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I’ve been working on a series of inane placards for a little while. Actually, when I say I’ve been working on them for a little while, I mean that I’ve been doing these things for the past few years.

What started innocently enough as an honest attempt to make eye-catching signs for Indy Hall (eye-catching in the grossly-plain-devoid-of-design-or-intelligence sorta way) evolved into a style. By accident, really. After my bike was stolen this past summer (which I’ll post about soon enough), I offered up my talents for for hire – and to my surprise, somebody asked me to make a PSA for his home.

I had no idea where I would start. What the hell would I write about? I make these things for Indy as a means to remind people of little courtesies that travel far, things like replacing the last roll of toilet paper or making a new pot of coffee or offering permission to admit that you just can’t fucking remember that person’s name and look I’m so sorry it’s not you it’s me honestly I’m super embarrassed to ask your name for like the third time but I’d rather not pretend I do know your name when I really don’t I’m sure you don’t want me to call you “pal” for the entire duration of our acquaintance. Stuff like that.

So I asked him what he’s struggling with right now, I’d make something to help him get through that. He says he has a hell of time waking up in the morning. Thus, I made a PSA that reminds him of those sweet and invaluable mundane events in life that happen in the morning, the ones he’s sleeping right the hell through and missing entirely. And look, I don’t know if this will actually help rehab him into a state in which the alarm clock goes off and his head springs form the pillow, but we both had a laugh over the frank reality of snoozing through the beautiful happenstance of life in the early mornin’. So, shit, I guess they’re good for that?

More PSAs to come. Want a custom PSA for yourself? Hit me up on Twitter, gang: @adamteterus

This blog is terrible and it’s all my fault

I know the title of this post is true because right now, in this moment, I hate this damn blog. I haven’t posted anything for, what, a full year? Criminy. That’s embarrassing.

Time to pick this shit up and move on, by which I mean I’ll begin to post updates and new posts and maybe edit older content, and I’ll enjoy doing it. I’ll keep the previous posts around for the sake of nostalgia, but I think you oughta look forward to a major god damn change in the way I keep this blog updated. I’ll use my voice – my real voice. I’ll spit and cuss and and fawn and offer open-ended entries because that’s what I’m doing all day, anyway. I just need to translate the experience.

Oh, scope the new logo, by the way! I’ve been working a lot with the man who crafted that, Michael Norcross, and I’ve got a lot to say about how delightful and talented that guy is. Together, we produce The Dark Matter Sequential, something I’ll write about more in the future, and it’s been a total blast to work with him since last spring. If you need design work, talk to Michael. He’ll fix you up and blow your mind.

So look, I’ll be treating this blog as if it’s Twitter or Facebook or a social platform that I post to habitually. I’m gonna make this place a home, a place where I live. Cool with you? Doesn’t matter. (but look I do hope it’s cool with you tbh)

I only stopped by to write this, right now. Something to let you know that change is a’comin’. I’m excited.

Catch you on the flip.

How I make Indy Hall a better coworking space by documenting all the “hard stuff”

A few years ago, I learned about the power of having a Spark File.

Alex Hillman wrote a piece about how he uses a Spark File to “defrag his brain”, citing influence from Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air and Where Good Ideas Come From and most recently, How We Got to Now:

“The Spark File, Steven describes, is a process/tool that he uses to collect “half-baked ideas” and then revisit them. For 8 years, he’s maintained a single document with notes & ideas with zero organization or taxonomy, simply a chronology of thoughts. He calls this document his Spark File.

Once a month, he revisits the ENTIRE Spark File from top to bottom, revisiting old ideas and potentially combing them with newer ideas.”

When I started a Spark File, and it was really helpful, but I had a hard time remembering to use it because I have a hard time reminding myself to write things down as they happen. Beyond just recording stuff for the sake of, well, recording stuff, I needed a good reason to be writing down anything at all.

How I Found My Sparkfile

I wondered, what if I could keep a Spark File that was directly tied to the work I was doing for Indy Hall, a file with a more specific focus by?

Any time I encountered a challenge at Indy Hall, I’d record the details. It would be something that I could revisit as a means of chronicling a history of the community that I was learning to maintain.

