According to Wikipedia, the definition of co-working is “the social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but… who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with like-minded people in the same space.”
Sounds fantastic, right? But, ask anyone who’s worked remotely—even just a few times—and you’ll quickly find that co-working has its own unique set of challenges. For example: Is it OK to take a conference call in the general space? Is the common food really common food?
If you aren’t sure of the answers, don’t worry—I’ve battle-tested some of the most commonly asked questions related to co-habitating with a bunch of strangers. Here are six tips to help make sure your co-working etiquette is up to snuff.
1. Come On, Feel the Noise
OK, so maybe lyrics to an 80s metal band song shouldn’t be your motto when it comes to co-working, but understanding the noise tolerance for each location will make your life much easier. For example, there was one time I was trying out a new space, and I squeezed myself in a corner to take a Skype call (conference rooms weren’t an option). After whispering through the entire call, another co-worker walked over and told me with a laugh, “this isn’t a library!”
Although being quiet seemed like a pretty safe bet, when I started to listen to the rest of the space, I realized everyone was chatting freely over one another—no whispering necessary.
Co-working space hosts work hard to create a specific environment, which may or may not include library-level silence. It’s important to know the noise policy, for your own benefit and for others, so check with the host before you settle in.
2. Help Yourself
Although many co-working spaces value collaboration and debate, nearly all expect you to be self-sufficient.
That means, whenever possible, figure things out on your own before you disturb people with questions. What’s the Wi-Fi password? Look around—I guarantee it will be posted on a board. Looking for a free outlet? Most co-working spaces have spare extension cords for public use—so look for them.
3. Don’t Be a Time Bandit
Many co-working spaces double as events spaces, which means that the friendly face that greeted you in the morning probably has to stay late to clean up and prepare for the second act. Do your part and be in the know about when it’s time to pack up for the day (and don’t assume that just because others are there, you don’t need to leave). Space hosts shouldn’t have to remind you, and they definitely shouldn’t feel like they have to kick you out.
4. Be Friendly
While there will be times you’ll need to put your head down and cram, remember, this is a collaborative space, and it’s supposed to be, well, collaborative. So spend some time introducing yourself to your fellow co-workers and attending the happy hours or events held there.
The best part about this is that being friendly is actually a covert networking maneuver. Co-working communities are excellent sources of information, knowledge, leads, and skills, and as you get to know your neighbors, you’ll find ways to help each other out. Just remember, go in with the mindset of helping out without the expectation of anything in return. Trust me, those favors will come back to you, and you’ll make amazing connections along the way.
5. Promote With Social Currency
Many co-working spaces find their business through word of mouth, so—assuming you’ve had a great experience—help out and promote the space to your network.
While paying it forward may sound like a lot of work, even seemingly small efforts can make a big difference. Check-in on Foursquare, follow the space on Twitter and, if you‘re feeling artistic, post a few photos of the space on Instagram or Tumblr.
6. Mind Your Meal Manners
If there would be only one rule for all co-working spaces, it would be this: The kitchen is sacred—don’t mess it up.
Many co-working spaces offer free coffee, tea, and water, some offer free wine and beer around closing time, and others are stocked with free snacks. But, unless specifically identified, keep your mitts off the goodies unless you brought them yourself—eating someone else’s lunch will not endear you to your fellow co-workers.
Not all co-working spaces are created equal, but go in with these tips in mind and you’ll get the most out of your experience. Above all else, as any good guest should, know the house rules. If you appreciate the host and respect your co-workers, you’ll have an incredible experience.