Concurrents: Work and Network Everywhere 

Maria VanDeman

Once upon a time (last week), I was sitting in the office of my primary care doctor.  He must have been feeling extra chatty because he started asking about what I do.  After learning of my job in the workplace and healthcare furniture markets for OFS and Carolina, he proceeded to ask my opinion on his guest chairs (refresh, please!) and lovingly showed off his new Aeron chair (great, thanks!).  The interaction with my friendly, gray-haired doctor gave me a smile. It also got me thinking that connections and networks can be formed everywhere, even in unexpected places.

While the purpose of casual daily interactions is not to gain business contacts, it’s been surprising to see how often professional synergies occur between people I meet on a regular day, whether at the local coffee shop, Saturday soccer practice, an early morning flight, or at my own doctor’s office.  

Many of our workplaces have evolved to include “third spaces” outside of the home and office where our 9-to-5 relationships are not only with other colleagues but also with our neighbors, co-travelers, espresso enthusiasts and others who choose to work and interact as we do.  With the evolution of the office comes the opportunity to grow and connect through everyday interactions in both physical and digital circles. 

Everywhere Work

As our workspaces expand beyond traditional boundaries, various sectors of interior design are providing solutions to support work happening everywhere.  In conversations with both hospitality and healthcare designers (two polar opposites on the interior design spectrum), both the hotel lobby and the acute care hospital now integrate adaptable spaces with power, flexible seating and laptop tables to meet the users’ evolving needs.  

The gym is also no longer just for working out.  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Forget the Office Gym. Welcome to the Gym Office,” reporter Anne Marie Chaker highlighted the tie between self-care and work, where gyms are capitalizing on their audiences and converting captive fitness buffs to convenient coworking members. These amenity spaces are extensions of the conventional office, providing patrons and professionals with new flexible places full of like-minded people.  Whether you love it or hate it, spaces designed for productivity are everywhere we go. 

Physical Network

We have the opportunity to evolve and learn from a new network as diverse as the limitless geography of the new workplace.  A network is not only a professional and personal asset, but also a mutually beneficial support system. Accessing people from diverse professions, backgrounds, and skills is an added benefit of a hybrid work environment, fostering growth and development with every interaction.

Are we open to engaging the people around us? Or are our noise-canceling headphones keeping us from the broker, developer, designer or CEO we’ve been dying to meet? Can the transformation of work support new valuable relationships and unexpected partnerships in places like coffee shops or hotel lobbies?  Consider striking up conversations, asking questions, and sharing experiences to initiate potentially meaningful connections. 

Digital Network

Our network can be formed in both physical and digital spaces, with social media offering a bridge between screens and personal interactions. Initially, I hesitated to blend personal life and family with professional contacts during my early days at OFS.  Now, I find it gives a greater window into the lives of colleagues and clients for more insightful and personal relationships.  Having specific conversations like, “Tell me about your amazing trip to Europe with your mom,” instead of a generic, “How are you?” can lead to genuine friendships and purposeful connections. 

Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram have become powerful hubs for marketing, community building, and career growth.  In a LinkedIn survey of almost 16,000 members across 17 countries, 70% of people in 2016 were hired by a company where they had a connection and one-quarter established new business partnerships through LinkedIn conversations. By sharing valuable content, engaging with admired individuals, and communicating with purpose on social channels, we benefit from the network formed through technology.   

Are we utilizing social media just for fun and friendship, or are we layering on the benefit of growth and professional connection?  Networking doesn’t have to be all serious. We can still enjoy funny cat videos and silly memes while building trust and relationships through the exchange of ideas, opportunities and resources in both the physical and digital space.  

 In a world where networking and the workplace know no bounds, let’s keep our eyes peeled for every chance to connect (even in the doctor’s office chair). Purposeful interactions can not only provide much needed human connection, but they can also expand our network of opportunity, influence, professional relationships and growth. Whether it’s over a cup of coffee or a social media comment, the next game-changing interaction might just be around the corner.  So sip, chat, and seize opportunities in whatever space or format it may arise.

Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an accomplished workplace advisor at OFS, interior designer, published children’s book author and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  With a passion for helping people and designing for human needs, Maria strives to make a positive impact on the world through her work and mentorship.  Connect with Maria on LinkedIn: