Co-working gives days at office whole new look

Put multiple small-business owners together in low-cost space and the result is co-working. This new development, multiple contiguous offices in open space, is spreading across the country. What new issues arise among these neighboring co-workers?

Cupertino, Calif.’s Karen Williams of KMW Group Communication Training & Consulting is thriving in this environment at Entefy Inc. in nearby Palo Alto. She finds differences in the relationships and communication. She joins her business’ co-workers for lunch rather than breaking away whenever possible.

“I also have friendly relationships with the shared space co-workers,” she says. “However, those relationships are more casual than those with my business colleagues.”

Williams distinguishes the kinds of co-workers on her floor specifically with work.

“I’m with multiple startups on this floor,” she observes, “each with its own engineers or founders, with different missions and objectives. In my business I interact with people working on one goal.”

Eric Fischer, a Web designer and search engine optimization specialist at 20 Creative Media & Marketing in Monroe, Mich., previously worked on contract for about a year at Seed Coworking in Toledo, Ohio. He enjoyed the people.

“Seed was a well setup place, and a lot of fun, with educational events hosted by the owners and other co-workers always going on,” he says. “Unfortunately, there were some days when very few co-workers would show up. It could at times get quite lonely.”

Fischer is deaf, with an auditory brainstem implant allowing him some hearing.

Like Williams, he found the people there friendly and helpful.

“But if your co-working space gravitates towards the technical end,” he says. “The guys in other disciplines are going to be on the outside looking in on many ‘shop’ conversations. They aren’t really treated differently, but end up sort of excluded all the same.”

Williams agrees that people relate differently. They share business specifics to co-workers internally and exclude others from the outside.

“Every once in a while, someone might overhear and chime in,” she says. “In a startup world, products haven’t been launched. There are definitely things people want to keep quiet, so there are offices to use.”

Kit Maloney, founder of Boston’s Collaboratory4.0 LLC, says, “We have several secure and private rooms for a one-on-one that can’t be overheard. For salary negotiation or something, people go into more confined space.”

This co-working space and incubator primarily serves businesses owned and led by women and women entrepreneurs. Maloney says some people who want to keep conversations quiet take walks.

“Common courtesy is really important in shared work spaces,” Williams comments. Creating noise and dealing with temperature necessitate compromise. She always chills in air conditioning, so she takes a sweater and scarf. She also accepts a glance from another person as a cue to lower her voice — although she dons her headset when others are noisy.

“It’s really easy to roll your chair to another desk and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ ” she says. “If they’re typing or on the phone, you might just not decide to roll your chair over.”

Fischer, who contracted with the owner of his space rather than a business in it, had an inside look at operations. He noticed that some people were always busy, while others came in at different times.

“If I were going to prepare someone to work in a co-working center,” he says, “I’d encourage them to ask how many members there are and what the ‘real’ schedule is. You don’t want to plan to arrive every day by 8 a.m. if nobody else shows up until noon.”

He also recommends being humble about learning, because you’ll rub elbows with some brilliant entrepreneurs.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at © 2013 Passage Media.