The nature of the American workforce is rapidly changing, with more of us telecommuting or starting businesses out of our homes than ever before. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s been a recent surge in people taking up residency in coworking spaces.
Still, coworking might be an unfamiliar concept for many, and may be intimidating if you’re used to the office life (or, even better, the work in your pjs all day at home life). But it’s fast become a true microcosm of a new way of working and, perhaps more importantly, living. Step into a coworking space and you’ll find yourself mixed in between freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers, each one navigating the workforce in a unique way.
At Grind, a coworking space with locations in Manhattan and Chicago, we’ve created an environment that fosters productivity, serenity, and, most prominently, collaboration. And if there’s anything we’ve learned throughout the process of facilitating effective coworking and collaboration, it’s that there’s a real art to working effectively and efficiently with others. The ideas are simple and if put to use, they can lead to incredible outcomes whether you’re trying coworking for the first time or are looking to be more inclusive at your office.
1. Get to know thy neighbor
Let’s face it: “personal space” is a notion that pervades our culture. God forbid you brush knees with the stranger on the subway or strike up a conversation with the guy standing in line at the market with you. We’re living in a world in which “minding your business” is the holy grail. But what if we all pushed those boundaries? If not out in the world, we can at least be more open and friendly at work. We like to think it could lead to something amazing.
Put yourself out there and attend networking events, approach coworkers, talk to the stranger at the coffee bar—you’ll be surprised by the results. Working out of a coworking space is a particularly easy, natural way to meet new people every day.
Your instinct will be to keep to yourself, but try something different. Make sure not to distract your neighbors, but also make a point of introducing yourself to your tablemates. We’ve had a staggering number of companies birthed between unacquainted members who struck up conversation one day. And don’t limit your boldness to the coworking space…go ahead and introduce yourself to your seatmate on the train or plane. You might be surprised by how happy people are to have spontaneous interactions with strangers.
We’ve had a staggering number of companies birthed between unacquainted members who struck up conversation one day.
2. Keep an open mind
Entering any situation with lofty expectations can be dangerous, but this is especially the case in the world of collaborating. While it’s important to set goals, make sure to stay open to new (and sometimes scary) ideas. True success comes when we are open to uncertainty.
You’re going to be faced with people from various industries and levels of expertise—don’t let yourself miss out on their advice and unique perspective because you’re too caught up in your own vision.
When you first meet someone, check your ego and judgment at the door. Approach the situation with clear eyes, an open mind, and a willingness to learn. Effective collaboration stems from respect and honesty, which can only be achieved sans preconceived notions.
3. Don’t be Intimidated
Coworking spaces are filled with ambitious, motivated, smart people. But don’t let their level of intellect or experience scare you. Instead, take it as an opportunity to learn from the best and brightest.
In order to make the most of these resources, assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Understand what you bring to the table, where you need help, and what you want out of your interactions with your coworkers. Often, experienced entrepreneurs are actually eager to get the fresh input of those with less business acumen. Diversity of intellect and success will only increase your odds of a synergistic collaboration.
4. Ask for Help
Once you’ve mastered the art of self-awareness in the previous steps, convince yourself that it’s good to ask for help. You’re not going to be an expert in every area. Most times, your peers will be pleased to dole out advice. And never underestimate the power of mentorship. If you find someone you look up to professionally, utilize their skills and experience. Odds are, they’ll be pleased to share what they know with you.
Be as specific as possible about your needs and the level of commitment you need from someone else when asking for help. “I need a programmer” isn’t as useful as “I need a Python programmer.” We’re always thrilled when a member asks us to connect them to a fellow member with a particular set of skills. Not only does it help us get a better feel for the needs of our members, but it also helps to build a stronger community.
5. Change Environments. Often.
We are creatures of habit, and many of us tend to plop down in the same seat every day. Given the opportunity to sit somewhere new every day (as you are in a coworking space), try to do so (at least for your first couple of weeks there). Not only will it inspire creativity and new ideas, but it will also increase your chances of meeting at least one new person every day.
Getting out of your workspace occasionally is just as important as moving around within it. Work out of a public park or at home a few times a month. Changing up your environment will keep you happy, productive, and ripe for collaboration.