Coworking Q&A with Matthew Henry, Exceptional Lives

Matthew Henry, Data Resource Specialist at Exceptional Lives, works at a shared table in SIF's Coworking Space
Matthew Henry, Data Resource Specialist at Exceptional Lives, works at a shared table in SIF's coworking space

What is it like to work in Boston’s only coworking space by nonprofit professionals for nonprofit professionals? Social Innovation Forum’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Anna Trieschmann, sat down with Matthew Henry, Data Resource Specialist for Exceptional Lives, an SIF coworking member to get his take on coworking at SIF.

Can you tell me in a few words about Exceptional Lives and your role there?
Exceptional Lives is a small nonprofit for parents of children with special needs. We’ve created a website that offers free plain-language How-to Guides, as well as a state-wide disability resource directory to help you find what you’re looking for as a parent, professional, family member, or friend. Our resource guides help families navigate typically difficult and complicated processes like applying for an IEP, SSI benefits, and guardianship. We have just over 15 people on our technical team in total, two to six who may be in our coworking space at any given time.

I’ve been here with Exceptional Lives since the beginning of 2017. We’re an all-hands-on-deck organization, however my primary role is as a data resource specialist, ensuring the information in our resource database is accurate. I also man our lines of communication for support outreach - taking calls and messages from parents all over the country, so you’ll often find me scurrying into a conference room to have discussions with parents about their child’s special needs and how we can help.

Is this your first experience working in a coworking space?
Yes it is!

We have so many different people here with different skills and interests. It makes for a pretty cool lunch break!

So how has your experience here been overall?
It’s been great. This is generally a pretty quiet space so you can easily come in, put your head down, and get your work done. If you’re a real morning person, you’ve got the option to come in before the sun rises and feel like you’re in a home office. However, it’s also a very dynamic space, so during the day there are people coming and going attending to their own agendas. And the passing conversations are always welcome -- from talks about deciding to bike to work one morning, chats about what’s going on at City Hall Plaza down the road this week, and in depth discussions about how many amazing lunch spots there are to choose from around here.

Have you made any new connections or relationships through the coworking space?
I have! Even within my own organization. There are members of our team who can comfortably work from home every day, but having a space where our colleagues can meet in person and work as team once a week has improved our team dynamic. Another advantage of this space is that the Social Innovation Forum team and other coworking members come from such diverse backgrounds. So many different people with different skills and interests. It all makes for a pretty cool lunch break. Not to mention, it’s great to get opinions on what you’re working on and be able to get new perspectives without wandering too far from your desk.

It’s great to get opinions on what you’re working on and be able to get new perspectives without wandering too far from your desk.

Briefly, walk me through a typical day here?
Normally I take the commuter rail into Back Bay station, hop on the orange line, and the only thing between me and the office is a caffé latte from Cuppa Coffee across the street. On a quieter morning, I can take red line to South Station and enjoy a short walk through the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, along part of the Freedom trail, and right past Faneuil Hall. 

I usually like to get in early, make a couple phone calls, then meet with my team. If I didn’t get a chance to snag breakfast the office kitchenette is always stocked with fresh fruit, granola bars, and seltzer water; so when it gets too cold for leisurely strolls through scenic Boston, you can take a leisurely stroll to the coffee machine.

If you had to pick a favorite thing about the coworking space, what would it be?
It’s hard to pick one thing! It’s always refreshing to come into a welcoming space like this one. I also love the option to have an impromptu outdoor meeting at the Boston Public Market when we need to break up the work day a little bit.

The ability to participate, make new connections and meet like-minded individuals at SIF’s events and workshops is also a welcome perk.

My commute starts from the Blue Hills in Milton and within less than an hour I’m at my desk with a view of the Boston skyline and a great community of people. I get the best of both worlds here.

Share a fun fact about you!
My wife and I live on a small backyard farm with our "menagerie" of animals including Tommy the appendix quarter horse, Clarence the pot-bellied pig, and Marvin the sleepy hedgehog. 

Another fun fact is that I’m originally from Kingston, Jamaica. Working at the SIF coworking space has been a great way to be introduced to a new, much bigger city. There’s something new to see every day.

Last question: what piece of insight or advice would you give to people considering joining the SIF Coworking Space? 
Pick a seat that’s not too close to the windows – sometimes it’s tough to get a job done with such a great view.


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