From Artists to Activists: The Birth of Unio
Back in 2002, in a time before MySpace was consumed by Facebook and the ensuing social media revolution, Martin and his co-founder Sixten Nielson started an online community for professional artists. The platform was intended to connect artists not only among themselves, but also with the outer world. Over the years, there was an organic growth in the community as they expanded their focus to connect artists with activists, scientists, and the wider community too, realizing the potential of artists to inspire change beyond the art world. As Martin puts it, “artists have a special ability sometimes to think in different ways, and it’s almost a waste if they’re only there to sell pretty pictures”.
Human Hotel: Connecting Climate Activists
Martin’s initiatives created a space where artists and climate activists started coming together, giving birth to the curated travel network of creatives and activitsts called Human Hotel. The community saw great success, initially conceived for artists, Human Hotel soon became a platform for climate activists during major events like COP26 in Glasgow. It served as an alternative to Airbnb, matching activists with locals willing to support their cause. Their success was fueled by their focus on building strong communities rather than simply profiting from accommodation. In Martin’s perspective, “despite us having thousands of bookings, it was not a very good community success. Community is an antidote to money.” And naturally so, he explains. Community is a space where people show up and give what they can because they want to, not because there is a renumeration to do so. Martin mentions how some of the best community he has seen has been among groups of people with very little wealth.
Rethinking the Future of Work
With the onset of COVID-19, Martin recognized the changing landscape of the future of work: remote and over distance, easily leaving people feeling alone and disconnected. This poses a threat to employee retention, as Martin puts it “it feels like I’m playing a computer game called ‘work’ all day. That’s not a good feeling because you can just play another game and somebody pays you a little bit more.” Instead of accommodation, the project began to shift its focus towards facilitating connections among remote and hybrid teams. That’s where Unio was born.
Unio helps decentralize workplace culture, allowing employees to organize and participate in social events, even remotely, thus combating the loneliness epidemic exacerbated by remote work.
Unio’s success metrics extend beyond traditional KPIs. They focus on de-siloing within organizations, ensuring employees from different teams interact through events. Success also means getting people to spend more physical time together, fostering stronger loyalty to the company.
The Future of Work and Building Communities
Unio’s vision for the future involves reducing loneliness and increasing human connections in the workplace. They aim to demonstrate that community-building efforts are linked to tangible bottom-line results, although community-building involves a lot of intangible work. Martin, when asked to define what he would call a community, shares some really valuable insight:
“So for me, community is the effect that happens when you’ve been working on a project with a group of people. Once you leave, and if you don’t come back, if it still continues, that’s because community took over. And if it just flattens out when the money leaves, when the project organizer leaves, then community was not.”
Take a moment to listen to the conversation in full, to hear Martin’s insight on exactly how to go about creating and building a community with this level of depth and strength.