Special Sauce

How to Take A Vacation While Managing a Community (Avoiding Burnout)

By NextSpace on Apr. 22, 2016

Four score and seven..err..three years ago, I worked at a pretty popular hardware store close to my hometown.  Spring was always the super busy season by mountainous margins.  People were bursting forth from their once snow-laden houses, realizing the sun was out for the first time in months.  They saw their degraded lawn, cracked driveway, faded siding, and chipped paint and like Superman drawing energy from the sun, they’d whip out the ol’ AMEX, and headed for the hardware store.  We knew this and were eagerly waiting.  Managers worked their fingers to the bone for 12-hour days, 6-7 days a week.  Burnout was as real as the patio blocks that you were recounting for the 115th time.  If you’re interested, there are 144 in a pallet.  Except tan.  They have 143 – the top center block always cracks and needs to be tossed.  But I digress…

I thought I had left that all behind when I was handed the keys to the River North NextSpace.  I mean, come on:  For the first time in my working career, I was ecstatic to jump out of bed, quickly finish my workouts and begin the two-hour commute to the space.  Each new person I met or story I heard from members was as welcome and enjoyable as the endlessly flowing coffee.  My patience knew no bounds, and I was eager to jump into each task, knowing that it was all in supreme benefit of the space.
Six months of that later, it was a different story.

Burnout is pretty common is every profession; it is by no means a scientific abnormality.  Scientists have studied it heavily since the 1970’s, once believing it to be most prevalent in the social professions – social work, police work, etc.  There is even the ever popular Maslach Burnout Inventory to understand exactly how strong your burnout is, and how to recover.

Let’s be perfectly clear: handling burnout as a NextSpace community manager is usually pretty easy.  Typically, there are two managers running a space, and when you need to recoup, you just do.  If you’ve got great communication and an excellent relationship with your co-community manager, they’ll even suggest time off to curb burnout before it begins.  It’s one of the many, many perks of working for a progressive and industry-leading company such as NextSpace.

However, what happens when you’re running a space solo and need a break?  Most coworking spaces only operate with one person at the helm.  Even NextSpace River North (my location) has one manager (that’s me, yo).   Well, there’s a tried and true solution, and it comes down to one word:

You want to know what that is?

Do you?

Get in close, now.

You ready?

Here it is:  trades.

Understand that your business is only as strong as the community you’re shaping. A strong community will hold itself up if you take a couple of days to decompress. Your passion will continue to shine when you return, and the community as a whole will be better off.

Specifically, trading membership to community members in exchange for giving your exhausted butt a week worth of sipping Mai Thai’s in the islands of Turks and Caicos.  Or, in my case, sipping PBR on a pontoon boat in Indiana. Same thing! 

If you’ve done this whole community-management thing correctly, you probably have a few members who hold your space as close to their heart as you do.  I mean it is their workplace.  It’s where they bring clients, it’s where they meet friends, it’s where they went to that awesome Halloween party and discovered someone else with a love of fake lumberjack beards.  So, when you offer to give them something to keep doing what they’re probably already doing (keeping an eye out for people with lost puppy eyes), the results speak for themselves.  

“Wait, what?  What about (insert concern here)?”  Slow your roll, amigo.  Sit back and think about everything someone in the space needs to be happy:  Lights on?  Check.  Replacement bulbs are in the back.  TP and coffee beans stocked?  (Protip: Overstock them if you know your vacation is coming up.)  Mail coming in?  Luckily, we’ve got a well-detailed member wall for your Temporary Space Manager/ Member Dude/Dudette to see whose mail belongs to what face.  Happy Hour?  Instacart delivers (or try a community sourced Member Happy Hour, you’d be surprised).  

Last step, and this one is a doozy:  set an auto-responder for vacation.  Most people aren’t going to know or care that you’re on vacation when they’re emailing you about their patented way to get automatic referrals.  You’re going to lose a couple day passes that week.  It’s okay.  Anyone that strolls in without an email/phone call is going to be met with the mighty force of your awesome temp-manager, who will get them coffee and give them your normal amount of coworking snuggles.  

Breaking this down into one sentence, because I know some of y’all skipped to this part anyway:  Understand that your business is only as strong as the community you’re shaping.  A strong community will hold itself up if you take a couple of days to decompress.  Your passion will continue to shine when you return, and the community as a whole will be better off.

Oh…good luck diving into your inbox when you return.  Five work-days of unanswered emails?  It was 326 unread messages for me!

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