[Executive Edge] Networking with movers and shakers
A few weekends ago, I wanted to go to several business events to network. Problem was, the events conflicted with one another. I ended up happily going to Blogapalooza, while still wishing that Blogopolis or the Webgeeks Conference were held on a different day.
Co-working spaces solve this problem that I, and other professionals like me, often have: How do you meet friendly, like-minded people in the Philippines who can help your career or your business? They are office spaces with carrels, tables, meeting rooms, and conference rooms, depending on location.
But co-working involves more than just a venue – it’s a frame of mind. The people who lease space there, your coworkers, don’t want to just work alongside you. Rather, they want to work with you. The goal of co-working, after all, is collaboration in all its forms.
To borrow some business speak, there should be some cross-pollination and synergy in working together. It can be anything – from a coworker helping you build your website, to a coworker passing on potential leads.
There are many co-working spaces in the Philippines, including co.lab in Ortigas, aSpace Manila in Makati, 47 East in Quezon City, and Location63 in Cebu. I spoke to staff and coworkers from some of them about how business people, even those just dropping in for a day, can make the most out of their stay.
Think in terms of the community
Many of the coworkers and administrators had favorable and positive things to say about other co-working places. The general consensus seemed to be that you couldn’t go wrong with any particular co-working place, but that you should be aware of the strengths of each.
In particular, when choosing a co-working space, you should get a real feel of the community. Zar Castro, a marketing consultant from 47 East, captured the spirit of their co-working space perfectly.
“Since we’re located in the Katipunan area, we’re working on strengthening the startup scene here,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential particularly due to the proximity of universities such as Ateneo and UP, and we are hoping to encourage entrepreneurship amongst these students. We have established entrepreneurs who work at the space sometimes and it’s always interesting when a student working on a startup interacts with these people. Everyone is very open to learning from each other, and even the established entrepreneurs are always willing to help.”
Of course, the best way to get a feel of a co-working space and its coworkers is simply to visit. Most have free or discounted daily or weekly passes that prospective coworkers can avail of.
View everyone as a learning opportunity
Co-working spaces attract a wide range of people from all different industries and from all different walks of life. Some are freelancers, others are working professionals. A few have established companies or are working on their first startup.
Yet no matter who they are, there is always something to learn from them. The co-working space helps facilitate such learning, but you need to make it a point to be open to such opportunities. Zar Castro emphasized the idea that you “everyone can learn from someone.”
She said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re an award winning entrepreneur and you’ve had speaking engagements or regularly interact with VIPs, you can still learn from a student who is just starting out. The point is to listen and set your ego aside.”
Noreen Bautista, the general manager of CBS Social Enterprise Asia, also works at 47 East and feels similarly. “I love being with people from diverse backgrounds. It doesn't matter whether they are in IT, graphic design, business, accounting, or if they are still students,” Bautista said. “I learn a lot from every individual. They must of course be willing and open to meet people. That facilitates a lot of camaraderie, and eventually collaboration.”
View everyone as an opportunity for constructive criticism
In the same way that people can teach you something new, they can also help you avoid mistakes that they have made. Many of them have been in similar business situations or positions. So you should by all means use them as a sounding board for new ideas.
Their criticism can save you plenty of time, money, and energy in the long run. Zar Castro recommends that you not only seek out such constructive criticism, but that you develop a thick skin, so you can genuinely make use of it.
“Sometimes people can be set on their own ideas and they take it personally whenever someone points out a flaw in their reasoning,” she said. “You need to be able to separate yourself from your work. If you can’t, you’ll always try and avoid negative (but constructive) criticism and you won’t be able to make the necessary adjustments to make your service or business better.”
Reach out to others (Don’t be shy)
Filipinos may be naturally shy or even wary of strangers. This may be a healthy mentality to have in the streets of Makati, but it should not be one you bring into a co-working space. You must be confident in putting yourself out there. The risk in doing so is absolutely minimal: Coworkers are there to network and collaborate, so your friendliness should be met in kind.
