The idea of coworking is not new for ADHD adults. Though you may have heard it referred to as body doubling and, perhaps, thought of it as something done in person. Now, of course, that has changed, as coworking/body doubling is done as often in virtual spaces. And that is a definite boon for ADHD adults for reasons I’ll explore in a bit.
It seems, since I first started writing about body doubling for ADHD adults in 2013, it has become much more popular in the last few years. Maybe that’s because it took an upswing in the early days of Covid; a time when people were craving connection, as well as support in being productive while at home with all the competing distractions.
I have come to see virtual coworking as one of the must-have tools for ADHD adults. Mostly because I have seen how incredibly helpful it is for both individual and group clients to accomplish both personal and professional work, whether working at home or in an office.
And I think you might see the same results. So, I’m hoping you will give it a try, if you have not already.
What Are Virtual Coworking Spaces?
Virtual coworking spaces, for those of you who may not be familiar with them, are spaces online where you connect with others to work on your own projects/tasks. You can think of it as parallel play. Though, in some instances, you may use chat, you’re usually on video so you can see each other.
There are two ways to organize virtual coworking spaces.
One way is to just show up in a space where people are working, similar to a physical coworking space. That is, you enter the virtual room and just get to work. For some this is enough structure to help motivate them to do the work they intend. You can experiment to see if this might work for you.
The alternative is to add a bit of structure to the virtual coworking space to maximize the chances of following through on your intentions. I find this one particularly useful for ADHD adults. And we use a form of this in the coworking space that is included in the ADDed Perspectives Online Membership Group. I’ll refer to this type in this post.
I encourage you to try both types to see which works best for you. You may find they both work well at different times.
Reasons You May Be Reticent to Try Virtual Coworking
For those of you who aren’t sure this may be right for you, here are some of the reasons you may feel hesitant..
One reason I often hear from people as to why they don’t want to try a virtual coworking space is that it would be too weird just looking at a stranger. I get it, being an introvert myself. The feedback I’ve received from people with this concern is that, indeed, it felt weird initially. But that feeling quickly dissipated as they found the people they were matched with to be nice and interesting.
So, I think the way to address this concern is just to try it. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work. And, in that case, if you’re still interested in participating in virtual coworking spaces, you could seek out opportunities to work with people you already know and are comfortable with.
Another reason some people point to as a reason they are reticent to trying virtual coworking is the technical aspect. No doubt, you will need to be sure your internet connection is fast/strong enough and your hardware, computer/phone, is in good working order. This may take a little leg work to ensure you are ready. But, if you haven’t already guessed, I think it is worth it!
The third reason I’ve heard for being unsure about using virtual coworking spaces is privacy and safety. I definitely want you to be safe. You’ll find that reputable services have guidelines, as well as steps you can take if you ever have concerns. For example, Focusmate has guidelines that include a list of forbidden behaviors and what to do if you encounter any of these behaviors. Though, I have not yet heard of anyone having any of these problems.
So let’s get on with exploring the reasons ADHD adults in particular might benefit from participating in virtual coworking spaces, whether they set it up with people they know or use a service.
How ADHD Adults Get The Dopamine Needed To Act
Though I think you’re probably already familiar with the following information, let’s start with a little bit of review. Can’t hurt, right?
Remember, one of the reasons you have difficulties doing what is important, but perhaps not intrinsically interesting to you, is because there is insufficient dopamine in the reward center of your brain. So your brain just isn’t getting the stimulation it needs to help you perform.
To accommodate for this, ADHD adults have an interest-based nervous system. That is, when a task has some element of novelty, interest, urgency or challenge, the reward system in your brain will release the dopamine needed for stimulation , making it easier for you to act.
But if the task isn’t interesting to you, it can be incredibly hard to start and follow through. This isn’t anything you do intentionally. It’s just your brain’s wiring! If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out my blog article, Do You Know the 2 Reasons You Have Trouble Starting Tasks?
Why Starting Is Hard For ADHD Adults
Of course, this challenge can be quite problematic for you at times. I know some of the work you want to do is really important to you, even if the particular task doesn’t provide your brain the immediate stimulation it needs.
And because your brain is always seeking out the stimulation it needs to perform, even when you intend to do a task, you may easily get distracted by another task that is more stimulating for your ADHD brain. Again, this isn’t anything that you do intentionally. In fact, I’m sure you’re sometimes mystified when this happens to you. You may even tell yourself, “Maybe it’s really just not that important to me.”
