scale where you want to have investors involved – leverage is magic fairy dust for business conversations. You’d better believe that it’s a lot easier to find investors who want to talk to you (and give you good terms) when you already have a thriving business. It’s way easier to strike a favorable deal when you don’t show up to the table hungry for a check.

So, if not investors or banks, then what funding options do you have?

Here are four options – things Indy Hall has specifically done to raise money we needed – and that anyone can do without needing a gatekeeper to say yes:

1 – Membership drives.

Assuming you’ve been doing the all important early steps of community building, you have people who want this to happen and are willing to put their time and money in to see it become a reality.

(What’s that, you don’t have a community yet? You’ve got work to do, friend.)

Now’s the time to get those people signed up for memberships.

One of the first things we did was turn the act of “signing up early” into an event.

We knew that we had people ready to go, and we’d done the work to negotiate the lease. So we went to the community and said:

“Meet us at this restaurant, at this time, and bring your checkbooks. 

If you can pay for your first month, that’s great. If you can pay for three months, that’s even better. Can you afford 6 months? AMAZING.

If people show us that are ready to sign memberships, we’ll sign the lease!”

That wasn’t a bluff, by the way. If we didn’t have enough people sign up, I would’ve called off the lease. I didn’t need a lease to accomplish my goals – I needed committed community members.

We made it an event. We promoted it as a celebration of a milestone. We made it a thing to participate in. Make the people who sign up feel special.

Bonus: taking checks in person helps you avoid payment fees (which add up!) but also the collective energy of people signing up can be contagious.

We ended the night with ~22 founding members. Most of them didn’t need an office, but they all wanted to know that our community had a home.

2 – “IRL” crowdfunding.

The biggest mistake I see people make with crowdfunding is getting caught up in the “crowd” and forgetting what each individual is actually contributing towards, and why.

SO while tools like Indiegogo, etc make it easier for a wider audience to discover and support a project, most successful coworking spaces are hyperlocal efforts for a specific community.

What people don’t realize or expect is that a typical crowdfunding campaign (which requires a TON of work) is going to spread your limited resources thinner by promoting it to “everyone” instead of focusing on connecting with people who already have a reason to care.

A better way to crowdfund your costs. 

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from all of the funding work I’ve done is that the more specific of a “thing” you can offer people to contribute towards helping, the better.

For example….imagine you’re looking at a $50,000 shortfall for opening your coworking space. Break that $50,000 into the actual list of things the money is going towards…and then look for ways to connect the individual needs with people who might want to support it.

Within any group, different people will care more about different things, and people want to support the things they’ll benefit most from. Lean into this! For example:

One part of “we are looking to raise $50,000” can be turned into…“We need $5k to get nicer chairs.”

Now you can start looking for an “official chair sponsor” – maybe a local business who you can offer member benefits to. Or, even better, imagine asking for 50 people to each “help us buy one chair and we’ll dedicate it to you” and then offering it to members, supporters, and other local businesses.

Smaller contributions are more accessible, meaning more people can contribute in a meaningful way, and know exactly what their contributions are going towards.

Bonus: when you break things down this way you can also find creative ways to reduce costs…e.g. maybe it’s a local furniture supplier who can reduce your costs, while still turning to the crowd for financial support and making their every dollar go even further.

3 – Member loans.

The first time we expanded from our original location, we needed a similar ~$30,000.

At a community town hall, we shared exactly what we needed it for, and our current potential options for closing that shortfall. After the meeting, one member approached helping us. Their business had been doing very well (largely in part because being a member) and they saw this as a way to give back. In fact, they really wanted to buy in as an investor.

Even though I had a good relationship with this person, I had to ask if they’d want to be a partner even if the money wasn’t involved. If it wasn’t a hell yes from all sides, this wasn’t the right move.

So I said “what about a loan?” and after thinking it over he said yes.

We put together terms where we had 12 months before we had to start paying back the loan. He gave me a rate that was better than I could get with a bank, and I had the flexibility down the road if needed.

The only challenge we ran into with this first deal was when we’d make a decision that he wasn’t fully supportive of, or when he wanted to do something and we didn’t think it was the right move. It took a lot to keep that relationship from affecting my decisions.

To be crystal clear – I’m incredibly grateful for the support. But I’d be bullshitting if I said this loan didn’t stress the friendship and the professional relationship.

So the next time we needed an influx of cash, we made some adjustments. This time we went to the community and said “before we go to other sources we’re wondering if anybody would be willing/able to offer us a small loan? We’re looking for a few people who can loan us $5k-10k each.”

This approach meant that no single person could hold the loan over our heads, and in a worst case scenario we could accelerate paying that person back if they did (removing tension, frustration, or cloudy judgement).

