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For most coworking devotees, advocates and members coworking has changed their lives for the better. While most coworkers remain committed to their coworking spaces, not everyone finds their ideal coworking arrangement on the first try, and not everyone can stay at their preferred coworking space indefinitely. Whether you have been at your coworking space a few days or a few years. This article offers some ideas on how to tell whether it is time to dig your heels in and fix what is broken or whether it has simply time to move on.
By Michelle Leddon - Friday, 24 August 2012

As coworking spaces begin to proliferate, there are an increasing number of environments to chose from. There are coworking spaces targeting people with different professional backgrounds, open for a very diverse mix of coworkers, but also industry-specific or occupation-specific coworking spaces which are tailored to writers, others for tech workers, designers and programmers, some for artists, and the list goes on.

“Coworking spaces are growing up all over the globe. They are full of diverse populations with varying needs and requirements.” says Liz Elam, the curator of Link Coworking in Austin and the producer of GCUC. Coworkers can easily hop from one coworking space to another, and, if they are so inclined, can hop around the world.

Life events and changing spaces

Inasmuch as there are realities which drive coworkers into coworking spaces, there are also realities which may drive them out. Though most coworkers surveyed preferred to stay in their coworking spaces, some had considered leaving or had already left one coworking space for another. 

These departures or ruptures can stem from interpersonal conflicts to logistical problems and can be rooted in the mundane or based on more dramatic power struggles such as those explored in Nicole Poehler’s recent article on coworker exploitation. Poehler’s discussion urged coworkers to consider asymmetrical power relationships in the coworking arrangement and if coworking “can foster truly equal win-win situations, based on the coworking values of collaboration, openness, community, and accessibility.”

 “I think people change space when a life event causes them to change... move, job change or kids starting school.” Says Elam. The results of the Deskmag survey lend validity to Elam’s explanation.

Deskmag asked former coworkers who have left their coworking spaces to explain the reasons that they moved on. The largest percentage of former or ex-coworkers left their coworking environments, not because of conflicts or dissatisfaction, rather due to relocation or other issues relating to the proximity of their homes and families to their coworking space. 

Less then 10% of those surveyed said they were disappointed by the coworking space, 13% said they were bothered by the lack of privacy, a smaller percentage were turned off by noise levels, and eight percent left because they felt forced into community participation.

Moving out

Apart from finding yourself at geographical odds with your workplace when might it be time to switch coworking environments?

According to Jerome Chang, founder of Blankspaces in Los Angeles & member of LEXC, “It might be time to switch coworking spaces if the culture has changed to something you don't feel comfortable with.” Examples of this kind of cultural evolution are when a start up or other large coworking group moves in, when a coworking space expands, when rules change or when the amenities you initially valued disappear or are reapportioned.

“If you're unhappy in the space, you should look for alternative environments,”  Elam says, adding “I've also seen people change because a space has decided to change their direction and the member no longer feels valued.”

If it’s broken, try to fix it

If you aren’t entirely ready to abandon your space but can’t go on with as things are, it may be worth it to try to fix it: “You will get out of the space what you put into the space. If you want something to change, help make it happen.” says Elam.

Approach the site manager and solicit his or her help. “If the reason you're unhappy is due to something that the manager could or should address,” offers Chang, “you should talk to them about your concerns.”

Elam agrees saying “We're all constantly trying to listen to our members and figure out what is best for our respective communities. Just be open and honest.” 

Preserving Relationships

In the end, if you have decided to quit your coworking arrangement, it may be worth it to stay in touch with your ex-coworkers and stay connected to the community even as an occasional participant.  If you have the option, go back to your ex-coworking space and rent a desk for a day.

“Stay in touch. Don't totally disconnect.” says Elam. “Lots of coworking spaces have Linkedin groups for current and former members. Attend events that are open to alumni and the general public. Say something nice on Twitter. Just be a nice human.”

An Ounce of Prevention

It may be that that the best approach to getting out is finding out in the beginning exactly the kind of coworking you are getting into.

“Coworking attempts to gather like-minded folks to share a space and collaborate.  ‘Like-minded’ is subjective, whether for logistical or functional alignments...or personality-based reasons...or both,” says Chang. “At Blankspaces, we keep a more hands-off approach.  So far, our reputation and how our brand is received basically and organically 'recruits' the appropriate folks.”

It might also be time to get out says Chang, “If you now know more about what you like or don't like and your current coworking space just isn't that.”

Before signing on or investing time and resources into a community and a coworking space, find out more about what you want in a working environment, who you are and what kind of people you want to be around. Ask yourself if you are truly around “Like-minded” people. This might save you valuable time and energy.

If you aren’t certain of your own priorities and needs, it might take a bit of exploration to get to know what your options are and to learn more about your potential coworkers, the coworking space and yourself.

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