Taking a page from Alex and Steven, I’ve been keeping a permutation of a Spark File, specifically designated to remember everyday challenges that pop up in this coworking space.

For every moment of “friction”, every issue, request, or obstacle that I approach, I would write it down in a giant notepad. My Spark File is an archive of every hardship I’d ever meet and surpass, taking note of who was involved, what happened, how we worked together to find a solution and grow stronger.

5 Things I Learned using My Sparkfile

  1. I learned to change my perspective of the issue at-hand. Writing out the details of some conflict means stepping away from the issue, laying out logistics to remove personal bias. It also allowed me to catalogue the type of challenge I was looking at – is this an interpersonal conflict between members? Something to do with event planning? Is this a technical issue that we can MacGyver our way through, or does this demand the attention of the building owner?
  2. I learned to document the history of this community. In a very real sense, these are the points through which we’ve grown, the how/what/why of everything that would cause us to get closer together and stronger. Having all of this in one place in some organized fashion meant having access to an epic story of highs and lows, everything that’s shaped the community to be the way it is right now. That’s kinda huge, and it’s crazy not to hold on to that information.
  3. I learned how to start finding patterns of activity. When keeping the Spark File became a habit, I’d inevitably begin seeing common obstacles and information bottlenecks. “Oh, looks like a few people have had something to add when it comes to dogs visiting Indy Hall. Huh, apparently a few people have been confused about how to create an event here during off-hours. Seems like there’s consistent confusion about Night Owls, our late night coworking. I’d say we’re in need of some serious retooling to boost clarity about how Night Owls works.”
  4. I learned the value of communicating better with my own team. Listing the specifics of every little and large obstacle means having one, concrete reference point we can all turn our attention to when something’s going down, we all know where to turn to find information about the scenario. As Indy Hall’s staff team has grown, communication has proven to be one of the trickier and most important aspects to scale. When all of  us has access to detailed explanations of an issue, we stay on the same page and can all weigh-in without having to waste too much time on sharing and re-sharing context. This is really big for us as a team, it helps us operate with support for one another, rather than in silos of privately-held information.
  5. I learned to better help our members by having a stronger insight of the present through a deeper understanding of the past. Hopefully it’s obvious, but documenting the things we’ve dealt with as a community means I’m able to serve, assist and collaborate with members better. I’m not making the same mistakes as when I had never encountered a subject like this before, we’re making quick work of hurdles that we’ve encountered together before.

So much happens in a day at Indy Hall, it’s remarkably easy to look past little interactions without really cataloguing why it happened like that, but that’s a rookie mistake. Everything that happens in a day here happens for a reason, and I’ve been using my Spark File to make sure I never ignore or forget that.

Start Your Own Spark File Now

Now it’s your turn. I borrowed the idea from Alex and Steve Johnson, and you can (and should) claim the concept as your own. Here’s how you can start your Spark File right now:

  • Create a Hackpad account. It’s totally free and super valuable, I use it to collaborate with community members regularly. It’s a great place to keep a Spark File.
  • Next time you’re working through something challenging in your coworking space, write it down in your file.
    • What’s the challenge?
    • Who’s involved?
    • Why did it happen?
    • How did you get through it?
  • Never stop adding to your Spark File! As your team of staff gets bigger, you can share it with new peers to get them up to speed on the history of your community.
  • Finally, remember to revisit your Spark File for constant reference. What you’ve added to the file is only as good as your habit of reading and rereading the contents. Use everything you’ve recorded to help you be a stronger, more experienced community manager.

Happy Spark Filing!

Listen up, coworking space managers. We need to talk!

There’s a choir of people singing the praises of coworking, and it’s getting louder and louder. Better yet, it’s becoming an increasingly diverse chorus. I’ve been enveloped in the sound for three years now, and I can’t help but notice that there are still important voices missing from the ensemble.

I’m talking about the voices of those who were hired to run and operate your coworking space. I don’t hear much from my own contingent, and I’ve been looking and listening for a long time. Maybe it’s because we’re all too busy figuring out how to do the job in the first place, or maybe it’s because we didn’t know there was a conversation about coworking to be had, or didn’t know where and how to join into a conversation lead mostly by owners and founders of the business. We’re in a slightly different echelon, working a little closer to the community on an even more personal level. Our perspective is so important, we just need to find the channel to share it. We need to find each other and start talking.

