In this series, the year in review, we are having chats with our members & partners, to hear what challenges, lessons, and adaptations they’ve taken in the year 2020. To wind down the series we are taking stock as Nairobi Garage.
It was in 2020, that so many schemes and plans were diverted, rescheduled, & put on hold.
As Nairobi Garage, we began the year having just opened our 4th location – in the luxurious building on General Mathenge – The Promenade. Our launch party, in February, was the first and last such event for the rest of the year. Definitely not what we foresaw at the time.
“The best-laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry” – ‘To a Mouse’ Poem by Robert Burns (1786).
We also had intentions to open at a 5th location within the year. But while we were in the process of deciding on our next location – the world went awry. Those plans were quickly shelved. Our focus shifted to safety, compliance, and mostly survival.
However, survival was not just for ourselves as an organization, but for the sake of our members, their teams for whom we exist. Earlier in the pandemic, we explained why we couldn’t work from home.
Our goal is to provide innovative, vibrant, non-traditional, lean & flexible working space for multinational organizations, micro & small entrepreneurs, startups, independent professionals & consultants
Since 2015, we have built a community of visionary, trendsetting, and vibrant entrepreneurs who are making an impact on the future. Nairobi Garage members enjoy not just fully furnished, high quality & well-serviced workspaces; but the chance to access an invaluable network of high-growth & high-impact innovative ventures.
We also have built an ecosystem of opportunities, events, marketing & business support for our members, and their teams.
A couple of months into the pandemic, it had started to become clear that we were not going to go back to any form of what we thought was normal. The terminology ‘new normal’ began to make its rounds. Experts, talk heads, and opinion leaders advised that organizations should focus on innovating and moving with the times. ‘Use this opportunity to pivot,’ we were told.
Yet on the ground, that was a tall order. We were grappling with a situation that was extremely fluid, changing on a daily basis. It felt like telling someone whose home has been hit by a storm, “What you really need to do is learn how to build a weather-proof structure”. But at that point what they actually need is to batten down the hatches.
After much thought, we came to the conclusion that the only way to survive was to live with the house that we built, and just get through. In short, we needed to build resilience, adjust expectations, and shift our success goal posts.
// Co-working, like e-commerce and video conferencing, wasn’t discovered because of the pandemic. Many organizations and individuals have been operating out of shared workspaces for years now. The pandemic simply forced those stuck in their ways – especially those who were skeptical of change – to embrace new mindsets.
When business experts speak of “adapting to the times” they essentially mean that as an organization you should respond to the changing needs of your customers as they evolve. For those who already approach business from that perspective, it’s so obvious that you may at first think something more profound is being said. Not so.
Quickly, we learned that not remaining stuck to our standard operating procedures was wise. We adapted by (re)creating products and offering discounts. Our focus was on those who still needed to work, but that working remotely from home was not going well.
// In the early days, everyone needed information, our members included. At Nairobi Garage, we collected the required & relevant information and shared it twice a week during the first months of the pandemic. The information included resources available to our members, from advice, money, and/or mental health support.
It wasn’t hard to do, as we have always been big on content creation as a brand. The information was shared with our members through our regular channels of communication such as our web magazine, newsletter, social media, and Slack for internal communications. We shared information such as considerations to have before reopening of workspaces.
// Like everyone else, we shifted online. Our cornerstone events such as #AfterOfficeHours were conducted virtually on Google Meet. While that had its challenges, it kept our ecosystem engaged, informed, and connected.
So, instead of the pandemic tearing our community apart, it somehow brought it together through resilience. Our members, and business networks, gave of their time, and skills. They hosted workshops, discounted their services, offered free consulting hours, and attended virtual drinks.
Behind the scenes, our Community Managers worked extra hard to connect members, check in on them, and understand what everyone’s needs were.
// We wanted our members to stay safe within the guidelines, and measures recommended by the authorities. So we started, and continue to, frequently sanitize the desks, handles, and surfaces through the day.
Luckily, our locations are pretty large and spacious, therefore, implementing social distancing wasn’t difficult. Nairobi Garage has huge amounts of outdoor spaces, meaning meetings, and lunches continued in a comfortable way.
// Early on we had resolved that none of our team would lose their jobs due to the pandemic. However, due to our expansion plans being put on hold (we moved our Westlands location to a new building on Waiyaki Way) – we found ourselves with team members who had little to do.
We also noted that a key casualty of 2020 had been cafes, those who serviced our spaces included. That is how Dash – our in-house cafes – was launched. They are run by our own team to whom it came easy and naturally. It kept them engaged & productive while providing our spaces with snacks & food.
// For many organizations, survival comes down not only to the bank balance but the condition of the relationships with suppliers, customers, and teams. It became clear that there was no way to innovate or adjust if those key assets weren’t already operating in good condition.
We were able to tap into our longstanding relationships to charter new ways to operate in light of the ‘new normal’. At Nairobi Garage we are grateful to our fantastic team, and suppliers like Naya Solutions, Liquid Telecom, Spring Valley Coffee, Josephine Righa Advocates, and many more.
We can’t say that we reinvented ourselves, we just became nimble and adjusted on different micro-levels. Even though offices throughout the world remained empty for more months – for Nairobi Garage, this year has been one where we’ve probably been the proudest of what we do, and the people on our team who do it.
As the year in review winds down, and the light at the end of the tunnel grows, there is more to be said on resilience, and change as the ‘next normal’ starts to show itself. However, let’s put the year behind us, and start fresh with the optimism that a change is as good as a rest.