by Victoria Arnold, founder of Desk Union and homestayfriend. Desk Union provides start ups, freelancers and micro businesses with a huge choice of collaborative coworking environments. Victoria won the “Best Young Business 2012” award from the Association of Scottish Businesswomen, and is an ambassador for the Power of Youth – an initiative that bridges the gap between the entrepreneurs of the present and those of the future.
Coworking is one of the buzzwords of 2013. It has taken great leaps this year and we’ve seen collaborative workspaces in all shapes and guises spring up across the globe.
In the UK, entrepreneurs and small businesses are enjoying a blossoming coworking movement, and one company that’s making plenty of noise about the benefits of collaborative workspace is Desk Union, a Scotland-based search platform and marketing network.
Here, coworking advocate and Desk Union founder Victoria Arnold speaks to OT on the joys of shared workspace, and tackles a few myths and misdemeanors head-on. Owners and operators of collaborative space should take note, as Victoria offers some great points which may boost your own marketing efforts. What do others think?
Coworking: Turning the Negatives into Positives
Published Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 by Officing Today
Guest contributor: Victoria Arnold
Coworking and open-planned workspace has taken a bit of a beating in the press of late. As a collaborative working evangelist, I am always taken aback when I see articles about the negative aspects of coworking.
My first reaction is always the same, “yeah, but have you actually TRIED it?” Then again, I am an eternal optimist, and the measure of what I gain on a daily basis from my shared work environment far outweighs any internal gripes I might have.
The two factors associated with this style of working which seem to take the brunt of criticism are noise and privacy. Lets turn these ‘negatives’ on their head and see the brighter side of this experience.
The misconception is always the same… no walls + lots of people = uncontrollable noise. Surely a well-used open-planned office is going to be loud? Actually, no.
I am part of a coworking community of 30 people and even when we are at full capacity, there have been times when concentration has been at a maximum and you could hear a pin drop. Granted, there are also times when music is playing and people are chattering away. Is this a bad thing? In my eyes, no! It brings life to a space that is otherwise just walls, ceilings and floors.
For me, a buzz of excitement and a certain level of constructive noise often help to generate ideas. There are 29 individuals to bounce ideas off and you really do feel like you contribute to your fellow coworkers’ success.
If one of my coworkers really needs to focus, they’ll wear headphones, grab a meeting room or work from home. I’d much rather hear the daily office ramblings and leave if I need to focus. Otherwise, I would be just as well working from home – isolated, peaceful but ultimately alone.
Now of course, there are levels of noise that are acceptable and when it gets intolerable, we have to tell the culprit to pipe down. It all comes down to simple mutual respect. Here are the unwritten coworking rules our space abides to:
- We only ever have one source of music playing at a time (if any music)
- Music levels are kept minimal throughout the day and volume raised after 5pm
- If a client meeting is taking place, courtesy is shown by all workers
- Mobile phones rarely ring out loud, most of us keep them on vibrate
- When watching videos or listening to ‘alternative’ music, headphones are worn
- If someone is wearing headphones, this is usually taken as a signal not to interrupt
- Any problems or annoyances are addressed here openly and honestly
For me, I take my quiet time by coming in early in the morning. The beauty of coworking is that it’s not a standard 9 – 5 lifestyle. Most coworking spaces offer flexible memberships including evenings and weekends.
Larger coworking spaces deal with noise issues by adding zoning and white noise machines. Exclusively quiet areas are often available too – like quiet carriages on trains! Coworking really can cater for all audible tastes.
“You work in a coworking space? So how do you get any privacy?” I find this question quite difficult to answer because for me it’s a non-issue! Maybe it’s because I am a Gen-Y consumer who shares her life on social media. I am also a very open boss and don’t keep my colleagues in the dark about anything. There’s no hierarchy in our business.
Yes, we all need privacy every now and again, whether for a personal matter or to talk about a sensitive issue with another colleague. How do I deal with this? I make personal phone calls in a separate meeting room or out walking Chief Woof Officer, Alfie (he knows all my deepest secrets). If I have a sensitive issue to talk to a colleague about, I will take them for lunch or a coffee – a change of scenery never does any harm after all.
For me, the workplace is all about collaboration, ideas sharing and listening. Being directly opposite the rest of your colleagues allows you to really pick up on the issues that niggle at them on a daily basis. If I was behind a door, I would completely miss this opportunity.
If you’re worrying about someone walking past and seeing your screen you’re missing the whole point – I find myself turning my screen to share with coworkers more often than hide! That’s the beauty of coworking, you build up a relationship with the businesses you work alongside and nobody is out to get one up or compete. We all help each other grow. Actively share screens and ask opinions.….
I can understand that the thought of making phone calls in an open plan office can sometimes be daunting if you are not used to doing so. You can’t help but think that every person in the office is listening to what you are saying. I once vocalised this concern to a mentor and they quite rightly replied: “You really think you are so interesting that all those busy people are hanging on your every word?” This put things into perspective! Why would other people be engrossed in my boring conversation when they have their own businesses to run?! A number of coworking spaces have a dedicated space to make calls that offer you peace of mind and privacy. If this is something you really need, make sure you choose a coworking space that offers this.
Perhaps this article is a reflection of my business mind and I appreciate that my attitude might not be shared by everyone. How you work is a personal choice. For me, the value of being surrounded by likeminded people in an open and honest environment far outweighs the issues surrounding noise and privacy. All I would ask is that if you haven’t tried coworking yet – please do! Jump in with both feet, embrace the work style and if, after a month, you don’t like it head back home or build some walls!