Dismantling loneliness through the coworking environment

13 Nov 2018 02:10 PM By Elsie Silva Kniff

Brought to you by Charlotte Kirby owner of The Village Hive.

We are hearing more and more about the crisis of loneliness around the world. Now Britain has appointed a minister for loneliness. It’s no joke. Kudos to them for taking this issue seriously, very seriously. The Harvard Business Review report on Work and the Loneliness epidemic states, “Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.” (author Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy (@vivek_murthy) who served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, from 2014 to 2017).

Typical situations of loneliness can be death of a spouse, a young student going off to university in a new town, immigrating to a new country and not knowing anyone let alone the language. But now we are seeing a whole new cause of loneliness, technology. Yes, technology allows us to keep in touch with people more easily and allows us to work remotely from home (everybody’s dream, right?), order food, clothing, basically anything you could possibly need without leaving your home but we are missing out on the face-to-face interactions that were once so important. It is so easy to back out of commitments now because we can text someone to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t make it” when we are feeling lazy or maybe feeling down or we’ve been working in our pjs all day and just don’t want to bother to shower and get dressed. If we had to pick up the phone to cancel as we all had to do in the good old days, we likely wouldn’t cancel. We’d pick ourselves up and go out and socialize.

“But to truly solve loneliness requires the engagement of institutions where people spend the bulk of their time: families, schools, social organizations, and the workplace.” (Harvard Business Review)

Does Canada need a loneliness strategy? Sure, that would be great but it doesn’t solve the problem today. We need to take action on this NOW while the government figures out what they can do and when.

There are many things we, as neighbours, parents, colleagues, teachers, business owners can do. Invite a new neighbour over for a coffee, encourage your kids to set up playdates with new students in their class (almost every month it seems my children have new kids in their class and 9 times out of 10 they are coming from another country and likely know nobody), check in on seniors in your neighbourhood, lift your head up and smile and say hi to people instead of walking around with your head down texting.

If you are working from home like many entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers and remote workers are doing and you are feeling cabin-feverish and lonely due to the cold winter we are having, I would highly recommend joining a coworking space. The coworking movement thanks to, Global Coworking Conference Unconference (GCUC) otherwise know as “Juicy”. It is the largest coworking conference series in the world. Spaces are literally popping up everywhere. They are not just in the big urban centres, like Toronto or New York City. For example, in Ontario there are coworking spaces in Markham, Barrie, Huntsville, Kitchener /  Waterloo, Newmarket, Collingwood, and more.

If you belong to one coworking space, you can visit other spaces all over the world for free days. I opened up a coworking space in Markham Ontario two years ago called The Village Hive. I didn’t want to commute downtown Toronto for a job (been there done that), I was tired of the corporate rat race, I wanted to further explore consulting or start my own company but didn’t want to be at home alone everyday. I was inspired, a few years back, when I went downtown to watch a TEDxToronto event at The Centre for Social Innovation. I spent breaks and lunch hour talking to the entrepreneurs and freelancers who were members of CSI. A group of like-minded people coming to together to share workspace but more importantly, to share ideas, collaborate and share a few laughs.

The Village Hive is located in an old schoolhouse in Markham Village. You walk in the doors and you can feel the warm energy of everyone that has spent time in the space since the mid 1800’s. We are small but mighty with close to 100 people in our community who come together for networking lunches, pop in to use our flex desks or ‘hot desks’ as they are called in the coworking world, they rent offices and the boardroom, they hold workshops (everything from weekly work sprints, to how to navigate social media, content strategy for creating products, sales & marketing, how to write a blog, weekly meditation, monthly wellness circles and more!) Sometimes our members just stop in for a visit to see who is around and to say ‘hi’. It is their home away from home for those who need to get out of their home offices once in a while. When I ask our members or people who come for a tour, their reason for joining or considering coworking is loneliness and lack of focus at home. Members may come every day, once a week or even just for our Thursday networking lunches to tell stories, share business tips or just to talk about the weather. It gives people a sense of belonging to something, to a community.
I still enjoy working from home in my pjs some days, but I love, even more, knowing that I have a community of amazing individuals that I can call on for support, to share ideas with, to dream with and grow. Coworking is much more than sharing space, it is, as my coworking colleagues across the globe would say, dismantling loneliness.

Charlotte Kirby

Charlotte is the founder and owner of the Village Hive, a coworking space in Markham, Ontario. Through her work, she bring small businesses together into a space perfect for working, improving mental wellness and a supportive space in which you can be productive.