That’s exactly why I was so excited to record a conversation with Alex Hillman, my friend and mentor and Indy Hall’s own fearless leader, about seeing through the lens of a hired staff member. Alex knows that he and I have unique strengths when it comes to understanding our community at Indy Hall, and I’m fortunate that he shared an opportunity with me to explore those for others to listen to.

The conversation you’re about to listen to is the tip of the iceberg, it’s only the beginning of a conversation that I hope gets longer and larger in time. In fact, this inaugural (and incredibly exciting!) episode of the Coworking Weekly Show is an icebreaker, an initial offer to begin not just a bigger conversation on how to run a coworking space, but a relationship between coworking staff.

I’m adding a new perspective into what it takes to run a coworking space, one that’s valuable to hear from whether you’re staff like I am, if you’re thinking about hiring someone to help run the space, or if you’re genuinely curious what your current staff members are doing and thinking already. But it’s only just my voice, and there are many more voices like mind to be heard.

I’ve got a lot of good things coming soon that I can’t wait to share, ways for more of us to find one another and share stories, questions, support and advice so we can all get even better at this together. Wanna join in? Keep your ear to the ground because big news is comin’.

For now, enjoy a conversation between Alex and I that will hopefully sound both instantly familiar and full of opportunity.

LISTEN HERE: The Coworking Weekly Show – Session 1

When you’re finished listening, do us a HUGE favor and review the podcast on iTunes. We want to share this as far and wide as possible, and your authentic feedback goes a long way.

If you’re coworking staff like I am, I’d love to know what keeps your mind busy! Comment below with some of the conversations that you’d like to have with other coworking staff members, people who know exactly what you’re going through every day.

  • What questions would you ask if you knew the person listening actually understood exactly what you’re talking about?
  • What tips would you share?
  • What obstacles would you want to pull apart?

We’ve got a lot of talking to do, gang. Let’s keep in touch, huh?

Don’t forget the Golden Rule of tracking attendance in your coworking space

Tracking attendance in a coworking space is a funny thing. There are a slew of platforms and tools built to help do the task:

this, too

None of the ones above are specific to coworking, though, and all of them have something in common – something that each of them lack: an emphasis on saying ‘hello’. Before you get into looking for turnkey solutions for keeping track of who’s coming, you’ll only need to do 2 things as far as attendance goes:

– say “hello”
– and say “goodbye”

The most bare-bones, straightforward way of keeping track of who’s here? Just say “hi”. At Indy Hall, I use Google Spreadsheets to document the daily attendance, but the important part is simply looking up and greeting the person walking past. Want to go for bonus points? Make sure to use that person’s first name.

Saying “hello” is the foundation of taking attendance, the Golden Rule if you will, and it can’t ever be skipped. Sure, a name drop and a hand wave isn’t logistically thorough, but it’s meant to be built upon: going the analog route is, well, analog. It leaves room for a bit of error. You may forget who you’ve seen today, especially if you’re used to seeing that person every day. The more comfortable you become by seeing the same people, the less motivated you’ll feel to mark that they were here today. You’ll trust yourself to remember – “he’s here everyday” – and you’ll forget to jot names down. That’s bound to happen, but you can stop it from causing you to slip up.

Set a reminder on your phone. Every other hour, on the hour, remind yourself to take stock of who’s here right now. If you’re going to get into the habit of taking attendance, do it in a way that means you’re actively engaging the people around you. Get up and say “hi”. Who have you not said “hello” to yet? Fix that.

They’ll remember that you did. On your side, you’re just taking attendance (and making sure you’re noting the folks who should be charged for additional Day Passes, making sure you don’t drop your responsibility of collecting precious member dues). On their side, you noticed that they went to the effort of coming in. You may not realize this immediately, but that part is HUGE. Folks who join coworking spaces have this in common: they want to be around other people. They want to be noticed, maybe just a little bit, and who doesn’t? Even the guy who quietly slips in and exits with just as much stealth will be happy to have his existence noted.

