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How to build your professional and social networks at a coworking space

One of the biggest drawbacks of being a freelancer, digital nomad, or remote worker is not having a sense of community. Yes, working outside an office has many great benefits, but it can get lonely without anyone to bounce ideas off of or commiserate with when things get hectic.

Let’s face it: it’s tough to build a professional network if you’re on your own, especially if you’re in a new locale. Many people don’t enjoy networking events and prefer to build their professional network more organically.

Even if you work in cafes or libraries, how often do you actually talk to your neighbour, let alone ask for feedback on your latest proposal? Even if you did (and assuming they actually wanted to talk to you), how likely would they be a seasoned professional who could give meaningful feedback? In my experience, the only “professionals” I’ve met while working in cafes tried to recruit me for MLM or pyramid schemes!

In my decade of freelancing, I’ve found that coworking spaces are the best place to meet like-minded peers and build your professional network. Unfortunately, despite the massive growth in the popularity of coworking, I’ve also seen lots of people join my coworking space and leave rather quickly, often remarking that the space didn’t meet their expectations regarding community.

So what’s the best way to build your network and get the most of coworking?

Step 1: Be patient

First of all, there is definitely a burn-in period in coworking spaces; don’t expect everyone to know you right away. It took me a good month to really start making friends and professional connections. I often only formally met people after seeing them every day for weeks or months.

Step 2: Say hello

“But everyone looks so busy! I don’t want to interrupt them,” you might say.

Yes, everyone is working and looks like they don’t want to be disturbed, but remember, most people visit coworking spaces because they want to get out and have a community. I have a home office myself but choose to work at a coworking space for this very reason.

So do how you meet people when they’re working? Just say “hi” to your neighbour, introduce yourself, ask what they do, and tell them you’ll let them get back to work. Don’t linger. Short and sweet is best. I swear, they won’t bite your head off. Some people are even looking for reasons to take a break.

Step 3: Never eat lunch alone

Now that you’re acquainted with your fellow coworkers, it’s time get to know them better. You might have heard the saying, “never eat lunch alone.” It’s never held truer than at a coworking space. Virtually all coworking spaces have common areas, so there’s no reason to eat lunch at your desk. If you need something to break the ice, try asking people about the space itself: how long have they been here? Do they like it? What’s nearby?

Step 4: Participate

Most coworking spaces host events for members and/or the public. Make it a goal to attend at least one event each month; ideally, aim for one every week. Attend events whether they are professional (e.g., lunch and learn) or social (e.g., happy hour).

Step 5: Contribute

Yes, your time is valuable, which is why others will appreciate any time you can spare. Volunteering or doing pro bono work can be a great way to foster your network. Try offering to do a little volunteering for the coworking space itself, for example, by organizing a small event.

Alternatively, offer to donate some of your expertise to help your coworkers out; the goodwill this can generate can be immense. For example, in the past, I mass mailed my space and offered to do a little pro bono work for a non-profit. Someone who I hadn’t met asked for help, and I made many great connections and friends through working with her.

Putting it all together

Over the last three years, I’ve grown my professional network, hired contractors and consultants, done both paid and pro bono work for others, and made lots of friends—entirely through my coworking space. My only regret is not trying coworking much sooner. If you are just a little patient, friendly, active, and contribute, you’ll be up and running socially in no time.

