You're Not Alone Anymore!|
How Your Office Mates Can Help You Build A Better Company
By Jeff Landers
“The best thing about sharing an office is that we now have on-site networking…and we don't have to leave our desks to do it,” Maria said, talking to me from the hip downtown Manhattan office space she shares with six other companies.
“We've really maximized our relationships right here in the office.”
This was exciting for me to hear -- that people who shared offices put their entrepreneurial experience to work and networked right at their desks.
I was so excited by this that I called many of my clients who were in shared spaces and even some who were in executive suites and I asked them about this very thing - What creative ways have you used your shared space to improve your business and networking?
I had no idea what to expect. Maybe Maria's experience was unique, a product of her charismatic personality and her will to succeed. But the opposite was true. Entrepreneurs are using their ambition and networking skills to maximize their client list right in their own offices.
The very idea of sharing space either as a subtenant or in an executive suite means that you are in the world, connecting to and interacting with other people. Because of this simple change in logistics, you are not locked away in your home office with only Oprah and Maurey to keep you company. You almost have to network. We are social animals after all and we are pulled by the call of the wild to be with other folks.
So, how can you maximize the relationships you have right around you in your office space? I asked my clients that very question and these are some of the best tips they offered based on their own personal experience of how they created meaningful relationships that improved their business.
Throw a Party
There's nothing like an office party and a few cups (only a few) of punch to break down walls and create long-lasting partnerships. The next time you are thinking about having a little post-work soiree or lunch time gathering, invite your office mates. They will appreciate the good gesture and everyone will get to know each other better.
Janet told me she set up a fancy breakfast the week she moved her tiny law firm into her executive suite and invited everyone to the conference room for coffee and a continental breakfast.
“I was kind of intimidated. The people around us were very established and we were this struggling fledgling firm.”
But the breakfast she hosted was not only an act of bravery - It successfully broke the ice and enhanced her business.
“I got a chance to talk about what we really did. Now, one of the larger and more established law firm sends us referrals for clients that are too small for their business. It's worked out great for both of us,” she said.
“Just having a few minutes to really talk about our business in an informal setting was great for our business.”
- There is no substitute for a clear and specific invitation
Rick tried to create a similar kind of event in his shared space in Greenwich Village. He hosted an after work cocktail and invited everyone in the office, roughly 30 people.
“It was a mess…I put up a notice on the kitchen bulletin board and thought the place would fill up by 7pm. I bought tons of food and made margaritas. Only six people came. I was embarrassed.” Rick confessed.
The experience was so disappointing, he vowed to never host another party again. But I asked him to try it again, only this time to ask everyone personally. He was apprehensive but he tried it.
“I made an invitation on my computer with details about the party. I used the title “Jacobs-Evers wants to get to know their new office mates - Come have a drink with us!” Rick explained.
“…and I personally hand-delivered the invite to each desk.”
Turns out many of the people in the office hadn't even looked at the bulletin board and were oblivious that there was a party. By creating a party with a networking purpose and hand-delivering it to every person, he gave the party a personal touch. He also had an excuse to talk to every person in the office and get to know their names.
“Second time's a charm.” Rick told me the other day.
“The party lasted until 2am and I think we discovered some interesting ways to work together in the future.”
Don't assume people will respond to a half-hearted or unstructured invite. People need boundaries and they don't want to feel awkward walking into an unknown environment. People need reassurance that they are wanted at the event. The more specific you are, the more comfortable people will feel and the more they will respond.
- Be generous -- Good deeds beget more good deeds
A good way to connect with people is to do something nice. A favor, a phone call or a referral can go a long way to creating a strong working relationship.
If the business next to you needs to buy a new copier and you know someone who can get them a discount, make a phone call. If you are not going to take on a potential new client but you feel comfortable making a referral to your office mate, do it. If your little sister can sub in as a receptionist while they look for a replacement, offer it and make it happen.
These little gestures often take minutes of your time but they can have a lasting impact with people just getting to know you. Don't waste an opportunity to show people what kind of person you are and what kind of business you run.
Phil helped his office mate after meeting him only once in the hallway.
“He had a huge deadline and was two staff people down. I had been there more than once, so I lent him some of my assistants for three days and it made all the difference.”
That single act was the basis for years of friendship and work together. Crisis is always an opportunity for you to show people what you're made of.
- Don't be a nuisance
Boundaries are everything. Yes, you should reach out to the people around you. And
yes, you should try to make complimentary business connections but if people aren't biting, you shouldn't keep pushing.
“I wasn't picking up on the signals,” Russ confided to me.
“All I wanted was to see if I could get the company next to me to make an introduction.
They seemed very pleasant about it at first but I stayed on them and finally, the Director took me aside and told me I should “let it go”. The relationship was never the same after that.”
The thing that makes you a great entrepreneur - drive, tenacity, the ability to by-pass “No” - can also make you a predator in the closed space of an office. Make sure you are creating and responding to boundaries. 90% of our communication is non-verbal, so look for the cues and take them to heart. If you feel a little resistance, back off.
- Take a second look
You may not think the guy in the next office plugging away on his computer has anything to do with you or your business, but you might be wrong.
Wendy, a marketing consultant in the fashion industry, barely spoke to Wayne who shared her office.
“He was always hunched over his computer, doing something complicated with numbers and figures. It never occurred to me his business would have anything in common with my business.” Wendy said.
It turns out Wayne was a financial planner for some very big fashion clients.
“We got to talking in the office kitchen and really hit it off. Then, we realized we worked primarily in the same industry. It was incredible! That week, I started introducing my clients to him and he started introducing his clients to me.”
Sometimes we just don't give someone a second look. They might be shy, aloof or involved in a business that seems completely different than ours, but there is always a benefit to looking deeper - To being curious and interested in people around us.
You never know what you might find in your new office! -- A long-lasting partnership, a life-long friendship, a good vibe in your office, better clients, a healthier business, a more fulfilled life…Who Knows!
Just get out of your home office dungeon -- The possibilities are endless out there!
Jeff Landers is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in commercial real estate since 1974. His company, Offices2share.com, helps small businesses nationwide make the leap from home office to “real” office with simple and cost-efficient alternatives. His advice has helped thousands of small businesses reach the next level of their development. You can reach him at Landers@offices2share.com.
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