A guest post by Emma Christensen
I love working from home. My own schedule. My own space. Peace. Quiet. No one randomly stopping by my cubicle and interrupting my flow.
But even for a consummate introvert, the work-from-home gig can get lonely. This is why, shortly after moving to Northern California in 2011 and taking the plunge into full-time food writing, I found a few like-minded work-from-homers and forced myself to leave the house once a week.
How It Happened
It was like this: I met Cheryl Sternman Rule of 5 Second Rule in 2011, who introduced me to another South Bay-er, Danielle Tsi of Beyond The Plate. Then I met Sheri Codiana of Pork Cracklings at a press event and it turned out she lived a few blocks away. This felt like a quorum, so I put forth the idea: would anyone be interested in a weekly work session at a local coffee house?
The response was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.” It would be like an old-fashioned salon, a gathering to support, inspire, and challenge one another, complete with witty banter. And thus, in June of 2012, the South Bay Salon was born.
How It Works
We meet every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at coffee shops, each other’s kitchens, and libraries around the South Bay — wherever we can find enough seats around a table and have reasonable assurance of decent wifi. Sometimes just two people can make it, sometimes it’s the whole gang.
Unlike other groups, we’re not getting together to share our writing or workshop each other’s pieces. We simply wanted a change of scenery, where we could work on our own projects alongside company. We work alone…together. But our time is also a little social. Yes, we have our laptops open, but we still have conversations and crack jokes.
The group has changed a lot over the years. When one of our early salon goers moved up to San Francisco and could no longer come, Sheri introduced us to Coco Morante of It Was Just Right. Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo joined last year. The balance of our time together has also shifted – we still work on our own projects, but there’s much more conversation and collaboration. We seek advice on sticky work problems, serve as sounding boards for new project ideas, and pick each other’s brains on such diverse topics as social media strategy and how to achieve the best biscuit texture. I might get fewer emails written, but I’m definitely not complaining because it’s been so worthwhile. If you want to start your own “alone, together” group, here are my tips:
1. Find a Friend or Two
You only need one person to get a group going – someone who also wants an excuse to get out of the house. Pick someone you like (important!), and whom you feel like you can work alongside without things getting too social. Through trial and error, we found that five or six people is the maximum. More than that and it’s hard to find a table at the coffee shop, plus the group loses cohesiveness.
2. Choose a Day
Find a day that works most of the time and roll with it. Picking a new day every week gets annoying. It’s fine if not everyone can make it every week. It’s the consistency that’s important.
3. Pick a Spot
The members of our salon live all over the South Bay, so we try to rotate locations so that no one gets stuck driving all the time. If we lived closer, we’d probably stick with one spot, but it’s also fun to change the scenery and try new places. (Be sure to scope out the wifi situation beforehand. More than one unsatisfying salon has broken up prematurely because the wifi was too spotty.)
4. Tag a Team Captain
I am the one who sends out the reminder email, picks the spot, and so on. I can assure you that it’s not onerous. You might think a captain is not necessary, but we’ve found that having one designated person to do these small maintenance tasks has helped our salon keep ticking along.
5. Get Ready for Fringe Benefits
We were all a little shy around each other at first, talking in study hall whispers and respecting each other’s work space. But it’s impossible to meet week after week and not become good buddies. As those respectful whispers grew into animated conversations, we tacked on after-hours salon get-togethers like field trips to local food spots, dinner parties with our partners in tow, spontaneous deliveries of leftovers after a day of recipe testing, co-hosted events for new cookbook releases, and all sorts of other reasons to gather and support each other.
We started off as colleagues, but we have ultimately created a real community. It’s the best benefit of all, and none of us anticipated this would happen. In retrospect, though, it feels like a natural evolution, and one that any group of like-minded individuals can enjoy happily.
Do you belong to a group like ours, or a traditional writing group? How did you get started? Got any tips to share with people wanting to start their own group?
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Emma Christensen is the recipe editor for the popular home cooking website The Kitchn. A graduate of the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she is the author of two cookbooks on homebrewing, True Brews and Brew Better Beer. Emma lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two feet-warming house cats.