Just when you thought the popularity contest of high school lunch tables was over, the concept of shared workspaces is bringing them back.
Making friends at WeWork-style workspaces - areas usually populated with entrepreneurs, freelancers, aspiring business owners, students and those who can't afford a normal office and/or are looking for social interactions - is an enterprise that's "fraught with rejection and awkward encounters" according to the Wall Street Journal.
As the number of independent workers and freelancers rise, so do the number of people who seek out a shared workspace outside of the house. And as happens in any social setting, finding an "office buddy" in a room full of lonely adults sometimes becomes a task in and of itself - because what would going out to do work be if you simply just sat there and did work?
Like everything else in life, shared workspaces instead have to become reality-style-TV dating shows, with workers casting each other "off the island" while picking and choosing who they want to be social with.
“Relationship done. They ghosted me,” said one thin-skinned and petulant worker in Toronto, Jake Peters, after watching his usual work pal walk past his table one morning, only to go sit with someone else.
Amanda Caldwell, a 30 year old from Austin, Texas, put out a note on the web randomly asking people to join her when she was new to working remotely. "Just scream out ‘AMANDA!’ ” she wrote. "I’ll be the one that turns red." As many as 6 people now join her three days a week.
Co-working is even being called a new social skill set, requiring understanding boundaries between work time and social time. Nisha Garigarn, recently co-working in New York, learned this when someone inserted themselves into her work conversation without asking.
“She kind of inserted herself into the conversation I was having with my co-working friends. It was really awkward,” she whined. Garigarn eventually wound up watching a YouTube video on how to end conversations gracefully to deal with similar situations in the future.
Celso White, a 28 year old from Brooklyn, says that he steers clear of people who sound "too negative" on work calls. “Freelancing is about the liberation, it’s about actually loving what you do. If I’m working around someone who doesn’t feel that way, that’s a big downer for me,” he said, seemingly unaware that he had the option of staying home and doing work.
Hilary Corna, who is actually described in the WSJ writeup as "a vegan who prefers apples, dates and seaweed snacks" instead judges potential co-workers by their relationship with food. She said: "How people treat their food is very telling in how they treat their business."
"If someone can’t manage their daily life and productivity and get proper sleep and food, I trust them less to work with," she continued, oblivious to the fact that since these people aren't working at the same job as her, she's not really working with them.
A study performed in 2018 estimated that 56.7 million Americans are now freelancers, up 7% over the last 5 years, driven primarily by people between the ages of 18 and 34.
Among those who co-work, there's an unofficial language. While putting on headphones generally means "leave me alone", sitting in a common area can indicate being approachable for conversation. Wishing someone luck on their work generally marks the end of a conversation. Call us crazy, but we used to just refer to this as "common sense in social situations".
Alex Hillman, co-founder of the Philadelphia shared workspace Indy Hall said: “The thing that’s not obvious is that the relationships that form in co-working often have very little to do with work. We have to guide people on new ways to be curious about the people sitting next to them.”
And the punchline: at no point in the article did anyone ask why social interaction was even necessary, nor did they mention whether any actual work was getting done.