Cultivating Curiosity: Be committed to constantly learning. We are dedicated not only to creating a collaborative co-working community but one that embraces co-learning with thought leadership events addressing pressing social justice issues, women in the workplace, entrepreneurship, wellness and creativity. In our commitment to co-learning, we are celebrating each stage in the journey of life and career and acknowledging that we all have something to learn from one another and the world around us.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Decker a Co-Founder of The Co-Co. Prior to joining this start-up team, Lauren led marketing and communications initiatives in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. She is committed to connecting people and building momentum for mission-driven brands.
A graduate of Georgetown University, Lauren started her career in marketing roles at Atlantic Media Company, Time Inc., and Kraft Foods. After earning her MBA from Columbia Business School, Lauren transitioned to the philanthropic sector serving as Director of Strategic Partnerships at Cristo Rey in East Harlem and then Head of Community Investment for Barclays’ Americas region. Lauren joined the founding team of The Co-Co while building a new network local to NJ as an independent non-profit consultant. She serves as a Board Member for Summit Downtown Inc. and an Advisory Board member for EcoSpaces Education in Newark. She lives in Summit with her husband and two children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
I am a Co-Founder and CMO at The Co-Co, a women-focused co-working and co-learning community, gathering virtually and soon back at our physical location in the suburbs of NYC. It is our mission to support our members, wherever they are on the journey of life and career.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked to build momentum for mission-driven brands. When I moved to the suburbs from NYC, I went through many transitions in my life and career. Over four years time, I was a working mother to one child commuting to a full-time job in corporate philanthropy at Barclays. I was a stay at home mom to 2 young children. I was an independent non-profit consultant building a new network local to NJ, and then a Co-Founder in a women-led start-up. I knew my story was not unusual. The NYC suburbs are a hub of ambitious women who’ve made all sorts of zigs and zags in their lives and careers to build families and jobs that live up to their dreams for the future and for themselves.
I was inspired to launch The Co-Co to help others navigate the many transitions in balancing life and career. I wanted them to feel supported and encouraged on their own journey, so that they could pursue their ambitions and passions alongside other bright, brilliant, fun women who’ve got their back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My step into entrepreneurship began with a meeting with my now Co-founders. At the time, my two children were in preschool. I was building a new network local to NJ as an aspiring independent consultant, and I was feeling pretty lonely working from my home office in my attic. I missed “showing up” somewhere and the creativity of being part of a team.
On January 18, 2018, a year (to the week!) before we opened the doors of our small business, The Co-Co, I wrote a thank you email to Christine Gilfillan, Co-Co Advisory Board Member and President of the MCJ Amelior Foundation. I thanked her for our conversation and an invitation to a “listening event” about the then-idea of a women’s-focused co-working space, writing “Thank you for the invitation to the event in Summit next week. I look forward to learning more about this idea, and I would be happy to be helpful as your efforts take shape. I see potential for this model for mothers of young children — as a professional space when “working from home” on occasion, as an alternative to renting an office, and an outlet for community and networking for women at all stages of motherhood and career.”
This chance meeting, one of many sometimes dispiriting ones in the early days of a new path, opened a door for a new chapter in my career. It also opened up the possibility of a business whose mission “to support members wherever they are in the journey of life and career” has served so many others as they looked to make changes big and small.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
As I explored the possibility of launching The Co-Co with my Co-Founders, I viewed this work as one of my “projects” as an independent consultant. I had begun to arrange my personal life assuming the flexibility of a consultant, and I made some big mistakes. In the fall of 2018, The Co-Co went from a project to a start-up. Meanwhile, I had committed to being the President of the board for my children’s pre-school. I had also scaled back on childcare as I was anticipating working while I had both children in pre-school for the first time. I soon learned that launching a business was an all-in affair. Yes, I had more flexibility than the 9–5, but setting boundaries was on me. I wasn’t so great at that.
I was inspired to launch The Co-Co because I wanted to be a part of the movement to support women wherever they are on the journey of life and career. As I became an entrepreneur, I found it challenging to manage my own boundaries between work and family life. I struggled with this privately in the first six months in business, and then I realized the support I was seeking was IN The Co-Co community. I sought out the advice of a Co-Co member, friend, and Executive Coach, Deb Munies, who had similarly transitioned from corporate life to entrepreneurship and motherhood in the suburbs. Together, we launched a member-exclusive group called Suburban Parenthood: Balancing Work and Family. The response to this idea from members was immediate. The group has become one of our most engaged communities within The Co-Co, and one of my favorite parts of the business. and it has become a support for me and for our community one of our most engaged groups. I learned that if I am feeling something, I am not alone in it, and to cultivate support and support others, I needed to show my own vulnerability.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we are working toward launching a new virtual speaker series celebrating women’s leadership, especially given the challenges of recent months. Across the series, we will be learning from the life experience of interviewees, asking “What does extraordinary leadership look like? and “How do we take action to support an inclusive future?”