Another side effect of these smaller loans was that we were able to turn these into zero interest loans. They had the same “1 year before payback begins” term – something that really makes a difference with slow-but-steady growth businesses like coworking spaces.

But we also talked one-on-one with each member about the actual interest they were going to earn at market rate on such a relatively small loan. We said “here’s the dollar amount you’ll earn in interest,  but maybe there is something else that’s similarly or more valuable to you than the interest?” and in every instance we were able to offer something with nearly no cost (membership credits, consulting/support, public gratitude, etc) instead incurring the cost of the interest.

Like the crowd-funding tips from above, the key here is really understanding what people value the most and being willing to offer that instead of the most obvious option.

4 – Don’t buy everything at once.

This one is the most often overlooked.

If you’re someone who spends a lot of time looking at what other coworking spaces do, building pinterest boards for your dream coworking space, it’s easy to fall into the misconception that you have to have it all on the day your doors open.


When we opened we didn’t have…

  • a coffee machine
  • a couch
  • whiteboards
  • a printer
  • a projector and screen
  • dishes or mugs

We didn’t have chairs for every desk. We didn’t even have the number of desks that our space could hold….we just had enough for the people who were there, and a few more to grow into!

Bonus: a space that isn’t fully built out may look unfinished, but a bunch of empty desks looks sad. Some of your best members are the ones who are going to be drawn to a work in progress, and by “starting” unfinished you actually create opportunities for people to feel more connected by helping make improvements and upgrades.

In fact, since we’ve never focused on “having stuff” we also made it clear that we would buy tools and make upgrades based on what we learned was a) most important and valuable to the most people, and b) we’d do it as soon as we could afford it.

Want Indy Hall to have something faster? Help us recruit more members! Help us find or negotiate a deal!

And if you think “yeah Alex that worked in 2006 when you didn’t have any competition…” guess what we’ve done every time we’ve moved, or expanded? the exact same thing.

Take a good hard look at the things you think you need to raise money to have, and ask yourself what you REALLY need.

Desks. Chairs. Power. Internet. And people. That’s all you need for coworking.

And believe me, you’re going to need to learn how to prioritize eventually otherwise you’re going to die the death that comes from trying to “do and be everything for everyone.”

Learn how to prioritize early (and getting your members involved in that prioritization). It’ll save your ass now, and in the future.


The fact is that when you don’t have money, it feels like your options are limited.

But they’re only limited to your understanding of who you serve.

Do you want to serve your community, or an investor?

Personally, I’d rather not even open a coworking space to begin with than give up control over how I serve my community.

That control is one of the biggest things that’s allowed us to thrive for over a decade, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

How to hire the best people to run your coworking space

Hiring sucks. Finding great people for your team is tough in any industry, but staffing your coworking space is extra tricky.

Most potential candidates have never run a coworking space before, and many spaces I talk to struggle with staff retention while their teammates aren’t really sure what job they were hired to do.

My take on hiring for coworking has always been a little bit unusual, but with our most recent hire we had a few specific goals as we work to be more diverse and inclusive:

  1. how do we reach a wider audience of potential candidates than ever before, including people who don’t know coworking is even a thing?
  2. how would we narrow that larger list of applicants in a way that is in line with our values?

Another challenge is that most people who hire say that they’re lucky to get 10% viable candidates from any job posting.

Meanwhile, our hiring techniques brought in over 70 applications…with 90% or more of them having potential. Clearly we had figured something out!

So when friends at Habu reached out and offered to co-host another webinar, I offered to dive deep into these questions and share as much as possible about what we learned!

If you find this session useful, make sure you check out Habu’s growing collection of webinars & interviews with some of the best folks from across the wide world of coworking. 

In the recorded talk below, you’ll learn how and why we’ve completely flipped the typical hiring process on its head to avoid the most common challenges, and how you can use our techniques to get better candidates yourself.

And for the first time, I go into specific details including the exact communication, outreach, forms, tools and email scripts our team used to get feedback along the way, including multiple people who we declined saying ‘this was the best decline email I’ve gotten, EVER.’

Whether you’re looking to hire your first employee, or looking for better practices as your team grows, there’s something in this video for you.

Download the resources shown in the video!

Resources for hiring your next teammate

In this free resource pack you'll find:

  • Example accept and decline emails for each stage of the hiring process.
  • The full list of questions from our application
  • Examples of community outreach
  • How we describe the experience of working in our coworking space
  • ...and more!
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Big thank you again to Ryan & the team at Habu for organizing this webinar – make sure you check out their other webinars & interviews with some of the best folks from across the wide world of coworking!

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, the X32 Clear Panel 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!

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