Before the coworking craze began a few years ago, I found myself hopping from café to café, hoping for good WiFi, a decent cup of coffee, and crowd noise slightly less than that at a Queen concert.
Then, WeWork catapulted onto the scene in Tel Aviv, my primary homebase, and a plethora of other coworking spaces followed in line. Today, Tel Aviv (a city with less than half-a-million residents, mind you) is home to more than 55 coworking spaces, making it one of the world’s coworking capitals.
For both individuals and teams, coworking spaces present all types of positive transformations in how we work: economical sharing and community, to name a few. However, like most everything in life, there are two sides to the coin.
The second, often-less-talked about side of the coworking space coin is the frank truth that coworking offices, with their tight quarters, open spaces and transparent walls, make for an inherently unproductive environment.
Here are a few productivity strategies to employ if you currently make use of a coworking space, or if you plan to do so in the future.
Create a “Deep Work” environment.
To be productive is to enhance your ability to perform “Deep Work,” a term coined by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport in his book Deep Work.
“Deep Work” is the skill of performing tasks and activities in a state of distraction-free concentration, ultimately pushing your cognitive capabilities to their limit. According to Newport, “Deep Work” enables two core abilities for thriving in today’s global economy: (1) the ability to quickly master hard things, and (2) the ability to produce at an elite level in terms of quality and speed.
To optimize your “Deep Work” abilities, download my complete checklist of “Deep Work” activities, but here are two activities that are incredibly important for coworking spaces:
— Sit with your back to high-traffic areas in order to minimize the amount of times you get distracted and lose focus. Every interruption, whether direct or indirect, can cost you more than 20 minutes, and double your error rate.
— Work with earphones, even if you don’t want to listen to music. (If you do want to listen to music, listening to a single song on repeat can do wonders for productivity). When you’re wearing earphones, people are less likely to interrupt you, because they make you appear extra-busy.
Adopt a “no phones” policy within your office space.
Have you ever noticed that, when someone else yawns, you’re more likely to yawn? It’s a real phenomenon called contagious yawning.
Smartphone use can also be contagious; when someone else is using their smartphone for whatever reason, we’re tempted to use our phone too. Hence why adopting a “no phones” policy within your office space will reduce effects of “contagious smartphone use” — which results in the inability for people to sustain long periods of focus and perform “Deep Work,” chronic distractions, and even addiction.
Make the policy simple: Upon entering the office, put your phone on silent and place it in a designated bin; if you want or need to use your phone, collect it from the bin and walk outside the office.
Don’t worry about putting a limit on the amount of times people can walk outside the office to use their phone. Thanks to the Law of Least Effort, habits (i.e. using your phone) become more difficult when you increase the friction associated with them (i.e. needing to walk outside the office to use your phone), according to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits.
Use software to minimize meetings.
For the most part, meetings are where productivity goes to die. In a coworking space, too many meetings can cost you money if you need to reserve extra meeting rooms. Or, if you need to hold them in your office space, meetings can interrupt other people in the office who are not directly involved. (Don’t get me started about holding meetings in public spaces, where distractions run rampant.)
When you think about it, meetings are really a form of group communication, which means you can achieve the same result through technology and software. My team uses Monday.com for project management and non-urgent communications, and WhatsApp for truly urgent items, both of which minimize our need and the temptation for meetings.
Make the office a work-only environment.
Sleep experts recommend you only use your bed to sleep, so your brain doesn’t associate it with other activities, therefore making it easier to sleep well. The same can be said about an office: Only use the office to work, so your brain doesn’t associate it with other activities, therefore making it easier to create a productive environment.
With this in mind, create a policy of sorts that requires everyone to go outside the office if they want to eat or snack, engage in interpersonal conversations, or do anything else that doesn’t fall under the work umbrella.
This isn’t to say you should discourage people from being human; it simply means you should encourage them to do so outside the office, so you can maintain a highly productive workspace.