This is a story of struggle, persistence, of recovery, hope and gratitude.
When news of the pandemic arrived, I feared for the survival of Cowork Frederick. Within a span of just 2 days, all meeting room reservations and events were cancelled. Members began leaving. For the first month, the governor announced new rules for business operations daily.
It was pretty scary having a small business that emphasizes coming together during a time when people were instructed to stay home. Coworking spaces around the world closed their doors, some permanently. I remember saying to myself, “This may be the end of us.”
You see, Cowork Frederick entered 2020 severely overextended. We made big investments in the building, in equipment, marketing, staff, and operations in 2018 and 2019. Having operated at a loss in 2019, we counted on 2020 to climb out of debt. It was a calculated risk. We never expected what happened.
Early on, we focused on adapting. We provided information for freelancers and small businesses about grants, loans, and personal safety. We scheduled virtual events. We bought sanitizer and air purifiers, partially shutdown (some members are essential workers) and established new protocols.
Our efforts to adapt were not going well. The start of each month brought new cancellations. Our virtual events flopped. Revenue was cut in half. We cut costs where we could, mindful that our cuts could be hurtful to other small businesses. Updates to COVID guidelines continued. I knew we needed to keep trying, but the way forward was unclear. It felt like we couldn’t get a solid footing from which to climb back up.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. There were some real high points in those early months, like “Captain Emily’s Quarantine Log”.
I felt a special bond with two other essential business members as we coworked together in the midst of the chaos. And so many of you – even those who did not plan to use the space for a while – continued paying for your membership, some specifically saying you were doing it because you wanted Cowork Frederick to survive.
And we have. Thanks to members, old and new, Cowork Frederick is still here.
It was clear that COVID had impacted Cowork Frederick. It wasn’t clear until recently how 2020 – with COVID and everything else it has been – impacted me personally. I powered through the first months because that’s what I do, but as the days wore on, I lost energy, even as I pressed forward with plans for a Cowork Fredeick expansion (questioning the sanity of it the entire time). Like many others, I was sad, frustrated, worried and angry – angry at silly things like sanitizer, masks, 6 feet, and arrows on grocery store floors, anything that represented how not-normal the world was. I checked out. Worse, I decided it was OK to check out. If you know me, you know that’s not like me at all. Like many in these times, I was well into the Kubler-Ross Change Curve.
And then all this happened in the past month .…
- Someone made popcorn and left a note inviting others to partake.
- Someone left a nice note to fellow coworkers on a break room cabinet door.
- Someone not able to come in brought in a cake as a gift to those who are here working.
- Unprompted, several people offered to help with Cowork Frederick’s 8-year anniversary lunch.
- Someone who I know is struggling financially put a $10 bill in the food fund jar.
- I finally got around to doing the books and was reminded of all who have hung in there with us.
- New members joined and began connecting, lunching together, and helping each other.
- Old members started coming back.
And I thought, “We’re going to make it.”
Even as I write this, two people are chatting about their weekends. It’s not the superficial “how was your weekend” / “fine” bit. It’s genuine conversation. And I just saw that someone started a new chalkboard convo in the break room (I hadn’t gotten to it yet).
I can’t begin to say what hope and deep gratitude all this brought me. I had been struggling to find a footing to climb back up. You showed me I didn’t need to.
Your acts of kindness were a helping hand not just me, but to everyone at Cowork Frederick. I am reminded that Cowork Frederick isn’t about what I do or create. It’s about you.
You make Cowork Frederick who we are.
We’re still sitting 6 feet apart at Cowork Frederick, wearing masks and sanitizing hands, but a recovery has begun for Cowork Frederick and for me. The best part – and here’s the lesson in all this – it didn’t start with some amazing plan I put in place, but with you just being you. My heart is so full of appreciation and love for this place and for all of you.
Co-founder and “Keeper”, Cowork Frederick