We have fallen in love with co-working office space.  Property agents Cushman & Wakefield reported earlier this year that London is the co-working capital of the world, with more flexible office space than New York.  An astonishing 10m sq ft of co-working space is now available in London alone, accounting for more than 20% of all available office space.

To put that into context.  WeWork, the largest co-working office provider, now has more office space in London than Google and Amazon.  Only the UK government has more space. 

Co-working spaces are changing the way we work and our expectations of the working environment.  We want funky work spaces, roof gardens, engaging events programmes, and the opportunity to network and forge new relationships.

Coworking operators have responded with price points for one-man bands, fledgling businesses and large, international companies not wanting to be tied down to a long lease.

What we don’t want, however, is the stink of a co-worker’s curry, ear-wagging on sensitive conversations, or complete strangers sneaking a peek at confidential information left lying on an open laptop.

I regularly use co-working space across London.  For most of us who have been in the work place for more than, ahem, a few years, they are fascinating places where the traditional etiquette and behaviour of office life seems forgotten or irrelevant.

In just one day, I was joined at a desk by an individual with what I am sure was a delicious but incredibly pungent curry.  Later that afternoon, some poor chap was being interviewed for a job and it was quite clearly not going well.  We all felt his pain and that of the interviewer, whilst still trying to ignore the lingering aroma of curry.

Co-working providers recognise these challenges.  The Office Group (TOG), with 33 locations across London and with six more on the way, gives all new members a set of ‘house rules’.  These include pointers on music, photography, and treating others with respect in its public, or lounge, areas.  TOG’s house rules do require members to hold formal meetings in its rentable meeting rooms, ensuring privacy whilst not disturbing other members.

But sometimes that is not enough. 

Employers, whether a start-up with a few hot desks or a large business with thousands of square feet of office space, must comply with the growing weight of legislation.

David Israel, an employment lawyer in the London office of Royds Withy King says that with shared office space comes the need for employees to follow some basic rules.

“You would not openly show everyone on the train what’s on your work lap top, so why allow that to happen in a co-working environment,” he says.

“Similarly, certain conversations regarding clients’ need to remain confidential and should therefore take place in private areas of the office.  The ‘common sense’ factor cannot be forgotten; employees still owe the same obligations to their employer and cannot excuse their failures on the ‘open’ work environment.”

So, to that end, the curry has been left at home, the coffee cups return to the communal kitchen, headphones in, and heads down.

This article was first published in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Influence magazine - https://influenceonline.co.uk/2018/07/23/co-working-how-to-be-an-annoying-neighbour/