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
In our first year in business, The Co-Co became the go-to place for women to take on transitions, opportunities, and new challenges with the encouragement of others who truly “saw them.” Transitions are not easy, and we wanted The Co-Co to be a place for support and inspiration — whether starting out as an entrepreneur after a corporate career, looking for a network of local working moms, or seeking to return to the workforce.
Technology has afforded us the opportunity to work in ways that were not possible even a decade ago. This has increased our ability to have flexibility in our careers, so we can build businesses and lives that live up to our dreams for our families and our selves. This shift in the way work is possible has downsides though — loneliness, isolation, lack of connections, and camaraderie. The work-from-home experience of recent months has shown these downsides on a larger scale.
Especially in the suburbs, where many women have sought flexibility through solopreneurship or work-from-home arrangements, there is a thirst for community, connection, and collaboration. People are more than the work they do in isolation. They want to feel like they are part of a team, that others are committed to their success, and that their work matters. At The Co-Co, we are here to celebrate the wins and to offer support on the hard days. We are showing up for our members, and they are showing up for each other. Through community, we are sustaining one another and growing momentum in whatever we are working on.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
The COVID quarantine experience shed light on the limits and isolation of working from home. Prior to this collective work-from-home experience, our members joined The Co-Co after trying it on their own from home. For many, fulfillment in work, and life, is gained not just from the work itself, but in the feeling of belonging from being a part of something. Dr. Vivek Murthy, a physician and former Surgeon General of the United States, identifies three dimensions of loneliness:
- Intimate or emotional loneliness: the longing for a close confidant or intimate partner, someone with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
- Relational or social loneliness: the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support, and
- Collective loneliness: the hunger for a network or a community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
He purports that “these three dimensions together reflect the full range of high quality social connections that humans need in order to thrive. The lack of relationships in any of these dimensions can make us feel lonely.”
The Co-Co provides opportunities for both “social companionship” and “a community of people who share your sense of purpose.” The latter, a community with shared interests, is lacking among remote workers. At one time, work was inherently social. Working remotely diminishes the opportunities for connection, creativity, inspiration, camaraderie, and fun gained by bouncing ideas off colleagues, building real relationships in the workplace, and feeling a sense of belonging. Our members have shared that in the absence of these elements of work, they are less productive, more distracted, and less satisfied at home. They are craving not only meaningful work but also outlets for learning and fun that are not available when working from home alone. One member shared, “The space is comfortable, relaxed and professional, and I have met amazing women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders there who share a common desire to collaborate with and learn from peers.” The Co-Co buoys its members from loneliness by providing that network of people who share a sense of purpose.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
Loneliness is harming our communities and society when we fail to reach out to others and lose sight of the fact that we are all more alike than we are different. It is at the heart of our mission to welcome everyone, wherever they are on the journey of life and career, exactly who they are and how they are at this moment.
Since founding The Co-Co, we’ve brought people together to learn, engage in depthful conversations, and take action on pressing social issues. The women (and men!) in our community are focused not only on lifting up fellow members but also on serving their families and communities. The current pandemic reminds us that we are truly interconnected. Amanda Block, a Co-Co member and Founder of GRACE, a local food pantry, recently participated in a Co-Co virtual Social Impact Panel on “Hunger in the Time of the Pandemic. She reflected that “food insecurity can happen to any household in any community, all it takes is a divorce, a gap in employment, a large home repair, or a medical emergency… There is no shame in needing help.” By “showing up” in community and learning together, we can best understand the issues and the people experiencing great need at this particular point in their own journeys. We can realize our shared humanity as we take action to support others.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
Many people are experiencing loneliness today for three reasons:
- Connection: Remote work limits the opportunity for social connection. When I transitioned from corporate life to experimenting with independent consulting, I realized that I wanted to do mission-driven work, close to home, with flexibility, but I didn’t want to do it alone. I had learned that “showing up” somewhere and being a part of a team added meaning, relevance, purpose, and fun to my work. Our members, many of whom had been working on their own, have had similar experiences, and The Co-Co community is a breath of fresh air. One member reflected, “the primary reason I joined The Co-Co was to make friends where I live. Certainly there are so many other benefits, like co-working, business connection and learning, but… friendship was at the top of the list. Both because I saw a gap in my life for more in-person friend time here and because… friendship is a massively powerful and critical thread to both fulfillment and success however you define both.