While, I’m sure sometimes this may be true, I think more often these tasks are important to you. In these moments the primary challenge you’re having because of your ADHD is one of performance and self-regulation. So, even when you know what you want to do, it’s important to you, and you intend to do the task, you may not act.
Then you may resort to trying to force yourself, which rarely works, right? Alternatively, you may avoid the task indefinitely or until your sense of urgency kicks into high gear. Then you may deliver at the last moment and, perhaps, not do your best work. It’s stressful and overwhelming when this happens.
Participating in virtual coworking spaces can help you with these ADHD challenges.
#1 Execution Plan
One of the ways coworking helps is that you are committing to just showing up to work on what is important to you. This alone may be particularly helpful, as one of your ADHD challenges is often deciding when you’re going to do a task, especially when you have so many options.
But when you choose a specific task to work on and schedule a time to work on it in a virtual coworking space, that will help you follow through. Otherwise, remember, you may go through your day choosing whatever feels the most urgent in the moment.
So, for example, you may decide to schedule a coworking session to work on your expense report. The specificity of the time and the task will help you execute.
#2 Making a Commitment
You also know that choosing what to do and having a specific time is often not enough. I’m sure you’ve tried time blocking on your calendar. If you have, have you ever put a task on your calendar and then ignored it only to do something else that, yes feels more urgent or perhaps more interesting in the moment? I bet you have. 🙂
But when you make a commitment to show up by either scheduling with a service or with people you know, there’s a greater likelihood you will honor your intentions. It’s not a magic bullet, for sure. But the more you can stack the cards in favor of following through, the better.
Once you do show up, sharing what you are going to do at the beginning of each session will also help you follow through on your original intention. So, if you scheduled a session to work on the expense report, and then shared that that is how you’re going to spend your time, this enhances the chances of following through.
This is especially true when, at the end of the session, you share what you accomplished during the session. So, at the end of the session you could let your coworkers know how you fared in doing your expense report. And it’s unlikely, in my experience, you will veer from your original intention if you share at the beginning and the end.
Also, if you’ve been in virtual coworking spaces, you may have noticed that you tend to mirror the same energy, focus and attention. In part this is related to mirror neurons. The theory of mirror neurons is that you will act similarly to the other people you see working. Next time, notice how you work if someone is diligently working, as opposed to if they are doing something off camera.
Part of the theory is that social pressure is at play. That is, we want others in the coworking space to like us and want to work with us again. You certainly don’t want to feel like you are under a lens and need to perform, though. Rather this subtle pressure should be mostly undetectable. Like it is just operating in the background, as you are working.
The implication of mirroring and social pressure is that it can often be beneficial to have the camera on as much as possible. So you can see each other working, feel a good kind of pressure and want to work.
#5 Fostering Connections
While I’m listing fostering connections fifth on the list, it is definitely one of the more important benefits of coworking for ADHD adults. Just like being productive, doing what’s most important to you can be fraught with challenges, no doubt. Being in a space where you feel validated and safe, however you need to work, can help you without as much stress and without being overwhelming.
Also I don’t think the ultimate goal of participating in these spaces is just about getting stuff done. But rather it should be a time and in a place where you feel a certain comfort level, even if the task might be a bit challenging. If it’s just another place where you feel you have to put your nose to the grindstone, it’s not the right place for you.
So, pay attention to how you feel in various coworking spaces.
For example, I know the coworking space we’ve created as part of the Added Perspectives Membership group is one we all genuinely enjoy. Though we all get work done, I think the main reason people return week after week is for the camaraderie. It’s a win-win. We get work done and feel connected to each other.
What Are The Best Virtual Coworking Spaces For ADHD Adults?
The best coworking space is, of course, the one that you will use.
You may choose to use a service, of which there are many. Currently, Focusmate, which I referred to above, is a favorite among my clients as it is easy to use and has an established format to follow. Some use it as a regular part of their work day, scheduling a few sessions each day to help keep them on track. Others use it on an as-needed basis, such as when they want to do their Weekly Review.
But you may also choose to create your own coworking spaces with various people in your circles. If you do this you’ll want to create your own structure.
For example, it may look like this:
- Meet on camera at 2:00
- Share what you will be working on for the first 5 minutes
- Work for 45 minutes.
- Stop working at 2:50.
- Share what you accomplished and chat for a bit.
- End the session around 3:00
Create A Space That Works For You
There’s no right way or wrong way to create a virtual coworking space to help you do what is important to you. So experiment and see what works. As I often like to say, “It’s not an exam. So, you can’t fail.”
When thinking about how to execute on your important work I hope you’ll consider coworking as one of your options. Give it a try!