Co-working is getting a lot of attention right now, and it’s easy to understand why. If you’ve never heard of this type of office before, a co-working space is simply a dedicated office space where companies can rent a desk or five on a per-week or per-month basis. The office has facilities including computers, meeting rooms – and if you’re lucky – a kitchen.
If you’re an entrepreneur, business owner or startup who primarily works from home, then co-working offers a range of benefits – a professional environment to host clients, a chance to escape the home office and still use a comfortable chair, and a built-in network to help your business grow.
But co-working can have it’s downsides. It’s been accused of being trendy, gimmicky, fostering competitiveness and negativity, and of being the most unproductive environments business owners could find themselves in. If you’re thinking of using a co-working space, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the experience:
1. Look for the right space
Different co-working spaces attract different types of businesses. As with any other business activity, think carefully about your needs and goals are before you choose your space. Tour lots of different spaces and look for one that fits in well with your business goals.
For example, one of my friends is a romance writer, and she uses a space that’s frequented by graphic designers and other creative types. She gets her book covers made by a designer she co-works with, and is also working on stop-motion film and children’s book projects with others she’s met through co-working. She wouldn’t get as much value from co-working if she was in a space surrounded by app developers and tech startups.
2. Be open to serendipity
The value of co-working spaces comes from the open environment that encourages chance meetings and collaborative conversation. If you’re going to pay for a desk, don’t get there, turn your headphones on and shut off all the distractions. It’s the distractions that make the space worth renting. Be presentable and approachable, and you’ll find yourself making new and beneficial connections.
3. Think about how you work
Co-working spaces have many benefits, but one of the drawbacks is that they can be difficult spaces to actually get work done, especially if you’re used to the solitude of a home office. But that doesn’t mean you should give up co-working altogether, just plan the type of work you do in the space to fit your level of productivity.
My friend Leticia has been using co-working for the last two years. Recently she assessed her productivity on her co-working days and discovered that she’s woefully unproductive in the co-working space. So now she schedules non-critical work, client meetings, networking, and admin duties for her co-working days.
4. Create a co-working pack
There’s nothing worse than braving traffic to arrive at your co-working space, only to discover you’ve forgotten something vital. It makes you wonder why you leave the house at all.
One way to combat this is to dedicate a backpack or tote bag specifically for your co-working equipment. Inside, place everything you need: A drink bottle, swipe card, chargers and batteries, change for the vending machine, coffee discount card …
When you head out for co-working, you just need to grab the bag and go.
5. Alternate Your Seat
We humans are creatures of habit, but co-working is all about changing up your routines. So start by changing up your seat! Switch to different workstations around the space, strike up conversations with new people, and see where serendipity leads you.
6. Use all the features
You’re paying for the space, so make use of all the features and programs on offer. Many co-working spaces offer free seminars and networking events, great coffee, or unlimited photocopying. Go crazy with these perks. You’ve earned them.
7. Let them eat cake
If you’re a little bit introverted, you might find walking into a co-working space a bit intimidating, with all that chatter and clatter between workers. You might struggle to insert yourself into the established networks of a particular space.
One of the things I like to do if I’m going into a space like this is to show up with some home-baked goodies. You’ll gather a crowd (because what entrepreneur can say no to free food?), have an instant conversation topic, and you’ll always be remembered as the “cupcake girl” or the “dude who makes a mean quiche lorraine.”
8. Safe and Secure
One thing that’s not often discussed when thinking about co-working is the vulnerabilities it might open up in your business. The truth is, while we may think we can trust our fellow co-workers to be honest, there are unscrupulous people in the world, and one wrong move could cost your company dearly.
Unlike an office space where everyone is usually working for the same team, a co-working space brings together many different types of businesses – some who might even be competitors. Practice good security practices by shutting your computer off when you’re away from your desk, using smart passwords, and making sure you know who is in the building at any time. Talk to the co-working facilitators about their own internet security precautions, as well as general safety and security around the building.
As well as the security of your data, there’s the security of your person to think of as well. Entrepreneurs may use the space any time of the day or night, so if you regularly pull all-nighters, choose a space that’s in a well-lit, safe neighbourhood. If you can get secure parking, that’s a bonus. Look for spaces that take security seriously, with swipe-card access and strict rules on visitors.
9. Bring something useful
Usually the businesses participating in a co-working space are allowed to bring along promotional material (although there may be some rules around this – check with the facilitators). If you want your fellow workers to notice you, then supply some promo gear that’s useful in the space, such as pens, pads, notebooks, magnets, drink bottles or coffee cups.
10. Keep your space tidy
This should go without saying, but it often needs to be said, loudly and with feeling. If you’re going to be part of a co-working space, you need to be respectful of the other people who use the space. That means using an indoor voice, keeping distractions to a minimum while others are trying to work, and keeping both communal areas and your own workspace tidy.
Remember that your co-working buddies could be your next business partners, investors, collaborators, or cheerleaders, so be on your best behaviour, toss away your rubbish, and keep that smile turned on!