Matt Pontoles is the founder of Manila Recruitment and works out of aSpace Manila. He said, “People need to be social in a co-working space. You can’t walk around with your head down, you have to say ‘hi’ and proactively strike up conversation if you want to meet other interesting people.”
To wit, Rachel Davis, the culture curator at Homegrown, tries to take her breaks and eat within co.lab. This way she gets to meet the “newbies.” She summed up her overall advice as thus: “To make the most out of your collaborations or opportunities to collaborate, I would advise co-workers to get to know the people in their co-working space. Don't be shy about going up to new people and asking them what they do or what projects they're working on. More often than you realize, you will find someone who can help you or who you can help.”
Ask for introductions
In terms of pure numbers, very few people actually work from co-working spaces or attend events held there. However, given that coworkers do tend to be movers and shakers, they have large and diverse social circles.
Raymund Bermejo, the president of ASES Manila, said, “I do ask my coworkers for intros and sometimes they do offer an intro on their own. Usually this happens after I show them what I'm working on or after I pick their brains. Usually, it's Zar Castro who's always the first one to drop in and update me on events and if she met someone I would be interested in meeting for a partnership or a potential lead.”
This practice is common across all co-working spaces. Carlo Abueg, the creative director and co-founder at Vector Design Studio, said the following in reference to his experiences at co.lab: “You will meet someone who knows someone who can refer you to someone. All of your business needs can be taken care of as long as you communicate and reach out to others. Most likely, your co-workers will be open to collaboration even on relatively small minutiae like finding a printer for your business cards.”
Rachel Davis acknowledged the inherent challenges of working from a co-working space. “Co.lab, where I work out of, is filled with young fun creatives, which can be distracting, but also great for collaboration because every simple conversation can turn into an exciting new project.”
To keep the focus on productivity, she said, “You need to learn how to discipline yourself and do what needs to be done.” To this end, she recommends signaling in some way when you need to buckle down and focus on your own work. “My personal trick is to put my headphones on and listen to music. People know that that means I'm working on something.”
Noreen Bautista has seen similar practices at 47 East. “Usually when one has headphones on, that's someone you can't distract. But it's all organic. You would know if someone can be distracted or not. Just make sure you have your ways of being focused on your work without coming off as too aloof to people.”
Work with your space, not just at it
Nearly everyone I spoke gave universal praise for the administration and staff at their respective co-working spaces, including Zar Castro of 47 East. Not surprisingly, she advised for coworkers to seek help from their co-working spaces.
“Your co-working space (it doesn’t really matter which one) is there to help you out,” Castro said. “If you’re looking for an avenue to meet people or pitch an idea or an event, let the folks over at your co-working space know. It’s also why I like talking to the people who cowork at 47 East. Since they have a better understanding of the needs of the community, they can help me come up with events or programs that will be able to help them out.”
Case in point, Vincent Ong, the founder of Halo Halo Books, gave this praise for co.lab: “The management is super friendly. They are only waiting for you to speak up.” When he approached them, he was able to arrange for a speaking presentation at one of their monthly “jellies,” which are mixers where people will ideally “gel” together. This was helpful to Jan because co.lab is “inhabited by movers and shakers of the social enterprise movement,” all of whom can be “valuable in creating equity for Halo Halo Books.”
Be the first to help
As businessmen, we want to make the best use of our resources, and this includes our time and energy. This may encourage us to seek collaboration with people only when it is mutually beneficial to do so. Carlo Abueg would caution against this. He instead promotes an attitude of helping your coworkers without necessarily seeking anything in return.
“Be yourself, be truthful and frank about your work and why you are there,” he said. “Most of your coworkers are probably feeling the same anxieties you are about their own ventures - so it's a good place to release all of that anxiety since you're all on the same boat. Co-working spaces are not the place to be selfish or self-centered. Be there to help others and try not to shell up – most likely it will come back tenfold.”
Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz