5 Causes of Conflict in Coworking Spaces & How to Solve Them

Two people working

Coworking spaces are generally thought to be progressive, innovative and creative spaces that positively influence the people working there. They are considered to be bastions of collaboration and places that provide you with an amazing vibe of productivity.

While this may be true in most cases, sometimes the negative sides of working in a coshared office space are disregarded.

However, they have to be addressed in order to keep the vibe going and solve the arising problems which are bound to happen when you have so many different people from different business areas working together.

What are the Common Causes of Conflict in a Collaborative Working Environment?

Two women at work

The first thing that community managers need to understand is, that the residents that work in a co shared office space come from different socio-economic and geographic environments.

And that means that, more often than not, they all have different perceptions of the world, and different state of minds. So, sometimes, it can be really difficult to find somebody that shares your exact interest and opinions about the world.

They are used to different things, some are able to work with background noises, while others are not. Some give their share of effort and take into consideration the feelings of others, while others don’t, not because they are inconsiderate, but because it hasn’t even crossed their mind that their actions could cause dissatisfaction in others.

That is why, in order to solve a conflict productively, you need to be aware of all of the possible ones that could arise, and be ready to find an appropriate way to solve them. That way, you can restore the harmonious atmosphere among the working groups.

Continuous Distractions

The biggest problem in a coworking office space is the constant noise you are bound to be surrounded with when working in a place like this.

Just imagine all of the people doing different things which produce a certain noise: typing, having conversations over the phone, having conference calls, eating, stirring their coffee, listening to loud music you can hear even if they have their headphones on.

The list of possible sounds that can bother you at some point is endless.

You can lose your focus and get agitated because you have troubles working. You tried blocking out the noise, you tried noise-cancelling headphones, but it just doesn’t work. You simply have to say something, and voila, conflict arises.

Lack of Privacy

This represents one of the biggest challenges in shared work spaces. Even though coworking offices are advertised as places that can provide you with continual growth, that is not always the case.

Even though you have a lot of opportunities to connect with somebody that can help you make further advancement in your career, there are also people that can take advantage of the information they obtain from you. The closeness of personal work stations is also an issue, because everybody can see what you are working on.

Problems with Integration

A communal working space is often perceived as a place where everybody is a part of one community, working together to achieve both their personal goals and the general goals of the mentioned community.

However, as it happens in life, not everybody can fit perfectly. There are many nuances to someone’s character, so there are bound to be some problems.

Conflict Over Space

Woman working

As you already know, people renting a working area at their premises is how coworking companies make money. The more people pay, the more revenue they earn.

However, what happens when all of them happen to come at the same time to work?

Arguments arise, and fighting over who sits where, and why. This problem is a difficult one to solve, because everybody has the same right to come and demand a work place, if they have paid for it.

That is why your solution needs to address making every side of the dispute happy, which can sometimes be a very tricky thing to do.

Different Personal Issues Coworkers Have Among Themselves

This problem is really challenging because, as soon as you put out one fire, another one sets off, and it’s a never ending loophole.

The diversity of people’s personalities makes coworking spaces both a gift and a curse. The usual problems arise from different issues: some people are messy, some are noisy, some have different senses of humor, some can be careless when it comes to other people’s commitments, other people’s belongings, and many other things.

How to Solve Conflicts in Coworking Spaces?

Now, as you’ve seen, and perhaps experienced, there are quite a few causes of conflict in a coworking space.

But, as with most things, when there’s a problem, there is also a solution. Here are some ways to if not solve, at least manage conflict.

Always Have a Community Manager

Having a community manager is one of the most important elements of any coworking space. Yes, a communal working area can provide you with a range of amenities and affordable workspace, but a community manager is the one who will solve any occurring issues that happen.

They are responsible for managing the space, improving any inadequacies and, most importantly, mitigating and managing relationships between people sharing office space. They are the ones that actually need to address all of the previously mentioned issues.

Anticipate Problems with Space

If you are trying to arrange a working space that will be suitable for the general population, you have to carefully plan it. This means you have to pay special attention to the number of designated seats, seating arrangements and equipment necessary for every worker.

A good seating arrangement can prevent a lot of tricky situations among employees. If you assign enough space to each user, they will be able to feel comfortable.

That way, you will reduce the possibility of a conflict arising. It is best to have different types of seating arrangements, from individual desks for people who like working alone, to big work tables for people who like company and don’t mind the commotion.

