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7 Ways to Manage and Resolve Conflicts at a Coworking Space

Dhruv Mehta
7 Ways to Manage and Resolve Conflicts at a Coworking Space

From being an obscure concept when it was first introduced in 2005 to becoming a widely-accepted alternative to traditional offices in 2021, the evolution of coworking spaces has been phenomenal. Apart from industry giants like WeWork and Impact Hub, there are a plethora of small-scale coworking spaces cropping up across major cities and towns across the country.

While it is imperative to provide modern amenities and office supplies to attract clients, owners of coworking hubs also need to have a concrete plan in place to tackle conflicts between different parties sharing the workspace. Before we delve into conflict resolution tactics, we must address some common causes of friction between teams/individuals sharing the coworking space.

Common Reasons for Conflict in Coworking Environment

When people from different backgrounds, professions, ethnicities, and personal beliefs share a workspace, there are bound to be some disagreements. It is an intrinsic nature of humans to squabble over shared resources, and coworking communities are no different. Some common causes of conflicts include:

  • Noise Distractions - Playing loud music, constantly talking on calls, trivial conversations with colleagues during work hours can be a source of distraction for others in the coworking space.
  • Messy Kitchen and Dining Spaces - From spilling food and water on countertops to not disposing of food waste properly, plenty can go wrong in the shared kitchen and dining spaces.
  • Not Adhering to Community Rules - Occupying meeting rooms without prior booking, using projectors, desktops, and other resources that were reserved for others, are some examples of violating coworking policies that could lead to tension with the community.
  • Failed Collaborations - Coworking spaces offer the perfect setup to brainstorm and partner with other teams and individuals. At times, such collaborated ventures can crash and burn to become epic failures. This could sour the relationship between two parties and can eventually lead to a lot of finger-pointing.
  • Broken Commitments - From not respecting the deadline to failing to show up when needed, the endless list of broken commitments can fracture the team and disrupt the harmony of a coworking community
  • Contrasting Political/Religious Views - No two humans are made the same. And yet, people have this compulsive urge to convince others that their political ideologies and religious opinions are the only truth. Discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion at the workplace can lead to volatile repercussions.
  • Humor/Discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality - Pranks and jokes about gender and sexuality or treating someone differently due to their race or ethnicity is a serious problem that plagues coworking communities to this date. When such issues are not dealt with properly, they can escalate into full-blown arguments between two or more parties.

Theft, lack of trust, security concerns, etc, are some other problems that give rise to conflicts in coworking space.

How to Resolve Conflicts at a Coworking Space

resolve conflicts at a coworking space

1. Build a team culture

The first and the most important step to resolve conflicts is to preempt problems and nip them in the bud.

The burnout caused by working from home during the pandemic can leave a major impact on how people interact with one another in a professional setting. Most individuals might feel awkward talking to other people in real life. Such situations may lead to unexpected tensions between members of the coworking community. If you wish to keep conflicts at bay, it is your responsibility to help people bond as a team and make them feel comfortable in the coworking community.

When you create an environment of coexistence and harmony within the shared working spaces, half the battle is won.

Lay a strong foundation to build a positive team culture by:

  • Conducting a formal orientation program for each team to explain the rules of the land, what is expected of them, and the benefits of adhering to the policies of the coworking space.
  • Hosting icebreaker events that promote mingling of teams and individuals from varied professions. Such sessions help people to know their colleagues better.
  • Providing a safe platform for inter-community communications like a messenger, community newsfeed, chat app, or team management software. This would lead to the exchange of stories and ideas while helping everyone bond better with each other.

When your team culture is strong, there are lesser chances of conflicts creeping in. And when there are no conflicts, you don’t have to worry about resolution.

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2. Understand the issue through active listening

No matter how well your teams gel with one another, problems are bound to arise eventually. As the owner of the coworking enterprise, the most basic step you take towards problem-solving is by actively listening to all the parties involved in the conflict.

When you listen to people carefully, you would be able to grasp the underlying cause of the issue and that can help you devise a strategy for resolution. Apart from helping you understand the issue at hand, active listening also lets others speak and share their thoughts and opinions. When everyone has their say, it provides them with a medium to vent out their negative emotions and helps you big time in de-escalating the situation.

