Interview with Charlotte Kirby of The Village Hive Coworking
Canada is one of the tail-end countries to have been hit by the new reality that is facing the coworking industry. As Coronavirus has brought personal and business plans to a screeching halt, coworking space owners have had to go back to the drawing board to assess their offering, as well as their true value to their communities.
I had a virtual sit down with Charlotte Kirby, an independent space owner coming from the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area, where she has been cultivating an irreplaceable coworking community since 2016. Her space has had to close its doors for the duration of the mandatory restrictions currently being carried out in Ontario, as a way to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19, as her space and others alike have been classified by Canadian Government as “non-essential” operations. From the short 20+ minutes we spoke I can easily say that the way she has been engaging her community and providing resources to assist her members with getting through this time that the Village Hive is, in no uncertain terms, absolutely essential.
Charlotte gave us an inside look at how businesses in general have been affected by the restrictions put in place in the last 2 weeks, and how her role has transitioned into limiting the damages of lost revenue, not only for her space, but the members who have their business mailing addresses registered to the Village Hive. We discussed that many small businesses have applied for the emergency aid packages to subsidize losses and naturally those cheques have to be mailed out, so Charlotte finds herself onsite to collect and distribute mail in a time when minimal interaction is worth its weight in gold.
When we talked about preparedness, Charlotte was just as surprised as the rest of the world when things started to ramp up and restrictions began. She explained that based on the information Canada was privy to, and watching China’s numbers quickly fall under those of Italy, the crisis became more real as Charlotte began practicing more caution when it came to health and safety protocols. She compared the precautions to preparing for the seasonal flu, and that no one was really prepared for the swift reaction that came from the Canadian Government, seemingly overnight.
When speaking about her community and how she has been working to keep members engaged virtually, it really demonstrated how suited for this industry she is, and more importantly her role. As the reality of working from home set in she found that her members were more engaged in their online community channels than ever before and found that people were using the channels as a way of mitigating the loneliness that many people experience while self-isolating.
“So I’m letting my members know exactly what is happening here and, you know, hoping to keep them engaged online, so they’ll see the value of their membership beyond coming in and using the space to work or run workshops or meetings or meet clients. And, you know, hopefully when all this is over, we’ll still be a strong community.”
Though virtual interactions can be an excellent way to connect for non-essential in person meetings, Charlotte explained that she believes the coworking industry will come out of this stronger than ever, because people will know the value of human interaction and they will seek it when this is all over.
“I mean, it’s great to connect remotely but how much longer can we sit in front of our computers and just talk to people? That face to face interaction and sporadic sort of communication is I think what what people are going to crave and I think even the larger workforce, they may look to you because they see that people can work remotely, or maybe look into to having a more distributed workforce, and allow their employees to work at coworking spaces.”
When I asked Charlotte about any advice she could give to the industry, or other people in her position, the answer was nothing short of inspiring. Charlotte has allowed her members who have put their memberships on hold to still remain included in the virtual community, as she knows that the people who are most affected by the economic downturn are the people who need the community the most. She is positive that it will only give them more of a reason to renew their membership and return to the space once business can resume as usual.
As someone many people look to for advice and words of encouragement, Charlotte explained that that can weigh heavily on you as a leader, when you yourself are experiencing doubt and anxiety. She explained that making sure she also has access to other professionals in the coworking industry that can uplift and encourage her to be a great leader has given her the ability to pass that wisdom and encouragement on to those who are leaning on her now.
Looking for ways to bring people back to your space? Learn about the Spaces for Recovery program.