“Embarrassing confessions of a coworking space”; or “The evolution of a ‘clean your dishes’ message”

Dirty dishes have a negative effect on the coworking space for all members. The vast majority of members clean their own dishes and are annoyed by those few who don’t. It’s usually just glasses and mugs and spoons: easy things to clean. Given most coworking spaces’ strong commitment to the value of community it might seem that getting members to consistently pitch in and clean their dishes would be one of the easier challenges in running a coworking space.

Not so. Dirty dishes persist. And it’s not just the case for Locus Workspace: it seems to be an acknowledged problem for coworking spaces generally, including those well-known for their strong sense of community. Nonetheless, perhaps for the reasons just noted, it is not without some sense of… embarrassment? fear? impropriety?… that coworking spaces admit the problem. And now it’s Locus’s turn to air it’s dirty laundry dishes. Or at least to talk about some of the things we’ve done to try to end our tragedy of the commons (unfortunately without the greatest record of success).

We started from day one with the “Locus Rules“. Every person who joins Locus has to read the rules and click a box indicating that they read them. The rules are short, and cleaning up after yourself, including doing your dishes, is one of the few things members commit to (just in case they thought they were renting a serviced office rather than joining a coworking space). That worked for the most part when we were a very small coworking space, probably because members are more inclined to clean up after themselves than not, regardless of the rules.

But over time as the space grew, more and more dishes seemed to pile up in and around the sink. We joked about different things that might put a stop to it. We could just put a picture of a person looking at us above the sink. That seems to work! Better yet, make the onlooker in the image of Jesus (can you tell that one of my other hats is as a moral psychologist?).

How about surveillance cameras! But Locus (or to be fair, just I) had already been the butt of some members’ parody of the “Locus Rules,” turning it from a “Community Workspace” into a “Communist Workspace”.

Maybe surveillance cameras aren’t the key to building a strong community?
Instead we went for increasing the number of days the cleaning person comes and just reminding members periodically to clean their dishes and not be jerks. The problem persisted, but until recently seemed to stay pretty stable without getting too out of hand.

But over the months and even years the dish problem has occasionally reared its ugly head. Inspired more recently by a blog post from another coworking space owner who seems to have done wonders at building a strong sense of community (hats of to Angel K., founder of Cohere in Fort Collins, Colorado), we tried blatant plagiarism.

An image from Angel’s blog post, “the most effective message to date”:

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Anyway, here was our version:

There are a lot of reasons I’m not crazy about this note. First, I’m not a big fan of plagiarism (neither is the community manager who put it up at my suggestion), despite the fact that in this context it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the original version was posted as a recommendation about what works to other coworking spaces managers, and adding a citation in this context would presumably undermine the message.
Second, it’s not the kind of language Czechs would use lightly, and Vlaďka is Czech (I remember signing a letter to a Czech back in the day when people wrote letters, “Love, Will” and being told–uncomfortably–that she didn’t know I felt that way about her). I guess Czechs have since become more familiar with English peculiarities, but the experience has stuck with me.
Third, it just doesn’t communicate how many of us feel about the dirty dishes in and around the sink. “Don’t be a jerk,” or, “We’re not your maids!” better sums it up. But I generally feel extremely lucky to have the group of members we have at Locus, so an angry sounding note that only applies to a small fraction of the members doesn’t strike the right tone either. But the “Cohere” message still felt to me like it didn’t have an authentic Locus tone.
So I was somewhat happy to see another community manager make light of the first message:
In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:

“Washing a dish is not torture /

Unless it ends up in the mortu- /
ary.”
Still, while I like keeping things on the humorous side, the more words we use, the less likely people are to read them, and the more fun we poke, the less likely people are to take the whole thing seriously. Unsure what to do, however, I succumbed to a classic case of decision paralysis and did nothing at all.
Still, the dish problem has not improved.
Happily, I’m lucky to have another incredible community manager who has a knack for saying things directly and without pulling punches, without it being offensive. So here’s the newest version of the “do your dishes” wall of fame:

 

In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:
“GUYS,
WE DO HAVE
DISH WASHER!!!
IF YOU DO NOT LIKE
WASHING UP YOU DO
NOT HAVE TO.
BUT! DO NOT LEAVE!
CUPS & GLASSES IN SINK.
IT TAKES 3 SEC TO
PUT IT IN DISHWASHER
& KARMA IS FOR FREE.
NO LOVE, LENKA”
Now there’s a message I can get behind. And behind that “No Love” don’t you just feel the love?!
Now what do we do about the kitchen without a dishwasher?

Coworking or Working in a Home Office

I have now experienced both working from home and working from a coworking space.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages. As my business changes from freelancing to bringing others on board to help, a home office is no longer suitable.

 
In an ideal world having both a home office and a desk in a coworking environment is the best option.  There are days when it would be great just to stay at home and relax more than I would in an office.  Very occasionally I miss having an office at home during the weekends. – I have ended up working weekends three or four times during the year, so it is not a huge drawback going to the office.

The Benefits of a Home Office

I always like the time saving when working from home.  Breakfast, shower, then work – rather than having to spend time going to an office.  I have sometimes found myself not leaving the house for two or three days, I am sure that is not great for my mental welfare.

Young Children and Home Office

My youngest is now nineteen months.  For the first two months, it was great working from home – though I did a lot less work than normal.  To be there to help was good for everyone.

Not Being Around Other People

I can find other people trying.  It is often much easier to separate myself and get on with work.  I have worked in places where co-workers would be highly negative, be very loud, interrupt with a bloody cat video that you really have to watch because it is such a laugh – there are times when people can drive me mad.
 
However, while working from home I found that a day or two could pass without having a conversation with anyone except my other half in the evening.  Sometimes the isolation was so much that I would walk to the shop just to get out of the house.  So my high points on personal interaction was a brief conversation with a shop assistant.  Not great.

Quiet

At times I need complete quiet around me for some tasks that require deep concentration or while creating videos.  It is impossible in an open office to have good sound quality on videos while others are talking nearby.
 
Thankfully the coworking space I inhabit has a meeting room.

High Self Discipline

During the last ten years, I have worked from home about half of the time.  This has created great self-discipline.  No matter what is going on around me I can sit down and get on with the work at hand.

The Benefits of Coworking

I work now from Locus in Prague.  For my clients, it would make no difference what city I was in.  I have met a few coworkers that use this flexibility to live in and see other cities in Europe.

Professional Environment

Only once while working from home was my office not a spare bedroom. Even then that office turned into a bit of a store room. Due to remotely working with clients I use video and screen share.
I find it embarrassing to have a bed or storage boxes in the background while having calls.  I know many do not like this – but image is hugely important in business, (and in life).  First impression matter.
 
It does not matter if others are in the background having calls or talking while I am on a call – this is what I expect in any office.

Office Address

Like most other around me, I find most of my business via my website.  I have seen competitors use their home address on their website.  It does not look professional; at least a virtual membership in a coworking space looks after this aspect.
 
Additionally, most coworking spaces are in the centre of cities.  This makes it easier to meet with clients.
 
Google local is likely the most important part of SEO for many smaller local businesses. It is much better to turn up in these searches in the middle of a city with higher search volume than in some small village or town.

Everything is Organised

The internet connection is fast and I never have to touch it.  The coffee machine works and I never have to clean it.  The trash is emptied and I never have to think about it.  You get the picture.
A large amount of trivial items that have to be organised in your own office are there and working.  This lets me just get on with work, instead of making lists of things that need to be done that steal away my time.

Being Around Other People

I run a few websites and an SEO company.  Ideas come more often when interacting with others.  I get information from people about tools for writing, publishing, project management, the list is endless.  I understand that I can look up this information online.  Running websites has imbued me with a lack of trust in most information online – everyone has an agenda – as one of my philosophy lecturers who was also a priest told me, as I was arguing about his agenda.
 
