Life After Coworking…

By Liz Elam On July 28, 2015 In CoworkingCommunityRetrospective

By: Erin Griffin, former Community Curator at NextSpace Berkeley.

It was awesome when I did it, but it is even more awesome now that I am not doing it. Let me explain…

Without a doubt, opening and operating a coworking space was the biggest project of my life. When I was hired to open NextSpace Berkeley nearly three years ago, I was a newbie to California. I was expected to not only build a 9,000 square foot space but to also leverage the Berkeley network which I was still nurturing since I had only been in the area for little over a year. Those were some serious expectations that I had to make happen in just four short months. Yeah, I was nervous. Yes, I was thinking how the heck am I going to manage a buildout, sell memberships and get the City of Berkeley excited about the community I was still figuring out how to create?

Fortunately the leadership team at NextSpace, at that time, was amazingly supportive and gave me the autonomy to hit the ground running anyway I chose. I literally ran the streets of Berkeley trying to make unique partnerships happen that would one day benefit my future members, whomever they might be. I toured potential members through a construction zone with respiratory masks on, all while deciding what furniture to order and what color to paint the walls. I quickly learned that coworking operators wear a lot of hats, and boy did all those laps I ran really payoff once I actually had a community to curate. I could get pulled in five different directions at once and still come home with a sense of accomplishment because coworking creates an energy around people that makes them feel like they can achieve anything.

I was overwhelmed by the support and interest I got from everyone in my local network. Businesses around Berkeley were excited to have so many entrepreneurs flooding their streets. It was easy to tell the coworking story and it was awesome to know I could develop resources that would give my members an engaging and rewarding environment. And that is exactly what happened. Before I knew it I was two years in, watching super amazing people do super amazing things with their personal and professional lives. Everyday I was inspired by someone, and always pleasantly surprised by the class of people that rolled in and out of that space.

A few months ago some new opportunities came my way that would ultimately lead me to go into business on my own. I had never run my own company so the thought of taking that leap was just a tad scary…I had a lot to contemplate. Should I leave the place that I spent so much effort building and now has major substance or start from scratch, again? One day I was sitting in my favorite spot in the space and I looked around and it dawned on me: I have been helping people do just that – start over, rebuild, create something new. I thought, “I can do this!”. Look at all these coworkers around me, my community, my people. I have a huge support system that is ready and willing to help me no matter what adventure I take on. How lucky am I?

Pretty darn lucky and thankful. When I told my community I was moving on, there were a lot of sad faces but there was even more excitement around what I was doing next. My members wanted to know how they could help me take my next steps. Their interest was so uplifting and made my next steps seem less scary. It was their encouragement and experiences that made me feel brave. This was not the feeling I had when I left the investment banking world, let me tell you. In just a few short years I met more valuable people than I had in my entire professional career. I wasn’t just the person who managed the space, I was their colleague and friend and that meant they would stand by my side. Chalk it up to the benefits of the share economy, if you will, because coworkers are brilliant at sharing. Whether it be a coffee mug, their intel or their support, they are the wacky but sincere characters children’s books should be written about.

I am now fully on my own doing my own thing. It’s been a few months and although I don’t get as many opportunities as I would like to return to the space, I don’t communicate any less with my old NextSpace coworkers, members and partnership community. The community I fostered is everything I would have hoped it would be inside and outside those doors. It reaches far beyond the desks everyone sits at, and that is some powerful stuff right there. All the efforts and resources I developed for the members, they were eager to give right back to me.

I have recently set up shop at a coworking space in Oakland. It’s pretty cool to be sitting in the member seat helping to shape a new community. I guess I am naturally doing it because of my experience as a coworking operator, but thank goodness I had that experience because I can do it with my eyes closed. Coworking has turned me into a natural community developer and a networking machine. I am still getting pulled in five different directions but now I am a ninja at multitasking. It’s the absolute best way to be if you are going to start your own business, and coworking is the epicenter for developing these skills. I am making smart decisions, I am scoring clients that suit my interests, and I am curating projects that I am super passionate about. I feel confident saying all this because coworking has taught me where my values and interests need to be when in comes to my work/life balance, and it is paying off.

My life after coworking, it’s all unicorns and rainbows, right? Not exactly. It’s daunting and full of anxiety, but it is also full of support and love. In a sense, I may have left coworking behind for a new life but I am never going to stop coworking. So to all of you coworking movers and shakers out there, there is no life after coworking because there is no after. It follows you around like that annoying little brother who grows up and turns into someone you admire because he always had your back. And frankly, he’s got his s*%t together because he learned a ton of lessons from you. Coworking definitely is the bloodline of my future, and there’s no shortage of donors.

For me, there is no “life after coworking”. Coworking is an extension of my life and it’s totally awesome!

Connect with erin @VivaErin