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How do you improve communication in your collaborative workspace? Guest contributor Allison Deerr of Free Range Office offers her suggestions.

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Communication can be challenging, especially in an open coworking space. Effective communication requires flexibility, and an understanding that preferences vary.

In a traditional office, everyone is playing for the same team. But in a coworking space, everyone reports to a different organization, or works independently. Because of this, it’s important to understand that everyone has their own communication style. Want to create more transparency, teamwork, and trust within your coworking space? Recognize that there isn’t one right way to communicate with others. Self-awareness and empathy can go a long way in creating a more open environment.

Once you understand your own communication style and can recognize the preferences of others, tailor your methods of correspondence accordingly. In turn, you are more likely to get the results you want – from landing that big client, to getting a member to pay their dues on time.

Coworking Managers to Members

The key to a thriving coworking community is offering something for everyone. Not all of your members are going to be enthusiastic about participating in community events or activities. In fact, some of them may be downright resistant to them. There is a common assumption that people join a coworking space looking to actively network. In reality, some people simply want a quiet, energizing space away from home.

Instead of giving up on reaching those lone wolves in your space who don’t want to feel like they are being forced to socialize, change your approach. Create an inviting online community for your coworking members. This allows introverts and those less interested in “interruptions” to connect with others on their own time. Cultivate a democratic workspace by allowing members to pick and choose how they engage, based on their interests. Consider using a noninvasive platform like Slack (our personal favorite at Free Range) that allows both members and space managers to interact with one another whenever and wherever.

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Not only is an online community beneficial for your virtual members who may not be in your physical space frequently. It also creates a space for your members to talk amongst themselves without feeling disruptive or unproductive. Having a messaging platform allows you to share important news with your members that may have otherwise gone ignored in an email. Furthermore, members can also post job opportunities, blow off steam, offer skills for trade, and post cute photos of kittens!

Members to Coworking Managers

Coworking managers wear a variety of hats, from babysitter to community curator, and everything between. Some managers are noticeably more hands-on, while others prefer working behind the scenes. Regardless of your manager’s personality, you shouldn’t view them as a Wizard of Oz-like figure hiding behind a curtain. You should feel comfortable talking to them.

Keep in mind that coworking managers are extremely busy people, juggling everything from tours to IT questions. If your manager seems unavailable and reserved, it may be that they are inundated with work. Nevertheless, troubleshooting, lending an ear and offering support to members is part of their job. Don’t feel intimidated — reaching out to them!

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Great managers have no problem answering your quick questions in the moment, but remember to be respectful of their time. If you have an in-depth question that is going to require some investigating, it’s best not to hover. Give them time to get back to you with a solution. If your coworking space employs a coworking space software such as ShareDesk’s Optix, consider sending the manager a message in-app summarizing your question. This way, it won’t slip your mind to reach out, but lets them get to your inquiry in their own time without losing track of your request. If you don’t have a management software, email or Slack will get the job done, too.

Aside from scoring free donuts every now and then, building a good relationship with your coworking manager can help you keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening at your venue. In turn, your manager will be more likely to introduce you to that developer who can help you with your next big project, or rescue you the next time the coffee machine turns against you.

Members to Members

One of the best things about working in a diverse coworking space is that everyone comes from different backgrounds and brings their own unique skills and viewpoints. While a corporate environment can often feel like an echo chamber where everyone is encouraged to think and act like one another, a coworking space can be an eclectic cornucopia including members from young twenty-somethings working on their first startup project to former cubicle dwellers turned digital nomads to moonlight entrepreneurs.

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Within this melting pot of personalities, you are sure to cultivate some big ideas, or find someone to help you with your website redesign. However, you may also find yourself being misunderstood at best, and butting heads with your peers at worst. Learning to adjust your communication style based on who you’re speaking to can help you make the most of your coworking space and utilize its network to your full potential. Know when it’s best to approach fellow members for help, and when to wait.

On the flipside, consider a quirky “Open for Business” sign for your desk to let people know when they can approach you. If you listen to music while you’re working, or use a headset to make calls, people may be hesitant to strike up a conversation. To many, wearing headphones signals “I don’t want to be disturbed. Come back later.” You never know what opportunities you’ll miss if your body language makes you look standoffish.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up listening to your favorite podcast, or stop to chat every time a member walks by. But you should at least take a moment to make an introduction and invite people to connect at a more convenient time. Some of the best interactions at our space happen unexpectedly while making a sandwich in the kitchen, or filling up at the water cooler. So get up and give yourself a break from staring at your computer monitor!

It’s all about compromise

Remember that compromise is necessary for effective communication while coworking. Keeping your communication style adaptive means others are more likely to return the favor. Coworking is about working alone together. This means that even if everyone at your shared space is working independently, you are still a part of a collaborative community. Make the most of it by creating more open dialogue, and taking advantage of what opportunities occur as a result of working outside the box.


About the author

Allison Deerr is a freelance writer, fundraiser, virtual business consultant and habitual traveler. Currently based in Washington D.C., she works remotely as a manager for Free Range Office — a coworking, meeting and event venue in Chicago. She is celebrating her one-year anniversary of location independence. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and on her personal website Deerr Consulting.