Finding a Community as a Remote Worker: The Growth of Pop-Up Groups

By Emily Hendershot • July 30, 2020

Before most of us began working remotely, there were already association professionals who found a way to connect virtually with others beyond their immediate circles. A new form of support called “pop-up groups” opened in the space that quickly connected people experiencing similar challenges and their ideas.

The Players

Some association pop-up groups were developed to provide an opportunity for workers with a common goal to share their frustrations, experiences and best practices with one another. These groups can also be used to activate their members in order to advocate for their cause. Bringing together membership from across the country, from a variety of association organizations and industries, makes for a stronger collection of experiences to share ideas, solve problems and help advance the missions of the organizations served.

Virtual Association Network

The Virtual Association Network (VAN) is a group of association professionals advocating for remote work. VAN formed in May 2017 when the two co-founders, Kevin Helm, CAE, and David Westman, CAE, were working on a project together and started discussing how unique Kevin’s association was as a completely virtual association. The perspective was profound at the time because organizations had remote workers and you could read about going virtual, but organizations weren’t purposefully forming that way.

“To me, until I worked at a virtual association, the virtual environment was for freelancers,” Helm explained. “It wasn’t for people like me who are embedded in an association.”

VAN and its members meet for an hour every other month to discuss topics critical to associations with 100% remote workers as well as remote contract workers of typical brick-and-mortar associations. According to an article from ASAE, VAN has conducted two benchmarking surveys to gather data and provide information to associations that are considering going virtual or hiring virtual workers. The surveys share data to help organizations better understand concepts from the area of human resources such as hiring processes, management techniques, technological concerns, and creating meaningful engagement with a remote team.

Helm shared that the biggest surprise has been the number of people who are interested in a successful virtual working environment and see it as an opportunity for their association. Next, VAN will focus on creating templates and recommendations to share with members and the greater community for moving to a virtual office.

Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship

Another group, Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship (ACE), was formed in January 2018 and has quickly grown to a membership of more than 850 association leaders in just two short years. According to their website, ACE is a cross-functional group of association executives and stakeholders addressing common challenges through an entrepreneurial lens. They draw inspiration from innovators and disruptors in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. The group meets for two hours every month to discuss topics like digital transformation, culture, strategic planning, change management, using data, content strategy and advocacy communications.

These groups and others like them formed to provide virtual support to association workers looking for a way to connect with peers from other associations about the challenges they face every day. The meetings aren’t your typical webinar as members show up to ask questions about their toughest issues and dialogue about the future of associations. These groups are free and open to anyone interested in the topics. The association industry can be difficult to navigate, so joining a pop-up group for honest conversations and connections will help you find solution-focused best practices and a community that understands.

The Technology

With today’s rapidly changing technology and increasingly remote workforce, there are a number of virtual conference solutions for these pop-up groups to use when trying to organize a remote gathering. Conference services like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Free Conference USA are just a handful of the available options. These tools provide easy-to-access, real-time, face-to-face interactions for organizations and users alike, no matter the location.

Pop-up groups are a potential solution for association workers who are looking for a community of professionals who face similar obstacles at work and don’t have a readily available network of peers. As more organizations move toward a remote workforce and environment, we can expect to continue seeing an increase in the need and the number of these groups popping up. Everyone is looking for a place to belong. Join one of these groups to work with others to solve problems and advance your work together.

About The Author

Emily Hendershot is a results-driven community strategist and operations consultant who enjoys equipping and empowering organizations to achieve their missions and thrive in ever-evolving industries. She’s a seasoned team leader with Nova Strategies with 10+ years of progressive association and nonprofit leadership experience. She loves building strong collaborative relationships and partnerships to help organizations strategize efforts, streamline processes, train volunteers, and grow their membership base.