The Near-death and Unexpected Reemergence of a Coworking Community
By Cat Johnson
Content Strategist and member of NextSpace Coworking
April 12, 2018 — Santa Cruz, CA
(Photo above: Longtime NextSpace Santa Cruz members Maya Delano, Iris Kavanagh and Grace Gamboa. Credit: Sara Isenberg)
Our coworking community almost died.
Technically, the community was in decent shape, but the company that housed us was in a downward spiral.
A particularly low-point came in response to a whiteboard question: “How will 2017 be better than 2016?” One of the community managers wrote, “New job.” Another added, “+1,000,000.”
How far we had fallen.
For years, NextSpace, and particularly NextSpace Santa Cruz, was a model of community coworking. My first year of coworking was spent, not at NextSpace, but in a beautiful workspace in which I connected with hardly anyone. When my contract was up, I walked into NextSpace and told co-founder and former CEO Jeremy Neuner and NextSpace employee number one, Iris Kavanagh, who now runs Coworking with Iris and co-founded Women Who Cowork, “I’ve realized I don’t need a coworking space, I need a coworking community.” Jeremy responded with a smile and said, “You found us.”
He was 100 percent, spot-on. I made more connections in the first week at what is now my beloved home space than I had in an entire year at a space that wasn’t the right fit for me.
The day I knew I was home was a couple of months into my membership. I walked in and someone hollered across the room, “Hi Cat.” Then someone else said, “Hi Cat!” Then it became a thing, and everyone was looking up from what they were doing and saying, “Hi Cat!”
It chokes me up just thinking about it. My coworking community had nudged its way into my heart in a big way. It became one of my most treasured things in this life. It’s an experience, a circle of friends and support, and a business productivity and accountability resource all rolled into one.
My coworking community challenged me to think bigger and dig deeper into my authentic self. It also offered everything I needed to stretch my wings as a solopreneur and grow my business. For every question I had, a fellow member had the answer. And they asked the same of me.
For years, everything rolled along like this.
Then things took a turn for the worse.
One day, out of the blue from the members’ perspective, people who had formed and built the company and community were being fired or leaving. People who were fixtures in the space suddenly disappeared. The members talked amongst ourselves about what was happening, but we didn’t have the inside scoop, so rumors and gossip were all we had to go by.
Bad turned to worse and worse turned to even worse still.
Community managers were turning over as quickly as they came in, cherished community members-both on-staff and in the membership-left, we got a new “leadership” team that not only didn’t spend time in the coworking space, they could be heard fighting behind closed doors.
At one point, one of them berated one of the community managers in the open space. That was another low point.
There were a lot of those. Longtime members cancelled their memberships or stopped coming in, the space had a walking-on-eggshells vibe, people were openly discussing what a horrible state of affairs it was and it was abundantly clear that employees were far from happy.
A former core member of the community suggested that maybe NextSpace was something that was amazing once, but was now over.
That wasn’t an acceptable solution to us current members.