Farewell, grey mazes of cubicles, harsh lighting, and hushed corporate halls. Coworking spaces are here to stay.
In 2017, there were 57.3 million freelance workers in the U.S., and 542,000 were members of coworking spaces: those stylish, amenities-rich, community-building environments favored by entrepreneurs.
By 2020, it is projected that 50% of corporations will have their own coworking spaces. Market leader WeWork has 5.2 million square feet of coworking space in New York City alone. As economic and competitive uncertainties play out, these shared spaces make sense for large and small companies to facilitate their footprints.
But the ability to socialize in this ecosystem creates a work environment that people across demographic groups find energizing. As a baby boomer PR consultant who works in midtown Manhattan told me, “Just walking down the hall makes me feel more creative, and seeing everyone working gives me ideas.” A millennial working in a four-person company housed in a WeWork neatly sums it up: “It doesn’t feel like my dad’s office.”
Given this trend, it's likely that coworking will be part of your work life at some point. But a new space requires a new form of etiquette between strangers-turned-coworkers. Here’s a guide on what to say in order to make friends and influence people (the right way).
Never Say: “Hey, want to get in early on my app?”
Don’t go in with the mindset that other members are your customers. You need to have your business in gear. Never rent a desk hoping that your co-renters will help you pay your way.
What to Do Instead: Many coworking spaces have an internal ecosystem where you can list your products and services. Create a short and snappy advertisement or video and let your work speak for itself. And get to know people in the common spaces. If you can fulfill some other renters’ need, they will find you. But beware crossing the line between convenient connection and hard-sale turnoff.
Never Say: “Meet you for a few games of beer pong at 12:30!”
Don’t consider your co-renters your buddies. Keep the line between office acquaintance and personal friend clear. While some people flock to coworking spaces to inject a social aspect into the isolation of working solo, others simply want a convenient space to work.
What to Do Instead: Offer to meet in the kitchen to share lunch or organize social events after 5 p.m. With shared amenities that encourage comfort and interaction, it can be tricky to create and maintain boundaries. You don’t want to be the person who others avoid because you party too early.
Never Say: “Can I hang out in your office?”
Most coworking spaces have private rentable offices in addition to regular desks. But people pay a premium for those spaces with good reason. Even though the see-through glass walls seem inviting, they're not an open invitation to intrude. A closed door means keep walking.
What to Do Instead: Wait to be invited in—and don't overstay your welcome.
Never Say: “You look lonely, want to talk?”
Socializing is part of the coworking appeal, but different people like to work in different environments. Just because someone is sitting on a couch and looking out the window doesn’t mean they aren’t working. They may be thinking.
What to Do Instead: Respect the space. Don’t be too eager or too needy. If someone wants your attention, they’ll make it known. If you want to connect with a particular person, wait for them to take a break or for the social hour.
Never Say: Anything about sex, politics or religion
Don’t assume that others share your values and beliefs. There is an actual Coworking Manifesto signed by members of more than 1,700 coworking spaces, articulating the values of the coworking movement, including creating “community, collaboration, and learning opportunities,” but this doesn’t mean that all renters see the world the same way.
What to Do Instead: Create conversation around business trends, sports, movies, podcasts. If a hot-button topic comes up, actively listen to other points of view, be mindful of your tone of voice—and if things get heated, excuse yourself and leave. You don't want to turn the workspace you chose into a workspace you loathe.
Never Say: “Isn’t that guy on the third floor a jerk?”
Don’t bad-mouth other renters. It’s impossible to tell if someone is just having a bad day, or who knows who in a shared space—or how they might impact your future business opportunities.
What to Do Instead: Find an opportunity to casually connect with the alleged jerk again. If you still find that you don’t click, then don’t engage with them further. Meanwhile, don’t gossip or feed others’ gossip.
Never Say: “I don’t want to go to the lecture on Thursday, but feel like I have to.”
Don’t make yourself participate in events that aren’t interesting to you. Forcing yourself to participate in the community might set yourself up to say or do things you didn’t intend. It's better to respectfully decline an invite.
What to Do Instead: Tell the truth, without judgment, about not wanting to engage and wish others an enjoyable time.
Never Say: “This beer sucks and the TVs are too small.”
Don’t whine about the amenities. They are probably more abundant—and free—than if you were working somewhere else (like, say, a coffee shop…or your couch). Complaining can make you appear entitled and ungrateful.
What to Do Instead: Enjoy the creature comforts. After all, it could be worse.