Think about your favorite bar. Walking inside and having the the bartender shout your name, shake your hand, tell you he’s glad you’re here – that’s priceless. For just a moment, as soon as you step inside, you own the place. You’re the most important person here. This is your bar, the one where people know your name. You can give that to your members every. single. day. They’ll notice your warmth, and it’ll keep them coming back. It’ll have them explain to friends how great their coworking space is, why it’s more than just an office. It’ll mean those people will invite their friends to experience that, too. And for you? You’ll note who’s present while learning names and faces, which is pretty damn significant.

I’m not saying that a warm salutations will alleviate the pains of keeping track of everybody in the space, especially as you grow larger, but it’s the only place to begin. Every coworking community has varied needs depending on the very unique characteristics of the people there so use whatever works best for you. Regardless of the software you use, do not, do not, do not let your attendance-tracking-office-suite replace the most important part of acknowledging who came in today. Acknowledge loudly and publicly. Always say “hello”, always say “goodbye”.

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What kind of community building event does *everybody* love?

Over on the coworking Google Group, a question arises:

“What are the best activities to bring people together in the community?”

Community events are tough. How do you host an exciting event that doesn’t leave people out of the room? Is everyone starving for a hackathon or a pitch night? Will your gallery showing put off all those who don’t have a fine eye for the arts?

When in doubt: food. Consider this: It doesn’t matter what everyone does for a living, we’ve all gotta eat. It’s something we all have in common and you shouldn’t hesitate to capitalize on it. There’s a reason why the kitchen in Indy Hall is as large and easily accessible as it is, and that’s because food is easily the lowest hanging fruit available to bring people together.

Trying to think of how to pull people into the same room? At Indy Hall, we run a lot of events that circle around getting together to eat (or drink, though more creatively than just a happy hour). Feel free to pull from a list of events that we’ve run in the past, and will surely host in the future:

  • The N3RD ST Farmers’ Market (weekly)– Last year, members of Indy Hall pulled together to host and support a weekly, community farmers’ market. Good for our immediate community, great for the city at large. It’s a means for us to get out of the clubhouse and remain a community.
  • food lover’s potluck (monthly) – Farmers and patrons of the N3RD ST market brandish wine and a homemade dish to a monthly dinner held at Indy Hall. A chance to taste locally grown goods, a chance for farmers to gain love and loyalty from their neighbors.
  • beer tasting – A step above happy hour in terms of focus, a tasting promotes conversation over a pint. Beers fans rejoice, beer newbies have a place to begin.
  • coffee cupping – Just like a beer tasting, less alcohol and plus caffeine. Try hosting a cupping that sees your community choosing which coffee beans you’ll be ordering in the future. Bonus: forming a relationship with coffee providers has yet to prove a bad thing, offer a personal invitation to local roasters or café owners!
  • Scotch night (annual) – Look, there’s a reason why we host this one only once a year. Scotch night offers more than just an evening of imbibing fine, foreign spirits – it presents an opportunity for members to work together to afford the really good stuff. The group of members who split the cost on Macallan 18 become bonafide heroes.
  • pizza party – Just like scotch night, sans scotch and substitute ‘za. Last week, we sampled 18 pies from across the city, a hell of a way to branch out of own respective neighborhoods to try something another member boasts as “best slice in the city”.
  • Night Owls “stone soup” dinner (weekly) – Every Thursday night, we host late night coworking sessions for those of us who require moonlight to provoke productivity. A dish is proposed the day prior, attendees bring an ingredient so we can prepare the meal together.
  • ice cream social (weekly) – Did you know that the small scale, hand-cranked ice cream maker originated in Philly? Wikipedia tells me so, and I’ve never doubted anything I’ve read on the internet. Nothing says TGIF like an ice cream tasting on a Friday afternoon, and members are quick to douse praise on the confectioner like sprinkles on a sundae.

Foodie events can be wide open to absolutely anyone interested in joining for a meal, and they grant easy opportunity for contribution. Nearly anything food-related can be made into a BYO event, which means anyone who joins can share a sense of ownership, adding a very literal contribution to the table. A BYO event offers a way to provide for one another, a means to celebrate those who have provided for us, and opportunity to open up with one another.

And it’s no coincidence that the act of preparing food and eating at the same table often results in conversations that allow us to step outside of our careers, shedding formalities we often abide by during the workday. No doubt about it, It’s easy to get to know someone over a meal.

