Posted on 08 February 2011.
Coworking has become a big trend in the tech and startups space — an office full of people working on different things, who have no official ties to one another.
Because of this, it can be hard to get the behavioral balance right. Should you treat your coworkers as colleagues? Is it polite to just get coffee for yourself? How do you know when someone wants to chat or just be left alone?
We’ve talked to experienced coworkers from all around the world to get their Dos, Don’ts, other etiquette tips and general advice about how to be a better coworker. Whether you’re interested in the concept, new to coworking, or even a veteran of the shared office, we think you’ll find some useful tips here. And, as always, please share yours in the comments below.
1. Employ Audio Etiquette
Getting the sound balance right in a coworking space is crucial to success. One area that’s rife with potential for annoyance to others is noise. When you get down to it, people are there to work, and your noise pollution, whether that’s your phone ringing or a loud meeting, could be a distraction.
It’s not rocket science to work out how to keep a lid on the volume. As Lupo Montero, “village wizard” of E-NOISE says, “the most basic politeness rules apply like anywhere else.”
“In my personal experience, when I moved into The Cube, I was working with a small team of three people, which meant that now in a shared space we would need to find alternative spaces to have meetings,” says Montero.
“Coworking spaces are great for many reasons, but there is a small price to pay in terms of privacy. A very obvious ‘don’t’ is attempting to have meetings in a room with other people who don’t care about what you are talking about and who are trying to concentrate on their own work.
“Most coworking spaces offer meeting rooms for this reason. I would say do consider that you might need to leave the room to answer a phone call (not to annoy your coworkers) and do expect to have to make special arrangements to host meetings, workshops and so on,” Montero adds.
“Don’t talk loudly on your phone or act like it’s your own private office space,” agrees Beth Charlesworth, director of A Little Bird Told Me, while Tom Cox, founder of 15gifts.com advises “going to a quiet corner for those important calls.”
And even more annoying than talking loudly on the phone is not answering it at all. “Yes, the ring on your cell phone is really funny but if you leave it on your desk when you head out for lunch and it rings for the entirety of that time, it won’t be here when you get back,” warns Alexandra Kruse, community cultivator at Office Nomads.
Steve Grigory, VP of marketing at eVenues suggests a simple solution: “Think about turning the ring volume on your cell phone down in the office since the phone is always near you and doesn’t need to be at the volume level of ‘I want to hear it ring on a crowded bus.’ Do you really need the phone to buzz, beep or vibrate every time you get an e-mail or a text in the office?”
2. Be Respectful of the Space
When it comes down to it, coworking is about sharing a physical space with an ever-changing group of fellow humans. That space needs to be treated with respect in order for it to be a pleasant environment for everyone.
Swanning in, using and abusing the facilities and swanning back out is not going to earn you the coworker-of-the-year award. Here’s some advice from experienced coworkers about best practice for the coworking workplace.
“Help the workplace to be more efficient and sustainable — it’s easy to forget that we all pay for the electricity, gas, etc,” says web developer David Lockie. Think about it, if you leave the kitchen light on when you leave the room empty, you’re going to be paying for that in part through your membership fees. Conserving energy will make for a more efficient workplace — and a happier planet.
“Don’t be precious about your favorite space,” continues Lockie. You may prefer the desk in the corner with the natural light, but if your membership level, or entire coworking space offers a free-for-all approach to desk space, then be prepared to work elsewhere — and don’t sulk about it.
Some coworking spaces, however, have regular “residents’” desks. If you do end up sitting at one, then leave it exactly as you found it. “Do not take or adjust the permanent residents’ chairs,” says Suzi Tucker. “It’s like having someone mess with the mirror settings on your car.”
Do your fair share of the workplace chores, suggests Charlesworth. “Do offer to do the chores no one wants to do, emptying the dishwasher, helping with the log-in sheet. You’ll get a big gold star and it’ll help the space run smoothly.”