- Community: Remote work is isolating, removing individuals from a sense of community and purpose in their work. One of our members commented, “Before the Co-Co I didn’t realize I needed a community of amazing women, but it is what I missed most about having a corporate job — smart people to talk to, get to know, foster connection, and collaborate with.”
- Learning and Fun: Working from home limits work to the work. As human beings, we are wired to learn together and laugh along the way. One member commented upon getting involved in The Co-Co, “I am super excited to be part of The Co-Co so that I can soar with like minds.”
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
- Taking action through service: Since launching, we have engaged with social impact leaders in conversations addressing educational inequity, social enterprise, women’s health and global philanthropy. In our first “virtual” social impact panel, we discussed hunger in the time of the pandemic. In response to our members’ interest in supporting the broader community, we leveraged our physical space as a “touchless” drop-site for supply drives and contributed to the statewide Pandemic Relief Fund. Even while our space has been closed in recent months, The Co-Co community has come together and taken action to support others. In service, we cannot feel lonely. In taking action, we feel comforted by our shared sense of purpose, empowered by our ability to help, and connected to others in our shared humanity.
- Joining a Community of Like-Minded Souls: Our members feel a great sense of belonging at The Co-Co. They are seen, heard, and valued exactly as they are in this moment. Members’ openness to collaboration and interest in forging relationships in this supportive community has led to success in whatever they are working on — effectively growing businesses, cultivating networks, and starting new friendships.
- Prioritizing Connection: In a WSJ article titled, “The Surprising Science Behind Friendship,” Lydia Denworth, a science journalist and author, shared her findings on the benefits of friendship for your well-being. She found that “friendship literally improves your body’s cardiovascular functioning, how your immune system works, how you sleep.” Her conclusion? “We need to make friendship a priority in our lives. I hope people will take this not as something else to add to their to-do list but as permission to go hang out with your friends.” Prioritizing connection is doing something good for your health. Our members find that “showing up” to be among friends new and old as part of The Co-Co community leaves them feeling a little lighter and a little less lonely.
- Cultivating Curiosity: Be committed to constantly learning. We are dedicated not only to creating a collaborative co-working community but one that embraces co-learning with thought leadership events addressing pressing social justice issues, women in the workplace, entrepreneurship, wellness and creativity. In our commitment to co-learning, we are celebrating each stage in the journey of life and career and acknowledging that we all have something to learn from one another and the world around us.
- Being ready to pivot: Don’t despair when things shift along the way. In recent months, we’ve taken on the uncertainty of re-imagining our business post-COVID together with our members, whose lives, jobs, businesses, childcare, and partnerships are shifting, adapting, pivoting, re-inventing, failing, despairing, celebrating, and getting right back up again. Through service, listening to one another, and building together, we will move from the current normal to a new one. No matter what our space looks like, our community will adapt, transition, grow, learn, evolve…along with every community near and far. Led by our mission to support and inspire our members wherever they are on the journey of life and career, we will do what’s needed in this moment… and what women always do — come together, take action, and create opportunity.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My 7-year old daughter recently wrote a reflection on her first grade year — nearly half of it from home. Her assignment was to write a page for each letter of the alphabet. For the letter D, she wrote, “D is for different. We all are different. We do different work. We like different things. We are different.” Her view of the world inspires me, and my hope is that this generation grows up expecting and advocating for diversity and equity.
At The Co-Co, we want everyone to feel welcome exactly who they are and how they are at this moment. We all remember times in our life when we felt lonely, unsupported, judged. We’ve seen the impact of bringing diverse groups together to acknowledge our interconnectedness, support one another, and take action to address social change.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Tina Fey. I’ve been a fan at all stages of her career — from Saturday Night Live to 30 Rock and Bossypants…plus, she’s from the Philadelphia area, where I grew up. I shared this quote from Tina at the first gathering of our Suburban Parenthood group: “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible — oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.” Everyone in the group related to her reflections. We all felt less alone in our experience as working parents, validated by this woman whose authenticity, humor, and leadership we all admire.