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Nicholas Donnelly of WorkClub: “Let people be people”

Let people be people. We all react differently to situations and therefore I can’t play the role of telling people what to do and how to do it. What I can do is stay in regular contact with my colleagues, while also enabling my entire team to communicate in an open forum. By encouraging this […]

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Let people be people. We all react differently to situations and therefore I can’t play the role of telling people what to do and how to do it. What I can do is stay in regular contact with my colleagues, while also enabling my entire team to communicate in an open forum. By encouraging this type of behaviour, my hope is that it will keep my team motivated and engage with the work they love.


As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Donnelly, CEO of WorkClub.

Nicholas is an entrepreneur focused on improving flexible working strategies to make people happier and organizations more sustainable and efficient.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

From the age of 12 my Dad would take me to many of his site visits, as he turned under utilized commercial space into “pop-in” retail space, across the UK’s transport network. This came in the form of these unique glass and steel structures, which are still used to this day, 21 years later. I naturally fell into the real estate industry at 17, before moving to Minnesota in 2009 to study marketing at Winona State University. During my second year I built a profitable startup that supported local bars and restaurants by promoting their daily deals to the local student community. It was a big hit in the Midwest and we launched in four more cities, before my student visa expired and my co-founder stole the company from me. Watching the business implode was tough, but great experience nonetheless. After graduating, I came back to London and joined a Dutch vacant property management firm, where I manage the security of vacant hotels and care homes, using a mixture of property guardians and flexible workspace as our deterrent. In 2014 I joined Hubble to manage the commercial property division.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I’m sure my best is yet to come and what is my funniest mistake is a story I can not tell. Read my biography in 10 years, by then enough time would have passed for it to be funny to everyone else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people that have helped me get to where I am today. From Robert Newberry, my marketing professor at Winona State, my parents, my brothers, good friends and so on. However, my grandad Joe left the biggest impression on my life. Don’t ask me why as the list is too long, but whenever I’m down or going through a hard time, the thought of him and his life story, will always inspire me to keep moving forward and never give up, whatever the circumstances may be.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Before the company started, WorkClub was a small group of remote workers based in South-West London. Working remotely has in the past been seen as doing it alone, yet my wife and I wanted something different. You’ll get to know yourself on a whole new level when working by yourself, but it’s healthy to have others working around you, even if it’s only for one or two days a week. So when WorkClub evolved from a small group of people to an incorporated business, our sole purpose was to normalize and improve remote working across the UK by bringing people together in under-utilized, but functional spaces. The result, a happier more productive workforce, hospitality venues earning incremental revenue during quiet hours and a great sense of community with locals and passers-by.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

COVID-19 forced my team into the shadows of working from home. This was not ideal for a newly-funded startup that had just spent 5-months working day-and-night to launch a new platform by March 2020. With a national lockdown on our hands, users were unable to access any of our space partners. We went from working 18-hour days to a dead-stop overnight. As the CEO, it was my responsibility to support my team as best I could. For me, it starts with showing a genuine interest in each of my colleagues, allowing them to speak openly about anything. The pandemic is not over and therefore my advice is to keep a positive attitude, an understanding of those around you and keep up communication between colleagues.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Everyday brings new challenges. When my wife and I decided to drop everything in 2017 and focus 100% of our efforts on WorkClub, bringing in zero income for months, while living in London — it was tough and everyday we thought about giving up. In those early days when we were on the hunt for a CTO to help bring WorkClub to life, we spent months interviewing hundreds of people. Tori and I didn’t click with anyone and we constantly thought about giving up, but we didn’t and a few weeks later we sat-down with Upile. When we were fundraising for our pre-seed round, Tori was in the final months of her pregnancy, pitching the business all the way up until going into labour. Giving up entered into our minds constantly, but you would never give up on something you love. Our drive is fueled by the passion we each have for the work we do.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Keep the business moving forward and being aware of employee wellbeing throughout.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Let people be people. We all react differently to situations and therefore I can’t play the role of telling people what to do and how to do it. What I can do is stay in regular contact with my colleagues, while also enabling my entire team to communicate in an open forum. By encouraging this type of behaviour, my hope is that it will keep my team motivated and engage with the work they love.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

No bull shit, treat everyone like I would expect to be treated.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

When faced with uncertainty, leaders must prepare and act, rather than react. Back in March, a week after launching our new B2C platform, lockdown forced everyone to work from home. From that moment on, we started to prepare the business for what was next. By May we knew our focus had to shift from B2C to B2B, which meant using this time to understand the needs of businesses that were transitioning into a hybrid-workforce.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Try to remain positive.

Can you share the most common mistake you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Burnout — don’t overwork yourself, especially during these extended lockdown periods.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is no greater sign of confidence than self-acceptance.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Either visit workclubhq.com or follow us on most social channels — @WorkClub

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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