What Coronavirus Has Taught Me About Community

Friends, I have a confession to make: I am a homebody who hates working from home. Don’t get me wrong; I have a lovely home that’s full of plants, lots of natural light, and an excellent snack scene – all the things that coworking spaces advertise – but it’s a poor substitute for the sweet, inspiring, vibrant people you’ll normally find at FireWorks. I really miss my people.

This post started all lighthearted and fun, full of playful jabs at the work-from-home life, like how my cats make better pets than coworkers, how my back just might permanently be stuck in a C-shape after so many weeks without a task chair, and how I need the accountability of seeing other people if I’m ever going to comb my hair again.

But somewhere in the process, I realized that this scary, awful, strange thing has affected me in a much more profound way, to the point that I fully expect to come out of this a better, more compassionate, and capable community manager to a stronger, tighter community. Let me explain…

Pre-pandemic, my job looked a whole lot like a tornado; I’d consistently get close to the recommended daily 10,000 steps just from a regular day in the office. It’s the nature of a community manager’s job to constantly switch gears – you go from unjamming the printer, to fielding phone calls from potential members, to checking on the coffee machine for probably the hundredth time that day, all without missing a beat.

It’s also highly interactive, between hosting meeting room groups, leading tours, and just chatting with members and answering their questions. It’s exhilarating and feels so important, to be the cheerleader and support system for everyone hard at work at FireWorks (trust me, they’re an amazing bunch and I’m honored to know them). In short, my days were full of action and full of meaning.

Now that we’re in the middle of this strange and terrifying coronavirus pandemic, my job looks almost completely different. The only change of scenery I get is if I take my laptop from the dining room to the sofa, and I now have long stretches of uninterrupted work time (Good for my blog writing habits! But bad for my mental health). I’ve found that my brain loves to juggle things (metaphorically, of course), and I’m having to re-train myself how to focus on one thing at a time. There are no meetings to host, no printers to wrestle with (honestly, thank heavens for that one), and no people to chat with by the coffee machine (except for my cat, but he’s not much for conversation).

And sure, we’ve ramped up our virtual community efforts, but there’s really no substitute for inhabiting a physical space with people you care about and love to learn from. Just ask anyone who’s been in a long distance relationship before or lived far away from their family; it’s not the same. And that’s the key, isn’t it? Isn’t that why, after all this is over, coworking spaces are poised to come back stronger than ever? You need your people, and I need my people.

No amount of Zoom happy hours and daily check-ins over Slack will even come close to face-to-face interaction. That’s not a failing on our part – that we can’t quite replicate the same feeling we get when we’re gathered around a cheese plate together, or when one of us walks out of a meeting and just knows they won the clients and we all celebrate.

I’ve only ever had office jobs (except for a quick yogurt shop stint in high school, but who’s counting), so I’ve always had coworkers and a physical office to go to each morning. For the first time in my life, I understand exactly where my members are coming from when they walk in FireWorks’ front door after they book a tour. Well, I mostly understand it – I don’t have kids, so I can only imagine how that must affect things.

The promise of a coworking space is that it introduces structure and boundaries between home and work life where there were none before, offers legitimacy to scrappy, growing small businesses, and presents daily opportunities to engage a larger community and professional support system that you wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.

Never again will I take a casual conversation around the space for granted – I know now that my members never have. A coworking space enriches all aspects of life that it touches; it’s truly more than a place to work. Now, when I talk about fighting the loneliness epidemic and needing community, it’s more than just lip service and imagining what isolation would feel like.

As Georgia and several other states are easing restrictions for the coronavirus and people are cautiously leaving their homes again, will you join me in being especially intentional with your time and attention? Let’s be as careful to listen fully to each other and practice empathy as we are to wash our hands and wear our masks. Let’s prioritize people over productivity, not at the expense of getting stuff done, but because now we know for a fact that we’re so much better together than we ever were apart.