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How New York re-introduced me to the wonder of Community

by Tony Boatman, on Jul 30, 2018 4:44:43 AM

I grew up in small farming community in rural Australia. It was a ten mile drive from the nearest township, a village with one pub and one shop. The pub is still there, but the shop has long since closed down. I attended a primary school where there were only 4 children in my year 6 class and 28 in the entire school, with one teacher! Teaching in this sort of semi-remote rural community, is no easy feat.


Our nearest neighbour and my best friend was a 3 mile walk, for what my kids would describe as a ‘Play Date’. I learnt to fly a Cessna before I could legally drive, or legally fly. When my father finally got around to taking me for my driving test at a one-cop-police station in another nearby village, the Policeman, who had been at the same post for 30 years said, “I thought you had your license”?!


Depisite the distance there was always very strong sense of community spirit. We would come together to play sport either cricket, tennis or Australian Rules football. Football on a Saturday would often mean an 80 mile drive! Many attended church and of course there was always the local pub.


This sense of community bond and spirit always felt strongest in times of adversity.


In 1982 our entire farm was burnt to the ground in a bushfire. We lost half the stock, all the crops and 10 miles of fencing. What happened next, I will never forget. Literally as soon as the fires were out people arrived to lend a hand. The local farmers came from a 100 mile radius and helped us begin the process of rebuilding the fences and our lives. The Country Women's Association, yes that’s how it was then, swung into action to feed the mostly male workers.


I saw this scenario repeat over and over. Whether it was a flood, fire, illness to a neighbour or the death a grandparent, the communtity would always pull together. There was a buillt-in resillience.


Over the ensuing years whilst living predominantly in large cities I had almost forgotten what it was like to be part of a true community. Until I moved to new York City, the most unlikely of places to rediscover neighborhood.


New York is big and brash. It has deserved reputation for making or breaking people and businesses. And at first I did not like it. I found the people transactional if not outright rude. But this all changed as we began to settle into our neighborhood. In Manhattan we lived on the Upper West Side. Everything we needed was within a five block radius of home, boarded by Central Park and Broadway to the west. My children's school was a block from home, Joe's Coffee was the neighborhood morning hangout, there were several great local Pizza joints and of Zingones one of the last family owned and operated small grocers in New York. A brilliant farmers market would pop-up outside the Museum of Natural History on Sundays. The famers who would travel down from the Hudson Valley having been up since 1am to pick and pack their fresh produce. We got to know the people who grew the food we were eating. The not for profit organization managed this community of growers, gardeners and sustainability minded citizens.


I first encountered the concept Community Management as an formal business Discipline when I was Head of Marketing for Microsofts Xbox business and introduced to the soon-to-boom industry of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games or MMORPG. Its no surprise that’s businesses are recognizing the value of  community as a way of creating a positive employee experience and building resilience in unprecedented times of change and disruption. Jacob Morgan has done some wonderful work in defining employee expereince as a business value creator.


We should never pretend that technology platforms can replace a good old fashioned face to face chat over coffee, but they do serve an important role when organisations have large dispersed workforces where the tyranny of distance makes coming togther face to face impractical. Its no surprise that the most popular online forums and blogs are those that bring people together around a community interest. Whether it be innovation, cooking or football, online communities are here to stay. This blog written by the team from the CommunityRoundtable in Boston is a very useful resource and a good place to get started if you are interested applying community management processes to your business.


When we deploy our Secure Communications technology into Hospitals, Facilities Management Companies or organisations with large sales forces spread out across the globe, a healthy portion of our onboarding framework is dedicated to the topic of Community Management. As we all increasingly work in long, digital hallways the role of community management in the workplace will take on greater significance.


I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.