This will solve some of the biggest issues users have with privacy. If you succeed in providing your user with enough space to feel a bit isolated yet a part of the working community, you have managed to do it all. Many simple yet effective things can be done. For example, a cleverly placed plant or two can block some undesired views.

Set Clear Rules

People in coworking space

Before you allow any user to enter the co shared working space, you need to make rules and regulations clear. The biggest mistake you can make is to expect everybody to be aware of the general behavioral guidelines you expect them to follow. Talk openly about what is expected from them as a part of that community. Explain the dos and don’ts, so that they know what sorts of behaviors will not be tolerated.

It is very difficult to keep an eye on everybody every second of the day, so you have to rely on the rules you set to get across the general message. In addition to that, you have to take every opportunity to make the situation clear. The standards of the community need to be clear at all times. Putting notes around the place is not such a bad idea, because it will remind the people to act in an appropriate way.  

You have to encourage your team and the members of the coworking community to respect each other, emphasizing that there should be clear behavioral boundaries. For, example, elevated noise levels, as we have mentioned, can be a source of tension and conflict. You have to be clear about the rules about the noise so other members could work in peace.

React Early

Some friction between coworkers is bound to happen, we are all humans, after all. However, if you catch the conflict early in the making, you will be able to solve it more quickly before it blows out of proportion.

You have to always be aware of what is happening around you. If you look carefully, you will be able to see subtle signs of conflict and disagreement. When you notice those, you need to talk to the both sides and make them talk through the problem.

In most cases, such problems go away by themselves. However, when this is not the case, it is best to talk things through. When people have the opportunity to express their feelings openly and say what is bothering them, they stop being agitated so much. Half of your work is done right there. When people sense that they are noticed and that somebody shows respect towards what they are feeling, it will be a lot easier for you to find a way to solve their problem.

Be Sure to Recognize the Type of Conflict and Act Appropriately

As you may already know, there are several types of conflict.

The most frequent ones are the open and hidden ones. Hidden conflicts are usually characterized by passive-aggressive responses and closed body language. This type of conflict is sometimes even more dangerous than the open one, because it can last for a long time without being noticed, which can lead to terminal disruption of the coworking dynamics.

Again, it is important to involve all of the parties into a constructive dialogue where they can reveal their troubles and find a language of understanding. This way you will encourage them to share their emotions and make them feel their feelings are taken into consideration.

As for open conflicts, they are usually characterized by workers using strong language, responding with visible hostility and even shouting. In this case, you have to cool the situation down first. Separate the parties involved, allowing them to calm down and think about their actions.

Once this is done, remind them of the ground rules of the coworking space, express your view of things, clearly stating what the consequences are if this type of behavior continues. Then, try to make them find a common ground and express their dissatisfaction in a constructive way. You will estimate the situation and see if it is solvable or not.

Sometimes there is one person that constantly creates problems for others to work, so don’t hesitate to remove that person from the coworking space. That sort of behavior can only poison the atmosphere further, which is not what you desire at all.

Once the conflict is resolved, you must focus on making the parties involved commit to mutual agreement and understanding. Reflect on conclusions you have come to, and make sure they are aware of their commitment. Always do a check on them, so they are aware of their actions and that they are responsible for further development of things. Once you have reacted, everything is in their hands.

Avoiding a Conflict is Not the Key

Three people working

As we have mentioned, conflicts are bound to happen. By disregarding them, you are not doing yourself any favors. This won’t help you towards the path of establishing a good working environment.

Don’t minimize the conflict at all costs. Conflicts can be good as they can diffuse the situation. It is better to be out in the open, because then, you know what you are dealing with, and you can find a solution to the problem more efficiently, before it escalates.

Boost Integration of All Community Members

As it has been mentioned, there are members who have problems with becoming a part of the community. In this case, it is best to look for the ways to include those community members into the general working community. For example, you can invite them to join some extracurricular events, or provide online chat apps and other tools to keep them involved.

Organize additional meetings, or simple gatherings to help them get integrated into the coworking community. By doing this, you will make them feel more appreciated and wanted. In time, they will start making an additional effort themselves.

However, nothing should be forced too much. These things take time. You cannot force a person to become more open if they are not ready. Some freelancers, for example, who come there to work, can be somewhat introvert, and they need their time to get used to the situation and the people around them.

Conflict is something you cannot avoid, especially when there are so many different personalities occupying the same space. However, you need to be prepared for them, and use all the necessary tools and preventative measures. The main focus has to be on improving employee communication, because that is the core of establishing good interpersonal relationships

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