Jonah Merchant is the cofounder and CEO of the BizDojo network of coworking spaces.
What changes have you seen in the culture of coworking since you began BizDojo in 2009?
During the first few years of BizDojo it seemed like 90 percent of our time was spent educating people about what coworking actually was rather than explaining the benefits of it. But in the last few years it feels like coworking has entered the mainstream, especially for small business, and the people coming to us have already been exposed to it either through someone they know, or the media. They understand a lot more about the benefits of collaboration, shared learning and support that you get through coworking, which I think shows it's getting up a head of steam as a concept.
What are some of the common pitfalls you've seen people fall into when they start working out of a shared space?
Coworking is quite a different environment, especially if you've previously been working from home or if you've been in a large company. While the coworking environment is there to support a business and help a business owner achieve what they want in terms of their business growth, it's also doing that for a whole lot of other people as well. There are people working right alongside you, but they have their own businesses, so there can be competing priorities at times and business owners have to make allowances for that.
What are some of the specific ways that can play out?
It can be simple things like day-to-day housekeeping and being aware about cleaning up after yourself and not leaving all your empty coffee cups in a meeting room. Then it can go right through to issues of developing a company culture. We have some larger residents in our spaces with teams of up to 20 staff, and they're often high growth companies that are starting to develop their own culture and personality. In those cases there needs to be an awareness of some of the smaller companies, and the need to not overwhelm them with their own company's growing personality. They still need to be thinking about how they're adding value to the overall community, and not detracting from it by dominating too much.
Can there also be issues around businesses working in competing spaces?
That's probably one of the questions we get asked the most by people looking to join the environment. We actively curate the mix of businesses that come into our spaces, but it's a loose curation. We try to identify people who might be a complementary fit for other businesses in the workspace, and we try to actively avoid anyone who's a direct competitor in the same market as an existing resident. To some extent the businesses self-select in that regard as well.
What are some absolute must dos in terms of coworking etiquette?
Our house rules are quite generic and high level but also broad, which gives us flexibility to get involved if needed. Essentially they're around being aware there are a number of different businesses using the space and that needs to be factored into everyone's interactions in the environment. We also have a very tight non-disclosure clause in our membership agreement, which states that anything overheard in the office is treated in strictest confidence and with similar wording to what you'd sign as an employee in any office.
What advice would you have for someone moving into a coworking space to make sure they settle well into this environment?
Come in with a really open mind to being a part of the community. Like a lot of things in life, you get out what you put in so if you're open and willing to engage, participate and be an active member of the coworking community then you're likely to get a greater degree of value for you and your business.
Secondary to that is you need to accept you're part of a bigger community and recognise there's a group of likeminded people around you whose needs have to be balanced against your own.