Local chambers, business groups should engage remote workers

For almost a year, I have been a member of my local “Young Professionals” (YP) chapter. I’ve received a few emails about paying my dues to belong, but I can’t seem to find a reason to cough up the small amount (and I mean small, very inexpensive).

For comparison, I’ve been a member at coworking space Gravitate* for just over a year and the cost each month is significantly higher than dues for the YP chapter. Yet, I have no issue paying that amount every month. This got me wondering why:

The changing workforce landscape

Local young professional groups put an emphasis on businesses that are based in their specific geography. In order to feel as if you really belong, you must be employed by a local business, as many of the events are specific to being a member of the local chamber.

Technology, though, creates endless opportunities to work remotely from anywhere. The YP chapter model often automatically excludes remote workers from many of the events purely because their employer pays taxes elsewhere.

Coworking, on the other hand, is a bond over work and projects, with people who are passionate about what they are doing. The paths that cross in a coworking setting are often unexpected, but beneficial to the community.

Engaging entrepreneurs and remote workers

Local chambers of commerce and young professional groups may be missing out on opportunities to include some of Des Moines’ movers and shakers — those in the entrepreneurial community. My specific chapter claims that they are looking for up-and-coming leaders, but they don’t appear to be engaging anyone outside of the traditional membership.

There is a true call to action here. Often, remote workers have lived outside of Iowa for a time, but came back because it is home. This means they come back with a wide-ranging network, new perspectives, and inspiration to do things better as they have seen alternate solutions to problems. Our cities must tap into the extensive knowledge base — even if their work environment doesn’t look like the “traditional” way.

Changing the culture

This piece is not to say YP groups need to go away. Rather, these groups play an important role in the community, as do spaces and groups that foster entrepreneurship.

To take advantage of those community members, YP groups and local chambers have to embrace a broadened definition of workplace culture and an evolving, more remote workforce. To change the culture of an established group, leaders must be open to broadening the definition of “local business”. Freelance and remote workers are all around. YP groups and chambers can better include these professionals in different networking events, or even change their due structure to ensure the value is there for those remote workers.

Entrepreneurs and remote workers, who often work alone, are eager to participate in community events, whether they’re at coworking spaces, startup events or held by local chambers. Those organizations, though, do have to make sure they’re reaching out to the entrepreneurial community.

There are multiple pathways for work environments. There should be multiple ways to engage with a local YP chapter, as well.

National Co-Working Day

Tuesday, March 14 is National Co-working day. Governor Branstad signed the proclamation in 2016 to bring awareness to the growth Iowa has seen in this area. This shows awareness at the state level, and it’s time to embrace change at the local level, engaging citizens in business discussions, even if they don’t work for a business physically located in the metro.

*Editor’s Note: Gravitate founder Geoff Wood is a co-founder of Clay & Milk.

Susan Gentz is the deputy executive director for the Center for Digital Education and a contributing commentary writer for Clay & Milk.