BYOC: Build Your Own Community
Working for Yourself in a Post-Pandemic World
There are a lot of things to like about fractional work as a parent. But what you gain in flexibility and freedom, you lose in socialization and connection. When the world started opening up again after the pandemic, the data all pointed toward one thing in particular: We’re lonelier than ever. Despite seeing glimmers that both the work happy hour and the diner party trends were making a comeback, I realized I wasn't quite on the top of anyone's list the way I once was. As a new mom who opted to work for herself during the middle of an isolating pandemic, I felt the absence of people and community more acutely than most. In the span of two years, my entire community changed. As a new mom, I traded social nights out with friends for solo nights in with the kids. As a fractional worker, I lost out on a built-in peer network created by a single employer. And the remote-first nature of my work meant I had no mandate, ever, to take an in-person meeting. As the weeks and months rolled by, I could feel my social meter running on empty. I knew I couldn’t work like this forever. I realized that if I wanted to work like this in a long-term, sustainable way, I could no longer rely on social constructs designed by other people. In short, I needed to build my own community.
Practicing Deliberate Networking
When I think back on the times in my career that I’ve grown the most, it’s been through interactions with others. I’ve observed leaders more senior than myself take an alternative approach to a shared problem. I’ve peeked into the C-Suite at companies I didn’t work for to observe how they strategically plan for what’s next. I’ve vented over coffees and whined over wines with colleagues who become partners and managers who become friends. After about a year of working fractionally, I realized that none of this was built-in to my new normal day-to-day. The two things I missed the most were things that full-time employees often take for granted: Learning from peers and expanding my network. But I didn’t go fractional to level out; I did it to level up. So to do that, I knew I needed more regular, consistent touchpoints with people smarter than me, and a recurring pipeline to keep meeting more of them. In other words, I needed to practice deliberate networking. With that in mind, here are three ways I’ve (somewhat successfully) begun to build my own community to connect with others in a remote-first, fractional world.
1. I started my own new peer group.
In a physical office (or even at a larger company), I noticed I’d naturally bump into people doing similar work, or at least thinking about similar things. As a fractional worker without a built-in network, I knew I needed to find my people. So I made it a point to find (and maintain) a small network of fellow fractionals in a very similar life stage as myself. For me, this is a group of fellow women and non-binary professionals who recently opted out of a single full-time job in the past 12-24 months. We use a WhatsApp group to share problems, pain points, and advice (and yes, the occasional meme). We also meet virtually about once a quarter to talk about things we’re seeing in the market, and share deal flow. If you think this group is very niche, too small to scale, and too specific, I’ll say – yes, you’re right. But this is a close-knit peer group, not a social network. It doesn’t need to scale. But you do need people to keep coming back. No matter what type of work you do, I’d bet anything that you can find 6-8 people who obsess over it as much as you do. That’s your start. It pays dividends to have peers on demand. (Oh, and by the way, it turns out that fractional work is a very rapidly growing concept – I’m also part of another network, Fractionals United, which has nearly 4,000 professionals all sharing advice with each other.)
2. I keep showing up (in a few key places).
Since I work by myself, I no longer benefit from the “serendipitous collision” effect of in-office time. But it’s more important than ever that I continue to expand my network because my future income streams are dependent on new business (and client flow). I’ve noticed that one of the easiest (and most lightweight) ways to for me to stay top of mind for potential partners and colleagues is to literally just show up. One of the ways that I stay visible to people in my ecosystem (which, today includes a mix of startup founders, VCs, and educational professionals) is to frequent multiple “in person hubs” around New York City. There are a few coworking places, offices, and incubators where other folks gather, and I make it a point to stop by 3-4 different places at least 1x/month to keep up that cadence and create connections. I’ve also been hopping around the crypto conference circuit for the better part of two years, which is not only a great place to meet people – it’s also a great place to build real relationships. (By the way – while I imagine it’s easier for city-dwellers to show up in person, you could probably achieve a similar effect online by engaging strategically on certain social networks, forums, or chat-based communities.)
3. I turned my hobbies into opportunities for community.
While the COVID first decoupled socializing from the workplace, fractional work really ripped it out for me. Today, if I want any type of group gathering, I need to outwardly seek it out, or invent one myself. A tall order for someone who’s also still trying to figure out their own person-market-fit as a fractional professional. I realized pretty early on that in order for any of this to work, it’d need to be something I would do for fun on my own, anyway. So I started clocking the things I liked to do in my free time. They included: Cooking fun dinners, enjoying time in our backyard garden, and buying plants in NYC’s flower district. And guess what? I turned all of these into small community events. On most Friday nights (when the weather is good), my husband and I now host a small, interactive dinner party for 1-2 other couples. On weeknights, when I’m stuck at home with the kids in bed, I started a “garden party” backyard gathering where I co-host with a friend and choose a topic we both care about, then each invite facets of our own network to attend. And as for the flowers thing? I posted on LinkedIn to see if anyone would be down to make a bouquet with me – and 50 people replied yes. As it turns out, you don’t need a crazy idea to start a community; you just need passion and consistency.
How to BYOC - Build Your Own Community
I’m not going to lie – the consistency is the toughest part for me. As a fractional worker, it’s really tricky to both trailblaze your own path and serve as your own metronome to keep the beat. Particularly with kids with inconsistent schedules and childcare that falls through and partners who travel a lot for work. There are weeks I’ve had to cancel plans, to push things from the summer into the fall, or ideas I’ve never had a moment to myself to plan at all. But this is part of the process in figuring out how to turn community into a habit. And how to make yourself a home that you can grow to depend upon. Because by the way – the benefits of getting this stuff right are astounding. I’ve had new friendships deepen from garden parties I’ve hosted in my yard. I’ve been invited to new networks I wouldn’t otherwise have on my radar because of one meaningful gathering. And I’m doing a lot of foundational “social sharing” about my work progress through a smattering of happy hours, office visits, and demo nights. Right now, it’s holding gravity for me to find my own pace in my work style; in the future, it may do so for others as well. Over the past two years, I’ve been doubling down more than ever on the hyper-local community. The local block party. The tiny WhatsApp thread. The low-tech volunteer garden. Whether you like trivia nights at your local bar or yoga in the park on Saturday mornings, there’s the makings of a community in there for you. And if you work for yourself, I believe the intention around consistency and deliberate networking is crucial if you want this work path to stick in the long term. I’d love to hear what works for you, too – so drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with any other ideas.