Thoroughly Modern Thursday: Promoting Interaction in a Shared Work Space

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Thu, Jul 10 - 5:01 am EDT | 9 years ago by
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    guest post by Julie Duryea

    Currently, the most common term to describe freelancers, consultants, entrepreneurs and the generally self-employed, free-agent-types working in the same physical space is coworking. Though these places vary in size, ambiance and offerings, they attract professional mavericks who have shunned da’ man, who are reclaiming and redefining the water cooler for da’ newfound colleagues. A few of my favorite labels for these pioneers:

    • Nomadic professionals
    • Post-geographic workers
    • Bedouin workforce
    • Gypsy teams

    While some of the kitschy labels suggest a carefree attitude, those making a go of it on their own are far from carefree. Kinda. I mean, they build in play where possible because a lot of that was absent in their previous professional incarnations:

    • meetings on a tandem bicycle
    • beer brainstorms
    • ping pong planning
    • skiving off early to buy the latest tech gadget, or be with friends, family, the golf course, a margarita

    However, behind this play lurks the relentless pressure to keep the pipeline filled with interesting, steady work, or in some cases, angel or venture capital funding.

    Staying innovative, motivated and networked when working solo presents a challenge, but one that can be easily overcome. You’re ahead of the pack if you’ve joined a coworking community because you have likeminds with which to connect. That is, if you connect. Actually, how do we connect?

    On to a test. There will be no math.

    Those drawn to a coworking environment:

    • (a) know each other
    • (b) like each other
    • (c) are genuinely curious about other people
    • (d) fundamentally c, thus leading to a, and hopefully b
    • (e) none of the above

    Really, there should be “(f) it depends and varies.”

    Beyond the physical set-up of a coworking space which may include,

    • (a) the intentional absence of cubicles
    • (b) picnic tables
    • (c) pods
    • (d) living room-like zones
    • (e) mobile whiteboards

    and assuming you answered (e), how does one go about facilitating an interactive environment (to the extent to which that is desired – a valid point in and of itself)?

    If your space is open to all – so it’s not just your friends, and it’s not a niche coworking space, like just for writers, or a stale, uber posh office, like Regus HQ – here are ten suggestions on how to bond existing members and integrate new people:

    1. Relate via an existing social networking site (e.g., coworking google group)
      1a. or create a new, collaborative intranet space for members (laugh when you see no one using it; my experience is it’s just another place to go, another password)
    2. Hold group orientations for new members.
    3. Commit to weekly, what do you do lunches to share professions + tips.
    4. Build comraderie with sub-groups by forming or offering voluntary “business incubator” groups that are, or aren’t, free form (e.g . Lisa Johnson’s Free Agent Formula course rocks).
    5. When you go out to lunch, invite the person next to you.
    6. Better yet, go out for beers – all y’all!
    7. In the potluck spirit, bring in knoshy bought or homemade food to share.
    8. Post an old school bulletin board with mug shots and biz deets in a common area
    9. Foment lightheartedness, curiosity and perhaps competition, by placing games around the space (e.g. Roger Von Oech’s classic Creative Whack Pack, Twister, Settlers of Catan, Legos)
    10. Get active! Form challenges on Nike Plus and go out for walks or runs together. This can be for a good cause too!


    julie duryea, soukJulie Duryea founded a coworking space in Portland, Oregon called souk. Contrary to what you might think,
    she and her members still strive to crack the community nut. In addition to local events at souk, Julie engages in Ladies Who Launch,
    Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, Young Women Social Entrepreneurs, and Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon. She is a die-hard ambassador for p-town, and especially the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, alive and thriving with creative + web 2.0 companies. Readers can learn more at

    Enter to win an iPod Shufffle! Deadline, 11:59 p.m. ET on July 13, 2008.

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      • Lindsay

        I remember catching an article in (I think?) the Wall Street Journal a few months back that mentioned how many work-from-home types were going in together to rent shared office space. I do think it’d be fun to try–you miss having someone to go to lunch with and bounce ideas off of (it’s so hard to take someone on your IM list over to PF Chang’s for a chat :P)–if only to be around other creative types.

      • Erin Anderson

        I’ve been working from my home off and on for the last three years and I have to admit I hadn’t thought of coworking till this week. Being a social person and someone who needs inspiration I think it’s really a brilliant way to keep the juices flowing. I met the owners of Office Nomads in Seattle and checked out the space. So, cool! They even have dogs to cowork with! I can’t wait to meet new people and get connected with a community of people who see coworking as a solution to the isolation of working in a geographically dispersed group.

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