One of the biggest points of contention in coworking is the lack of personal space. Your desk is only yours for as long as you occupy it—when you leave, it becomes someone else’s workstation. Even while you’re there, the space you occupy is communal. Unfortunately, not everyone operates the same way with regard to office etiquette. We know why coworking space is important, but when you get enough people in the same space and personalities will clash over things like cleanliness, noise, and habits. This is why established coworking space etiquette is paramount.

Giving everyone the same baseline expectations for how to behave in a coworking space goes a long way toward alleviating friction and tension. The rules can be as specific as they need to be, but simply providing guidance for good behavior is often enough to keep the peace. Think about a library, for example. Every person knows to keep a reasonably quiet volume and not bother the people around them. The concept is much the same for coworking.

Whether it’s noise, distracting habits, area organization, or other specific issues, make sure everyone knows the guidelines. Getting people to follow coworking space etiquette is critical for the success of the workplace.

Common courtesy and coworking

Before formulating coworking space rules, consider common courtesy. What should you reasonably expect from people, and what do they reasonably expect from each other? Much of your open workspace etiquette comes from these expectations.

For example, if your coworking space is more of a social environment, can you reasonably expect people to talk in whispers? Probably not. The good news is a social atmosphere likely won’t create that expectation for visitors. They’ll expect to chat at normal volume with fellow workers and group-mates.

Now, consider the other end of the spectrum. With 20 to 30 people in a space, the volume is liable to get a little loud. Again, this is a reasonable expectation. That said, there’s an implied etiquette of not yelling. People chatting at a regular volume are still working and not bothering others around them doing the same. Someone yelling across the room is a disruptor and such outbursts shouldn’t be condoned.

It sounds like common sense…and it should be! Good etiquette is common courtesy in most cases. It’s a matter of looking at the reasonable expectations for your coworking space and setting standards based on them. Whether it’s noise level, behavior, or a dress code, when you set etiquette guidelines, you’re also implying the standard.

Respect for others and the workplace

Addressing collaboration space etiquette standards can be more difficult than it seems. It’s easy to post rules and hope people follow them. But sooner or later there’s bound to be a disruption. Someone talking too loudly. A person bothering others. An issue with behavior or hygiene. These situations don’t resolve themselves just because you post rules.

Enforcing coworking etiquette rules shows you’re committed to the standards of the space—posted or implied. Unfortunately, addressing them can mean confrontation. Even in the wrong, some people will push back on being asked to observe common courtesy. In these situations, take the following approach to preserve the integrity of the environment:

  • Reiterate the etiquette standard they’re violating
  • Emphasize the communal nature of the space
  • Explain how their disruption affects others
  • Politely recommend a better habit or solution

No one likes confrontation. This approach shows reason and upholds the established etiquette of the workspace for the greater good of everyone in it. It’s often as simple as saying:

“I see you’re on the phone. Unfortunately, your conversation is a bit disruptive to those around you. Are you able to talk a little quieter, so everyone is able to concentrate? Otherwise, we do offer a lobby where you can take your call at full volume.”

Set the etiquette. Enforce the etiquette. Preserve the integrity of the space. It’s an imperative approach to ensuring a collaborative space stays accessible, comfortable, and usable by a broad population. Letting a few etiquette rules slide could snowball into a deviation of expectations. When people aren’t sure of expectations, how can they be expected to meet them?

A few simple etiquette tips

How do you develop shared office etiquette everyone can abide by? Go back to common courtesies and the expectations people have for your space. While etiquette standards will vary by space, there are a few baseline expectations that’ll never change. Here are a few tips for kicking off etiquette rules:

  • Leave the space just as you found it and remember every occupant is temporary
  • Match your volume to those around you or lower it to avoid disruption
  • Maintain an acceptable level of personal space around the area you occupy
  • Keep electronics and personal devices silenced or on vibrate mode
  • Don’t bother others and if you need to get their attention, be respectful
  • Don’t monopolize space or resources; remember everything is communal
  • Be friendly and respectful to those around you

Again, every coworking or collaborative space will come with its own etiquette expectations. These serve as the baseline for keeping people etiquette-minded and cognizant of their place in a communal space.

Create a standard for coworking behavior

Every public place has rules of etiquette—some posted, some assumed, and the rest implied. A coworking space needs the same to succeed. Establishing etiquette helps bring everyone to the same understanding for what’s acceptable and what’s not. A code encourages good behavior and reduces friction, allowing everyone to focus on getting the most out of their coworking experience for as long as they occupy their space.

Keep reading: Solve Problems with Coworking Spaces.

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.