Connecting remote workers to each other and local businessesMay 24, 2023 09:49AM ● By Randee Brown
Asheville Digital Nomads is a social networking group consisting of more than 1,240 members and growing.
Born out of the need for remote workers to gather and socialize, founder Ric Pratte said that the group hosts a variety of regular events that help create connections in the community as well as serves as a social outlet for those working from home.
“I’ve been working remotely for the last seven to eight years, two and a half of those here in Asheville, and while it works, there is a level of social isolation,” Pratte said. “I met with a few other entrepreneurs over beers and brought up the idea of doing a MeetUp. Well, 30 people registered — and 30 people actually showed up. That’s not a typical result, and I figured I was onto something here.”
That first event with 30 people was held in June of 2021, and the size of the group has grown significantly in a short amount of time. Pratte said that some events are small lunches with 20 to 30 people, though a recent larger event hosted over 200 people.
Sarah Andrews, an organizer with Asheville Digital Nomads, said that while there were talks of the organization hosting programming or informational events, those ideas “got weird and fell flat.” She said that the purpose of the group is casual socializing, not instruction.
Pratte said that the group started to grow slowly and steadily with a wide variety of remote workers. “All of these new members want to connect, socialize, and not feel isolated,” he said. “I thought it would be a group of tech dudes like my community up north, but here in Asheville the variety of remote information workers crosses all genders and all kinds of occupations.”
The group is also widening the possibility of connections in the community and opening up pathways for people, according to Pratte. He said that there are lots of “wannabe entrepreneurs” in the area, and this community helps to let people know about the vast amount of area resources available.
The group is not exclusive to entrepreneurs and small business owners; it is available to anyone in business that works remotely. Pratte said that everyone deserves to not feel isolated.
Whether a business owner, solopreneur, or a remote employee, anyone working remotely can visit MeetUp.com to learn more and join the group. “People working at all levels of entrepreneurship as well as people working for other people are welcome to come and connect,” said Andrews. “We are working to make this channel between business and life more visible as well, and thinking of ways to leverage what we have here.”
Area small businesses with a physical location and/or an event space can benefit from the group in other ways, according to Pratte. Several businesses have reached out to the group and asked them to host an event at their location knowing that the group will bring people out and spread the word about their business. “It’s great for someone wanting to show off a new space,” he said.
Andrews also said that small businesses are benefiting from hosting events. “It is so satisfying to bring hundreds of people to local businesses when they would normally be slow,” she said. “We are exposing these people to different businesses and their spaces, and it’s likely that many members will return to them and spread the word.”
A side effect of this social network is that relationships are growing, according to Andrews. “Friendships and partnerships are being formed,” she said. “There have been remote workers visiting the area that have attended a few events and decided to stay. There is also business matchmaking happening. By bringing a lot of people together and knowing who is doing what, we can help facilitate growth. Possible new ventures are on the horizon that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.”
Asheville Digital Nomads posts upcoming gatherings on MeetUp.com, and Andrews said that they always try to have at least three to four upcoming events posted. Pratte said that people used to just show up, but now members must register for events, and some locations have various capacities. “We have to make sure the event spaces can fit all of us in there,” he said. “Our members are really showing up.”
In addition to MeetUp.com, Asheville Digital Nomads recently started a Slack channel, an Instagram profile, and are working on developing a website in order to facilitate even more connections.
Pratte said the group is serving more areas than exclusively Asheville. “From Weaverville, Waynesville, and Burnsville, there is a thriving part of the region’s economy that remote workers bring to the area,” he said. “Many are bringing in salaries above the average pay grade for WNC, and they all want to connect and be a part of the community. We want to help facilitate these connections in the best way that we can.”