3. Schedule private meetings with parties involved

Don’t wash your dirty linen in public. We have all heard this idiom but tend to forget it during moments of heated verbal exchanges. As the owner of a coworking space, it is your responsibility to budge into ugly shouting matches and take the arguments to a private space to maintain the sanctity of the community.

If you ever witness discussions turning into full-blown abusive fights, you need to immediately remove the concerned parties from the public space and arrange for a private meeting to find an amicable conflict resolution. If both the parties involved can’t stand to be in the same room as one another, conduct separate meetings with each team giving them ample opportunity to blow off some steam.

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4. Call Community Manager for help

Every Batman needs a Robin. Similarly, every coworking space owner needs a community manager to run the entire system smoothly. A community manager is not just responsible for day-to-day operations of the shared workspace, but they can also be your able aide in matters of conflict resolution.

If initial rounds of discussions do not sort out the issues between two parties, you could rely on the community manager to conduct the next rounds of mediation. They can also become a confidant to those in need if one party feels threatened or harassed by another party involved in the conflict.

5. Try to understand conflict resolution styles and when to use them

By speaking to everyone involved in the dispute, you can gauge the mood of the group and can resort to one of the 5 styles of conflict resolution:

  • Competitive Style: When both parties are not ready to back down or take responsibility for their actions but instead continue to play the blame game, it leads to a complicated situation that might require an experienced mediator/negotiator.
  • Compromise Style: When both parties are not ready to discuss the issue further but are looking for a quick fix to get back to their jobs, it might lead to resolutions that are partially satisfactory for everyone involved. But beware of compromised resolutions as they tend to be short-lived. If both parties are still harboring resentment for one another, then the conflict can still rear its ugly head again.
  • Collaborative Style: If the teams involved in conflict want to solve the issue through communication and dialog with one another, such collaborative efforts should be welcomed with open arms as people are willing to look beyond their differences. If two teams at loggerheads can collaborate to find a positive resolution without blaming the other but not giving up on their opinions, it is a feat that is pretty rare to achieve.
  • Avoiding Style: This form of resolution should be used when one or both parties are not interested in any form of dialog at all. Even though it is not an ideal situation if both the parties decide to not interact with each other, it can still restore the serenity of the community. However, you must keep an eye out for passive-aggressive behaviors that can escalate the issue in no time.
  • Accommodating Style: If one of the parties involved in the dispute decides to give up their ground and concede the conflict to the other party, it could be a sign of fear of retribution or intimidation tactics. If one team is willing to accommodate a great deal, you must delve deep to understand their reasoning. As the owner, you need to ensure each client in the coworking space feels safe and secure.

6. Put on the Investigator’s hat

After you have conversed with both the conflicting factions and given them a platform to share their feelings about the issue, you need to conduct a private investigation by interviewing neutral members of the community. You can also view CCTV recordings to check how the conflict broke out and who initiated it. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to get to the root cause of the dispute.

7. Seek legal help if necessary

If the problem escalates to physical scuffles or both parties threatening each other with lawsuits, it is time to acknowledge that the issue is too big to be handled by you or the community manager. Such conflicts require either mediation or arbitration from corporate lawyers as they can help you with legal recourse without dragging your coworking space to court.

You must opt for a legal mediator if there is even a hint of compromise between the two conflicting parties. A mediator would try to resolve the issue as amicably as possible. On the other hand, an arbitrator should be called upon if a judgment needs to be passed on the issue outside of court. An arbitrator should be your last resort for legal intervention as they don’t resolve the conflict but just determine who is right and who is wrong.

From being an entrepreneur to being a service provider/facilitator, a coworking business owner has to juggle many hats. Apart from performing their major roles and responsibilities, they must learn these conflict resolution tips to squash the tension within the coworking community and retain clients for a longer period.

After all, a happy work environment is conducive to the productivity of all the parties in the coworking community. And there is no better parameter to measure the success of coworking space than the growth and prosperity of its clients.

The article was written by Dhruv Mehta is a Digital Marketing Professional who works as a brand consultant and provides solutions in the digital era. In his free time, he loves to write about marketing, finance & tech. Reach out to him on Digital Dhruv or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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