A few months ago I joined a great coworking space called Workbar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So far, I've savored the standing desks, the air conditioning, and the many kind people I've met. After years of working from home, it's been nothing short of splendid to have a dedicated work space. It's become much easier to "turn off" once I'm back home for the evening.
But not a day goes by when I and my Workbar colleagues are not guilty of bending one house rule or another. The incidents are always minor. And because I've committed all of them myself, I'm not (too) critical of anyone bending these rules or codes of etiquette. Our jobs are fast-paced, ever-shifting; it's all too easy to get caught up in the urgency of your own breadwinning and forget you're sharing the space with dozens of others.
Here are the five most annoying violations of coworking space etiquette I've noticed--and committed--so far:
1. Using your cell phone in non-talking areas.
You'd go broke pretty fast running a co-working space without designated open areas for members to have long phone conversations. WorkBar in Cambridge has several of them. But what gets really annoying, really fast, is when colleagues speak on phones in designated non-phone areas.
Most members, if they're working in a non-phone area, will quickly walk to a phone area when they receive a call. But too often, this basic act of etiquette doesn't happen.
I know why it doesn't happen. Often, we receive calls we think will only last a minute; what's the point of relocating yourself for a minute, especially if the person calling is doing most of the talking? The problem is one minute turns into five. A monologue becomes a dialogue. Before you know it, you're disturbing the peace.
2. Booking conference rooms overaggressively.
One of the perks of a coworking space is its supply of conference rooms. They're great for meetings. They're great for inviting guests. They're great for an hour of solitary work in a closed-door setting.
They're so great, that by 10am each morning, most of them are booked. That, however, is not the problem.
The problem is members tend to book the rooms for "just in case" purposes. The result? Conference rooms appear booked in the online reservation system. But if you walk by those rooms at the hour of their supposed use, they are sometimes empty. That's because the aggressive bookers are guilty of another violation: Not canceling or rescheduling their use of the rooms, once they no longer need them.
Why does this happen? Sometimes your guests are late. You're not sure whether to cancel, reschedule, or keep the room. Sometimes you're so caught up in what you're doing, you're less than prompt in relocating yourself--and your laptop and all of your supplies--to another room. Sometimes there are actual emergencies, and in your haste you forget to cancel the reservation. Regardless of why it happens, it creates headaches for any member who needs a conference room, but can't find one.
3. Staying too long in conference rooms.
Occasionally, even when you've successfully booked a conference room, the room is occupied when you arrive. The reason? The previous occupants haven't left in a timely fashion. Rather than considering who has the room next, they use every last second of their own reservation.
Why does this happen? Usually because an important call is going really well. It can be difficult asserting a "hard" stop, interrupting a great conversation, packing your belongings, and leaving the room before you're forced to do so.
4. Hogging the printer.
This happens much less frequently than the first three on the list. But rest assured, it happens: All you want to do is print a one-page document. Sure enough, your print job is happening at the very moment another member is printing 1,000 sell sheets for a mailing. The result? It feels as if you're waiting 1,000 years for one measly page.
Is the member with the large print job breaking a rule? No. Still, it's the sort of etiquette gaffe that makes you wish there were rule limiting print jobs of a certain length to non-peak times of the day.
5. Clanging one's equipment.
This is another tendency that's more of an etiquette violation than a bending of a rule. Here's what happens: A group of members are working like bees in one area of the space or another. In walks another member, getting ready to start his day.
Rather than recognizing that his colleagues are all peacefully getting things done, the just-arrived member starts to set up his equipment with, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, a very unpleasing clanging and banging. Laptops whacking, coffee mugs crashing, backpacks smacking.
Is it the end of the world? Of course not. It's just a failure on the part of one member to recognize how his colleagues would appreciate some discretion. The upshot? Some members set up as if they're the only ones working in the particular space. And that's a no-no.