Kevin Moss of Play This Next agrees. “It’s the little things that make a big difference; saying hello, making coffee, putting on the dishwasher. It’s what makes coworking work, but [it's] easy to forget.”
And as far as the tech side of things goes, don’t be a bandwidth hog. “Don’t use all the bandwidth to download personal stuff. Everyone’s sharing here,” says Charlesworth, while Nathalie Nahai of We Make Them Click warns about another online faux pas:
“If there is a member mailing list, don’t use it to spam people. Make sure any e-mails you do send out are clear and well conceived.”
And finally, Lockie says “Don’t make others share your rubbish day or news.” If you’re having a bad day, try not to drag others down with you. Your mood can affect the entire workplace.
“Be positive,” adds writer and journalist Frances Booth. “Your energy adds to the energy of the space, and together you can make it a really positive working environment where ideas happen.”
No coworker should be an island. There will be times you want to get your head down (and we’ve a suggestion for that) but the accepted wisdom is to get involved. “Participate, participate, participate,” says Jacob Sayles, cofounder of Office Nomads. But this also requires balance.
“Take the ‘temperature’ of the room and participate appropriately — if it’s a quiet room, then keep the noise down; if it’s lively, try and take part,” advises freelance writer and author Rob Beattie.
“Do respond to other people’s queries if you can help with something they need. You don’t have to spend hours giving away your time for free, but just spending ten minutes helping someone out with a problem can be enough to help create a reciprocal relationship that could develop in the future,” says Nahai. Alex O’Byrne, cofounder of We Make Websites agrees: “Be prepared to share your skills, contacts and experience with other coworkers and you’ll find they do the same for you.”
So, don’t forget your experience could be valuable to a coworker — as could theirs to you. “Bounce ideas off other coworkers and be willing to give ideas yourself –- a couple of minutes chatting through something can be the equivalent of hours of thinking through it yourself,” says Cox.
And if you really need to crack on with some work? “Use the power of the headphones,” suggests Cox. “If you know you’ve got loads on and you just need to get your head down, then put a headphone ear piece in. This nicely puts you in your own ‘zone’ and communicates to others that you are pretty hard at it.”
However, harking back to the audio etiquette advice — “Don’t forget that your headphones let your music leak out a bit, make sure you’re not annoying anyone,” suggests Lockie.
4. Make Coffee
One “do” that crept up again and again in the advice we solicited from experienced coworkers was related to — you guessed it – those all important hot beverages. In just about every workplace, making tea and coffee is a much appreciated activity.
“Never leave an empty coffee pot,” advises Sayles. Or if you hail from a country where tea is more the norm, make your fair share. Cox assures us that if you make tea for others, they’ll make it for you, week after week.
Taking things further down the refreshments route — Lockie suggests that bringing in the occasional treat, like cookies or fruit, will go a long way. “He or she who brings cookies in for no reason is a saint,” confirms Kruse, who also states that “offering to pick up lunch for other folks makes you a hero.”
And, if the office refreshments take a more serious twist, Kruse has advice for that too: “No matter what time the person next to you cracks a beer, be supportive. It’s totally 5 o’clock somewhere.”
In Jerry Springer style, we’ll leave you with a few final thoughts from David Lockie. These didn’t fit in to the categories above, but we feel they are definitely worth sharing. Heck, they can be applied to life in general.
1. Remember that your coworkers are people first and coworkers second. They all have their own pressures, challenges and goals.
2. Be respectful, courteous and considerate (i.e., just be a good human being.)
3. Don’t lend money or time that you’re not prepared to lose.
More Coworking Resources from Mashable:
- 6 Reasons to Start Coworking
- 7 Tips for Starting a Coworking Space
- HOW TO: Get the Most Out of a Coworking Space
- 5 Signs That Coworking Might Be for You
- Why Co-Working Makes Sense for Small Businesses
From top to bottom, images courtesy of CarbonNYC, EverJean, Michael Cory, Jeff Attaway, Leo-seta, Peter Dutton
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