Co-working crimes: are you guilty?

Co-working is one of those trends that feels like it’s snuck up overnight – one minute it’s basically unheard of; the next, everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. In Australia alone, co-working space increased by a massive 297% since 2013. And when you think about all the upsides of sharing space (like better flexibility, lower costs and fewer responsibilities), it’s no surprise.

At Words By Nuance, we only have a tiny team, so we’ve been sharing space ever since day one – but just recently we moved from a sub-let to a true co-working office. And while it didn’t feel too hard settling into our new habitat at A23, it did make us wonder how others are finding the whole collective workspace scenario (and whether they’re as self-conscious about their own idiosyncrasies as we are!).

Let’s face it – co-working is a bit like moving in with flatmates you don’t know from a bar of soap. You’re at close quarters all day long, yet you have no idea what they do, how much noise they can tolerate, and whether Justin Bieber makes them want to bust a move or stab themselves in the eye. You might not even know their names.

This lack of familiarity means that the likelihood of doing something to piss people off is pretty high – especially at first, when you’re getting to know the lay of the land. Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot in our own new office, we decided to ask around about the unspoken ‘code’ that applies in co-working situations. What’s the etiquette? What should we watch out for? And if we’re doing it wrong, how will we know?

While the rules may not yet be defined, we did discover a few things that really grind people’s gears. If you’d like to avoid eviction from your own co-working space, it may be worth having a read!


Noise pollution.

This is a major one. Common examples include people who shout instead of speak (or even ‘project’ their voices that little bit too much), pop-up meetings in public spaces, con-calls on speaker phone, and just plain bad music playing through the office speakers (this is a big one for me!). They’re all serious no-nos when it comes to creating a harmonious workplace and the piss-off potential is high. The take-out for all of us co-workers out there: no matter how overwhelming your workload gets, don’t forget your manners, or your ability to consider those around you.

There are also other noise crimes that might seem small – but can still drive people insane. Such violations include things Emma and I are both definitely guilty of, like typing too loudly (AKA bashing the keys) and directing comments like ‘why aren’t you working today?!’ at your computer. Note to self: try to type softly.


Kitchen atrocities.

Most shared work spaces come with shared kitchen spaces too – and just like in any share house, these are where serious turf wars can begin. Let’s start with the worst offence: microwaving fish. It’s never okay. That smell seeps into furniture and stays there for days. While fish is ranked the most repulsive on the smell scale, keep in mind that this also applies to any potent and over-powering smelling dish (even if makes your mouth water).

Also right up there is our next kitchen crime: stealing other people’s food. To me this is simply weird and inexcusable – how do you just draw a blank on what you prepped and packed the night before? Not only is it a massive inconvenience - it’s also stealing, so we shouldn’t even need to point this one out!

These kitchen crimes often trigger another, equally irritating sin: the Passive Aggressive Kitchen Note. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but condescending kitchen letters also rated really highly on our annoyance scale survey. Rather than penning a passive-aggressive memo about someone’s mess, why not just throw said mess in the bin or clear it up – or mention it calmly in passing to the workspace manager? And if you know who it was, be a grown-up, have a quiet word to them, and move on!


Odour offences.

We get that co-working and flexibility go hand in hand – and a lot of people like to take advantage of this by squeezing a workout into their day. But don’t be the guy that gets back from the gym and for some reason decides not to shower. You might be fit, but bad news: you’re also selfish. I for one have had to suffer more than enough afternoons next to the ‘smelly guy’. It’s off-putting and downright gross. If you’ve ever done this because you felt you had to rush back for a deadline, then follow this really simple rule – no time to shower, no time to work out.

Other offences in this category include bad breath (just brush!) and excessive use of perfume or cologne. Yes, ‘excessive’ is a subjective measure but try and take it easy. Some people are actually allergic. And no one wants to be suffocated in a cloud of Glow By J.Lo.


Invading personal space.

Aside from the obvious (sitting on someone’s desk or stealing their chair), there are lots of ways to inadvertently become a space invader – and although it might not seem a big deal to you, to others (including me) it’s a serious breach of privacy. On another level, it really messes with my Chi when other people’s crap starts to creep onto my desk. But it’s just as bad when people bring coughs, germs, or bad vibes into the space. Yes, negative energy is just as contagious as illness, and in an open-plan office it can go viral. If you’re that sick, or in such a vile mood that’s it’s impossible to shake – don’t contaminate, just stay at home.


Messing with other people’s stuff.

I personally can’t cope when someone decides to rearrange my desk, or when my favourite pen vanishes into thin air. And from my experience, things that get borrowed in the office rarely find their way back. It’s bad enough in a run-of-the-mill office – but in a co-working space it’s unforgivable. The rules here are completely unambiguous: thou shalt not touch! Of course, there are times when a neighbour’s chaotic desk starts to do your head in, and you’re dying to tidy up… just a little. But no matter how bad it is, keep your hands to yourself. If there are no house rules about mess, how they want to work is totally up to them.


Using your desk to do undesky things.

This one’s broad and really comes down to personal opinion/tolerance as to what ‘undesky’ behavior is – but one we’ve probably all been guilty of in the past (pretty sure Emma and I did this yesterday) is eating at our desks. Take some advice from decorum expert Zarife Hardy, from the Australian School of Etiquette and “do not treat your desk/workspace like a kitchen sink – eating should not happen at the desk.”

Really though, inappropriate desk behaviour can range from standard stuff like long (and often awkward) personal phone calls, to seriously gross personal grooming (we heard tales of someone’s colleague clipping their toenails at their desk). Although I think nail-clipping is an obvious offence, you’d be surprised by what some consider ‘normal’. To work out what to steer clear of, we suggest taking the time to ask your neighbours what things get under their skin. Plus you’ll get the added bonus of telling them what pisses you off at the same time.


At the end of the day, it seems like co-working is all about communication (and a bit of tolerance).

Sure, it’s not as private as having your very own space, and you can’t write all the rules – but there are plenty of upsides to co-working, and making it work usually comes down to showing a bit of consideration. And in our case, heading to the pub for lunch.