Meet The Bees: Jeffrey Nicholls

#MeetTheBees is back for the fall season and this time we sat down for a quick chat with HiVE hotdesk user, Jeff Nicholls!
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Tell me about yourself. Who is Jeff Nicholls?
Well, Jeff Nicholls is originally from Saskatchewan and has been living in Vancouver for about six years now. I was fortunate when I was young, I lived in France. For grades 7, 8, and 9, I attended French public school, so I’ve learned French at a relatively good level. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a bit and had some great experiences.
Part of that was being part of the Canadian Army. I’ve gone overseas on operations and deployment four times, three of which have been to Afghanistan, I’ve spent about two years there. That experience has helped form who I am now and how I interpret the world. I have a degree in Political Science – that helps me in my analysis in of the world and where I am in it – these experiences guide me in a lot of my decision-making.
What made you decide to join the army?
I don’t think I can pinpoint just one motivation. I joined the army for a lot of different reasons. Part of it was my family – as my grandfather and great-grandfather, were both involved the in the World Wars. My great-grandfather actually volunteered for both and was involved in World War I and World War II. And so that was always part of who I was growing up. During my last deployment to Afghanistan, I had gone through different iterations with the Afghan military. First it was peacekeeping in Kabul, then it was war-fighting in the South, and finally was mentoring and teaching the Afghan Army. Now I feel like I have achieved a lot of what I wanted to accomplish in the military, and so I’ve moved on to something else which is working with Pentalog.
What is Pentalog and how did you end up working with them?
Pentalog is an IT services company – the headquarters is based in France and most operations are in Europe. We provide software engineering and web-based application development, with very scale-able resources because we have about 700 engineers and developers. I have made connections with the company and learned of their desire to enter the Canadian market. A big part of my background was in project management, we came up with a plan and how I could get involved, so now I’m a partner and have started the operations here in Canada. I have been with the company for about eight months now.
How did you end up here at the HiVE?
Well, the expansion outside of Europe started in Boston about 2 years ago –  the person that went there worked in a co-working space, called the Cambridge Innovation Centre. It’s like the HiVE but on a larger scale and is almost purely made up of digital startups. I’m at the HiVE because that was the model our expansion was built on. Coworking spaces are good places to meet people and network, especially when we want to connect with startups. We are only in coworking spaces in Boston and Vancouver – in all other places we have our own office space. I’m also a relatively social person, so if the decision is between me sitting in an office by myself or being in a space with a bunch of other people – I would prefer to do the latter, of course.
What do you like about this shift, what do you like about your job now?
Part of why I took the job with Pentalog and why I started working with them is because their organization is very well set-up. An organization that cares about its welfare, it starts from the five people who founded it and four of those people who started the company twenty years ago still work there. With that core group of people, they’ve built an organization that still has a lot of the same principles, and care for each other even though it has grown into a company of a nearly a thousand people. The process that they’ve learned and incorporated into the system is very robust.
I really like the organization on so many different levels and I really like the people – and that is something that I enjoy, coming from the military, caring about the people that you work with and their welfare. They all provide me with a lot of help, support, and direction. Right now I’m doing business development, and once I’ve developed the business enough and has more demand, I would definitely look into bringing on an additional person.
What else do you do or where else can people find you, outside of the HiVE?
Well, I’m still involved in the army part-time. I play on a hockey team. I also play on a volleyball team. And my girlfriend and my friends pretty much occupy the rest of my life. I still travel a lot – my girlfriend is from Brazil and we’ve both intended to have jobs wherein we can be pretty transient. A lot of my family is back in Saskatchewan, and I try to see them a few times a year as well.
You’re one of the more social members here at the HiVE. So far, whom have you met here that you find really interesting or have connected well with?
Marie, because she works for an international French company and that’s interesting. Theresa, because I enjoy the aspect of social entrepreneurship and community involvement in business. Anthony Tsui, as I’m very interested in Bitcoin, and he works in Bitcoin security. I haven’t worked with anyone here just yet, but there are some potential projects.
What do you like the most about being at the HiVE and what is something you’d improve on?
I like the social interaction the most. As for what I would improve on, I think every week we should have a dedicated time, at lunch or right after work, where HiVE members can mingle. We can set aside a time and space and everybody knows what it is, so we can learn more about what exactly they do so we are able to refer each other to collaborate together. Maybe something like 2-minute LinkedIn networking meetups, where everybody has their phone, with LinkedIn open and connect with each other.
Would you rather know it all or have it all?
I am someone whom I think seeks more knowledge than “stuff” so I would rather know more than have more. I wouldn’t ever try to know it all either, but pursuing self improvement is a valuable endeavor, and something that lasts a lifetime.
Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.