Trying to spark shared ownership and collaboration in your coworking space? Start at the dinner table.

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Let them talk

“Let the people talk to each other.” – Peter Senge


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Pick-up Game

A little over a week ago, three guys from Campbell’s visited Indy Hall. The same group of guys stops by every now and then, they say they like to get out of the office when they have the opportunity. I’ve noticed how they tend to come in as a group, sit together as a group, leave together as a group – they confirm a lot of reasons as to why Indy Hall isn’t built for teams.

On this most recent visit, one of the guys (let’s call him Nick) asked to talk to Alex and I because “Campbell’s is interested in brainstorming ways to connect with the Indy Hall community”, and Nick was hoping we could offer guidance toward the best way to go about that. We sat and talked.
[Side note: I’ll refer to this group of guys as “Campbell’s” because at this point in the chat, they’re still thinking like the company they represent, not like the individuals they actually are. We began the conversation with “Campbell’s”, but by the end of the talk, we were chatting with Nick.]

We suggested they take business off the table and instead, try having conversations about basically anything else. Extract whatever plans or needs or stakes you’ve got for having this conversation, talk about coffee or sports or movies or where you’re coming from or anything at all except for the things you’re here to accomplish. Our community produces a great deal of great stuff, but it doesn’t function on transactions. The people who jump in with “you give me this and I’ll give you that” don’t ever see the results they’re expecting. There’s rarely a second Day Pass after that one.

Maybe it sounds counterintuitive to not talk about the thing you’re aiming for, but it’s not. The people here are getting to know one another through seemingly insignificant conversations about whatever they’re mutually or uniquely passionate about. Those passions are not always work-related, in fact, most of the daily conversations at Indy have nothing to do with our own careers. We ask questions and shoot the shit, and that’s how things work at Indy Hall. On the surface, those interactions may seem insignificant, but they’re actually the most important pieces toward building trust.

Ultimately, that’s the thing the Campbell’s guys didn’t have yet: trust. They didn’t know how to get it, and they figured the best way to start was by discussing their goals for being here in the first place instead of spending time talking about who they are and where they come from. Their way of approaching our community was like going on a first date and saying “Look, I’m here because I want us to have sex, let’s brainstorm how we get to that.” There’s rarely a second date after that.

Speaking on those seemingly insignificant interactions, Alex mentioned an Indy Hall member named Jack. After a short time of coming to Indy Hall to work, Jack finally “sunk-in” when he started playing pick-up soccer with a few other members. He’d come in to work in the morning, get stuff done, midday break to kick a soccer ball around with other Indy Hallers, then head back to Indy to finish the workday. Soon, Jack came to care more about this place and the people here because he met them through a pretty casual game of soccer – not because anyone sought to immediately help him do his job, not because he identified people who offered to satisfy his objectives. Indy Hall became a place where he could do his work AND be himself. Part of that – a big part – was because of soccer.

His ability to form relationships with new coworkers at Indy Hall, people who were very recently complete strangers, came from his ability to be himself. That made Jack more comfortable, that made everyone else more comfortable with Jack. Consider, we only get comfortable around people we trust. So, boom, Jack has trust in the people he works with and therefore is capable of working with them with more eagerness and in greater capacities. Where did that trust come from? Pick-up soccer.

The story about Jack made me realize something: Indy Hall, itself, is a pick-up game. It’s invitation-based, it’s pretty freeform, it’s dynamic and fun and ruled by the players, and it’s a really small and seemingly insignificant way that we spend time with each other. Within that environment, we learn to care and trust one another.

I understand why the Campbell’s crew was confused, too. More over, I understand why Nick was confused: we happen to look like a coworking space which looks like an office, and he has a set idea for how an office works, what an office means. But Indy Hall looks like other things, too, like a famers market and a comic book club and an art gallery and an ice cream social and a poetry reading and a fashion show and a potluck dinner and a jam band and a classroom and etc etc etc. The more I think about it, Indy Hall is really a pick-up game that’s made up of tons of much smaller pick-up games; all of them are invitations for people to be themselves, ways to sink-in among a bunch of people you haven’t met yet. All of them look like a things that don’t necessarily look like work.

Indy Hall is a pick-up game.

I like that.

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