Co-working can yield many benefits for all if approached with the right mindset

collaborateAs much as the concept of coworking sounds like a cosy home away from home to kick off your slippers, the truth is that in this type of space, we have to pay even more attention to how we conduct ourselves than we would in a corporate office. Our etiquette at work and the spirit of collaboration is expected in coworking spaces as well.

In a coworking workplace, you are the boss. You are in charge of how you feel, how you market your skills and do business, whether you are a one-man show or a small team, amongst hundreds of like-minded individuals reaching for their goals.

In Southeast Asia at least, coworking businesses are essentially wrapped around the concept of cheap real estate for small businesses where many people can be seated in small areas where they can patter away on laptops growing their businesses. This is changing as Asians plumb for deeper essence in a changing mind-body-work landscape.

In the West, coworking has a collaborative spirit. Everyone is viewed as a potential boss or employee, customer, partner or investor – an ocean of opportunities not just for business but information, networking, problem-solving, sharing technical expertise and professional services.

In order to leverage the dynamics of this convenient think-tank, people have to evolve to embrace a new cultural mindset. While people from the West and Europe can learn some tips about Asian sensibilities, Asians can afford to lose some of our reticence, and power past closed mindsets and traditional ways of working.

There are some East-West differences in the coworking community, some cultural and others a result of how the concept itself is perceived in different countries. Coworking in the West is more about community and enabling each other to succeed by leveraging pooled skills and networks. In Asia, people tend towards an introverted and guarded stance, likely due to the sheer volume of competition.

That’s all got to change in a coworking space. Asians should play their part to develop the local coworking scene to benefit from its inherent dynamics.

Here are five things you can start doing today to make your coworking experience pay off.

  1. Engage, employ social skills

Working at close proximity in the same space, Westerners are likely to be more chatty than Asians, who would prefer to be left alone to get on with their work. This does not mean that Westerners are any less hard-working. They merely tend to be more willing to work on a social relationship beyond courtesy greetings. They are also keen to talk about their work, and ask about yours.

Say yes to the conversation – you never know what you’re going to learn. Keep your subject matter simple. Steer clear of sensitive subjects like politics, religion and immigration – all hot-button issues worldwide that could sound unnecessary alarm bells. Keep chats short, and be considerate about how you use someone else’s time and space. Always build bridges, or as history tells us, dig wells before you get thirsty.

  1. Insert your 60-second pitch here

Write your 60-second pitch to tell people in a straightforward way exactly what your business is about and what your job function is. Descriptors like sales and marketing don’t say much to open a door into your world. Describe your business, what you are working on this week, for example, and create a conversation space where collaboration can begin. Learn how to write your elevator pitch.

  1. Wear a name tag

Greet everyone you meet and remember their names. If you’re new, make the effort to introduce yourself and tell people what you do. Remember what other people do so that you can ask about their ventures. It’s so much easier to get to know people when you’re wearing a name tag – you immediately become someone approachable. Wear a name tag showing your name, your company, and what you do. For example:

Jack Chan
ABC & Friends
Headhunting, tech-talent specialist (Insert three key function-words here)

  1. Be useful to other business owners

Offer useful information freely. If you have contacts who can help someone who you know is facing some difficulty, hook them up. For example, your hot-desking neighbour may be needing an accountant, a web designer or an overseas immigration agent, all of whom take time to track down – your recommended service provider would be a valuable shortcut to a solution.

  1. Mind your manners

We all have social habits that may be irksome to people from another part of the world. Identify what these are – Asian habits as well as Western and European, and just stop it.

For example, some Asians will be offended if someone sits across from them with their legs crossed with one foot pointing at them. Buddhists do not like their heads being touched. Women in business settings regardless of provenance would prefer a handshake over being kissed on the cheek or touched at all. To be on the safe side, keep your body parts to yourself at all times. Our Japanese neighbours are extremely particular about social mores and Asians in general tend to be swift in passing judgement based on any number of transgressions, from gum-chewing to talking loudly.

These general rules will help to keep you in check:

  • Asian foods tend to smell strong to foreigners so you might want to eat your curry puff outside in the café. Apart from sweets or a candy bar, everything else should be barred, including ‘noisy’ foods such as salads, crisps and biscuits. Eat a banana.
  • Daily showers and deodorants are an absolute must. Those who hail from gentler climes would do well to note that our tropical weather is not compatible with heavy fabrics or a less rigorous grooming regime. Personal grooming, such as nail clipping, should not be done in public, period.
  • Loud telephone conversations should be avoided. Most facilities, such as Workcentral have private rooms, and even Skype booths, so that your neighbours are not disturbed. Your ‘touch-keyboard’ is exactly that – there is no need to batter it. Listen to music on headphones.
  • Take your litter with you. It is good manners to leave your hotdesk clean and tidy and not cluttered with shopping bags and shoe boxes.

There is no better time to take the leap into coworking ­– if you’re looking to change your life, start a new venture, or a business on the side, coworking is certainly a safe and inexpensive option, with a multitude of advantages if you’re savvy and deploy your social skills appropriately. Coworking facilities have flexible packages for varying business needs.

Click here to speak to us about your coworking needs.

By Martin Ross, Chief Marketing Officer, Workcentral.

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times Recruit on 21 Nov 2015.