Traditional workspaces are on their way out. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 65 million Americans (40% of the workforce) will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020. As this independent workforce grows, more and more shared office and coworking spaces are popping up across the nation to accommodate these non-traditional workers.
One of the greatest advantages to working in a shared office or coworking space over working from a home office is the opportunities to connect with other members. Access to a community of entrepreneurs, innovators and creatives is one of the major drawing factors driving the influx of independent workers and startup companies to these shared spaces. Getting to know fellow coworking members creates opportunities for knowledge sharing, partnerships, new leads and referrals.
But it’s not always a cakewalk to build a sustainable relationship out of nowhere. That’s why most shared office and coworking spaces have established areas and activities to foster in-house networking and collaboration.
If you’re operating in one of these spaces, don’t miss out on opportunities to connect with other members. Here are some tips for making the most of your proximity to other businesses to grow your business network:
1. Attend Events in Your Coworking Space
Most coworking companies offer in-house events and off-site happy hours where you are guaranteed to make connections with other entrepreneurs. Mark your calendar, bring your cards, and try to attend as many events as possible.
“One of the best perks about being a part of a coworking space is that you have a built-in, diverse community across all industries,” says Alysha Light, Founder of Flight PR. “As part of this community, you have the option and convenience of attending great networking events in just a couple steps away from your desk.”
2. Host Events in Your Coworking Space
If you’re not able to make scheduled events, consider hosting your own. Some offices have community areas for businesses to set up their own functions: launch parties, workshops, exhibits, etc. And if you have an idea for an event, don’t hesitate to voice it.
“Our co-working space offers our business the opportunity to bring networking events into the space and that’s a huge draw for us,” said Joe Rice, Managing Director at Acliviti. “Being able to entertain our clients in our own office space is unique and we always receive positive feedback.”
3. Eat Lunch in the Community Area
It’s easy to work through lunch when you’re working long days to get your company off the ground, but try to take a break and avoid eating in front of your computer. Lunch time is when many members step away from their desks, making it the optimal time to meet your neighbors.
If your shared office or coworking space has a common lunch area, eat there, and encourage others to do the same. A quick chat with someone across the table could turn into a fruitful partnership.
4. Talk to your Community Manager
If your shared space has some managerial presence, reach out to them for suggestions if you feel like you are not getting the most of your networking potential. A manager may be able to give you some recommendations for other businesses who may offer complementary services to yours.
5. Take Your Networking Online
If you see a company in your coworking space that you are interested in, connect with them on LinkedIn or shoot them an email them introducing yourself. Though you may work in the same space, it can be easier to have the initial introduction online as some members travel often or have unconventional hours.
And even if your initial introduction is at one of the events or at lunch, follow up with online communication. Though you could easily walk across the office to get in touch with them, sharing contact information will facilitate communication when one is traveling or moves on to a new space.
6. Offer Useful Promotional Materials
Don’t limit your handouts to clients. If you can, share company swag with others in your space. A notebook or pen with your logo on it sitting on a fellow member’s desk may serve as a reminder to them to reach out to you to collaborate on a project or to refer your company to a client. Plus, office supplies are always in demand in coworking spaces and you’ll be contributing to the community.
Coworking spaces are much more than convenient places to do work. They are fortresses for collaboration, business development and professional growth. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to network with other coworkers. You never know where a new partnership can take your business.