Coworking: How To Avoid Fragmentation In The Presence Of Private Offices

Coworking Private Office

As many of you know, Cohere is getting ready to move to our new home: a larger, more versatile space that will better meet the needs of our growing community. Of course, this new facility also comes with a bigger price tag, so I’ve had to spend time deciding the most economical way to make use of all our new space.

Among other things, this means for the first time in Cohere history, I’ve decided to offer private offices. These offices will be separate from the open work space, meaning the members that use them will spend most of their time away from the chatter and sharing that make Cohere such a lovely place to belong.

I know, I know. In the past I’ve ranted that private offices crush the true spirit of community, and to some extent I still believe that. So what changed?

Over the past year I’ve discovered that a) doors and walls, while they may help set the tone, don’t always determine how the community functions; and b) private offices are an easy way to get much-needed money in the door. Also, private offices attract fledgling businesses that are too small for their own space, but could really benefit from and add to the dynamic of our community.

But without conscious effort from both office-dwellers and flex desk-sitters, there’s a risk our community could become fragmented. Isolation is bad for both groups and defeats the purpose of coworking. To avoid that, I put together a quick list of reminders that I hope will help us maintain the level of communication and collaboration we’ve enjoyed in the past.

How To Avoid Fragmentation In The Presence Of Private Offices

1. Keep your door open whenever possible. This small gesture will let other members know it’s ok to pop in and say hi. Quickly.
2. Make a point of chatting with other members on the way to and from your private office. Even if it’s just a smile and “good morning,” it helps.
3. Don’t eat meals at your desk. Give your eyes a rest and venture into a common area where you can enjoy some small talk.
4. Avoid IMs/IRC when the person you’re chatting with is in the building. You’re not glued to your chair. Take a much-needed stretch, and walk over to their desk.
5. Attend social functions and workshops whenever you can. This is a great way to meet members who work different schedules, and you might also learn something!
6. Interact with Cohere members via social media. We’ve got a pretty active Facebook group where people ask emergency questions, share funny links, and respond to community announcements. Being active here will ensure that we don’t forget your name, even if we don’t see your face that often.

Do you have concerns about the introduction of private offices? What are your ideas about how to maintain a high level of community interaction despite closed doors? Share your thoughts in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – Cowork Central

Why Private Offices Crush The True Spirit Of Community

Private Office Keep Out

Several years ago, I asked my mom where she keeps the plastic wrap for leftovers. She replied, “I don’t believe in it.” My initial reaction was that she was crazy! It obviously exists! You can buy it and lots of people use it every day. She said, “well, I don’t really care about those people, it has never worked for me.”

Mom, I love ya.

When people ask me where our private offices are at Cohere I now reply, “I don’t believe in them.” Sure, hoards of coworking spaces have cropped up that provide a mix of private and open spaces. They probably make a nice rent from those boxes with doors, but private offices impede collaboration and crush the idea of community that coworking is designed to foster. Here’s how:

Physical Barriers To Creativity: Let’s start with the simple stuff- doors and walls make it harder to innovate and be creative with any sort of spontaneity. Think back to your office job…how did you feel when a problem or question forced you to knock on the boss’s door? Intimidated? Unwanted? Annoyed? While not so pronounced, private work areas in a coworking space conjure up the same feelings. Instead of allowing the physical density of true coworking to encourage ideas and natural sharing, doors and walls require people to knock, schedule meetings, and sit on opposite sides of a desk from one another.

Mental Barriers To Collaboration: Did you feel like you could collaborate effortlessly with your boss when he or she sat protected and alone in their corner office? Probably not. Will the brand new freelancer feel like he or she can collaborate effortlessly with the experienced independent or small business sitting in that protected corner office? Probably not.

Status Symbols: The beauty of coworking at Cohere is that no one has a corner office,  a special rare-wood desk or a gold plaque on their workspace. Seasoned freelancers sit right next to broke freelancers who are still trying to decipher a LLC from a sole-prop. Independents making 6-figures are free to ask questions and toss around ideas with newbies that are still looking for their second client. Sure, the established freelancers could probably afford their own office space, they’ve just acknowledged that that the richness of their community experience would diminish because of it.

Have and Have Not Mentality: The traditional workforce has conditioned us to believe that “when you make it, they give you a private office.” The oak desk, brass nameplate, and corner office are no more than the white collar equivalent to a dick measuring contest. Do private offices really make the people who sit in them more productive or professional? Doubtful. While it might not be so pronounced, this damaging mental caste system is resurrected in coworking spaces that segregate the work area.

I’ve visited more than a few spaces where true coworking was surrounded by private offices. Those who could afford it scurried away to their cubbies and closed the door, completely ignoring the potential for collaboration, creativity, and hell– just general socialization, that was swirling around in the middle. Likewise, coworkers in the middle sections kept to themselves, knowing that they were a different “class” of worker and feeling like their work wasn’t important enough for a door… which leads me to:

Doors are bullshit: We only have 3 of them at Cohere, one for the phone room, one for the conference room and one for the toilet. Doors are made to shut things out, and/or protect you from what’s on the other side. So unless there’s gonna be profanity, a power-point, or poop involved, it doesn’t need a door.

What do you think about private offices? Are they evil or necessary? Do they crush the true spirit of coworking or provide a place for the community to grow? Share your thoughts in a comment.

Image Credit: Flickr – annette62

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