6 Essential Etiquette Rules for Great Coworking Spaces

Bright, modern coworking space and three men having a conversation next to a computer station

Austin Distel / Unsplash

Propelled by an ever-changing job market and the advent of new technologies, the coworking trend continues to grow worldwide, with some experts predicting that half of the US workforce will be self-employed by 2020. To stave off the isolation from working alone at home, many of these intrepid professionals will probably work out of a coffee shop or coworking space at one time or another.

Not surprisingly, in this brave new world where one's roster of officemates can change daily, the rules for good neighborly behavior aren't necessarily that clear, especially if one prefers to hop around and work out of more than one coworking space. You might think these would be obvious, but as Henry Alford over at the New York Times points out:

One theory of etiquette holds that manners are best in communities with fixed populations: If you know that you’ll see Tina again tomorrow (and Tuesday and Wednesday), you’re less likely to surreptitiously scarf down the rest of the half-eaten boysenberry yogurt she left in the office fridge, because daily exposure to her yogurt-based wistfulness will start to gnaw at you, and ultimately turn you into a Munch painting.

It's a pretty good point, since not all coworking spaces are going to operate like small-scale

where everyone knows each other. The cardinal rule is to be considerate -- and if you don't know, then ask. All is takes is one or two careless individuals to spoil it for others, so it's useful to know some basic rules for etiquette in these kinds of situations where somewhat unfamiliar people end up sharing the same space.

1. Mind the noise.

This is a big one, especially in places that are designed as open offices. Sound carries, and not everyone wants to hear your phone conversations with clients, or listen to backpacks and equipment banging around as newcomers settle in. Of course, each space will have its own attitudes of tolerance toward noise levels, so if you're new to the space, ask the host what the noise policy is, find out where in the office you can take calls, or take the time to get a feel for what your neighbors can abide.

2. Don't overbook or overstay in conference rooms.

One big perk of coworking spaces is having access to conference rooms where you can hold business meetings, brainstorm with your team, or just have a quiet space to cram in some work without any interruption. But it's a nuisance when people overstay their allotted time in the conference room -- if you know that time's up, try your best to vacate the room in a timely manner so that the next people using the room don't spend ten minutes waiting.

Another big problem is that sometimes members will overbook conference rooms "just in case," or forget to cancel their reservation when a client cancels the meeting -- resulting in an empty room rather than being used by someone who actually needs it. Everyone is guilty of forgetting to do something as simple as canceling a room reservation, but it may make the difference in someone else's day if one takes a few minutes to do just that.

3. Don't hog the shared equipment.

Another perk of coworking spaces is having access to shared office equipment, such as printers, scanners, or maybe even more specialized things like power tools in a coworking space that doubles as a DIY maker space, or exercise equipment in a shared office space that offers a gym in-house.

The point is, the keyword here is 'shared'. If you know you're going to print a truckload of pages, perhaps let people know beforehand, just in case someone else needs to print a small job and let them go first out of courtesy. Considerate behavior is like a meme: it lives and spreads if someone keeps it alive.

4. Keep the kitchen clean.

The kitchen is most likely the heart of any coworking space, a communal place that everyone can share meals or chat over a cup of tea or coffee. So it's easier if everyone tries to do their part in keeping it tidy as much as possible, perhaps by putting things back where they belong, and washing the cups and utensils you've used whenever possible. Some spaces may offer free snacks, but make sure you don't accidentally end up eating other people's personal food --especially stuff with someone else's name on it or what's stored in the fridge. Once again, if you don't know, ask. Refrain from microwaving fish for lunch -- it's an olfactory no-no.

5. Be friendly and keep an open mind.

This may seem like a common-sense thing to do in a coworking space -- after all, if you want to be anti-social, you can do it alone, at home. While it's understandable that work can get really busy at certain times, during those slower periods it does make a difference to the overall atmosphere when one makes an effort to introduce oneself and interact with your coworkers, as well as attending events being hosted on-site.

Of course, one of the main advantages of being part of collaborative office space is that it facilitates networking; one might never know what opportunities, connections or mutual sharing of skills could crop up from a simple hello to your neighbor. On the other hand, don't interrupt if someone is clearly busy. It's this open attitude that makes coworking spaces vibrant, creative and welcoming.

6. Spread the word.

If you're having a good experience with a coworking space, make sure to spread the word. Many of these spaces rely on getting people in through the doors to help them stay in business, so letting others know what you think, or promoting the space through your social networks online will do much toward that end.

In the end, these are just general guidelines, as each coworking space will have its own set of unique ground rules established. It might not be possible to remember all the rules of a particular shared space, but you can't go wrong if you are mindful and considerate of your fellow coworkers, and treat them as you'd like to be treated yourself. When done consistently over time, it'll go far in creating something that feels quite like a supportive community.