We started a mastermind group that includes six members.  We meet every two weeks, talk about problems, set goals, and are held accountable for these.  This has improved my work tremendously forcing me to regularly review goals and stick with them.

Separation of Work and Home

I have been out of my home office and back in coworking for the last three months. This has been the biggest advantage – when I am at home I am not thinking about work and at work I am not thinking of home.
 
While working at home, sometime during breakfast my head would move into work and I was less present for my family.  Lunch could be a challenge to talk about non-work related subjects.  I would eat my lunch and head right back to my office.
 
Now I find myself talking more with my other half during lunch on the phone than I did while working at home – who would have guessed?

Better Concentration Skills

Over time, concentration skills become better if you work in environments that are not completely quiet.  This can be difficult in the beginning and some perseverance is required.  But you can end up being able to work anywhere, which is a great habit to develop.
 

I have made my choice, working in the company of other people is more stimulating, encouraging, and motivational for my temperament. Leslie writes on his own blog, but more often on his company website.

The Benefits of Coworking – a Personal Perspective

Much has been written about the psychological benefits of coworking and being with others. In my case, it has been personal experience that has convinced me of the advantages.

I moved to the Czech Republic from the UK in 2000, and started working as a freelance editor, journalist and translator in 2002. In my early days as a freelancer I worked from home and didn’t mind; in many ways there was no choice because no coworking spaces existed in Prague back then. Cafés are a favourite haunt of freelancers, but much as I love idling away the hours in Prague’s coffee houses, working in them didn’t have much appeal, because I associate them with relaxation rather than earning a living.

But when I started freelancing full-time again in 2011, after several years working for an employer or regularly for a company on an external basis, I found that working at home didn’t have much appeal either. I had learned to be more disciplined and less distracted over the years, but I had also become much more outgoing and sociable than I used to be. And while I have many introverted personality traits and am happy to spend time on my own, I missed the interaction with people in an office, and the structure and routine offered by such an environment.

Thankfully coworking had then become firmly established in Prague, and I spent time at a number of the city’s coworking spaces. I went through a particularly difficult period in 2012 and 2013, when work from clients dried up. The situation has turned around, but coworking was of enormous benefit psychologically during those challenging days. It was a huge boost to be with others, not sitting at home moping. I also made new friends from different backgrounds and countries. I get a buzz from meeting new people from different places, and coworking was a brilliant opportunity to do so. I also appreciated the fact that I could be with likeminded people, socialize with them and go to lunch with them – without any of the office politics that employees have to negotiate.

The positive environment around me also undoubtedly helped me raise my productivity levels and get more done during the day. I am certain that I would not have achieved as much by working at home. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could balance work and having time for breaks and chatting to other coworkers, and getting to know them.

David Creighton

FREE coworking around the world for Locus members and other independent workers in Prague

One of the cool things about coworking is that a lot of people who decide to get involved in it really care about the idea and the value it has to offer, and not just about the business as a business. Sam Spurlin‘s several recent posts on this blog attest to this. Another sign of it comes from the grass roots cooperation across thousands of coworking spaces around the world that have contributed to coworking.com. The particular example I want to write about now are four options for free office sharing options across coworking spaces around the world: (1) the Coworking Visa, (2) The Prague Coworking Visa, (3) Loosecubes, and (4) Jelly. 

1. The Coworking Visa.

The coworking visa is one of the greatest largely-unknown sources of added value to participating coworking spaces, and also one of the most impressive examples of value-added cooperation across competing businesses I know of in any industry. If you’re a member of Locus or of another coworking space that participates in the visa program, you may know about it already. This is an informal group of about 500 coworking spaces around the world that have agreed to let members of other “Visa”-participant coworking spaces use their space for free (usually for up to 3 days, but the terms depend on the space; Locus is free for up to a month, but limited by the terms of the other coworking space). Here’s a link for details with the list of participating spaces and their terms, organized geographically. 

The coworking visa was the fortunate brain-child of two of the women leaders of the coworking movement, Julie Duryea of Souk in Portland, Oregon (now run by someone else and maybe under a different name) and Susan Evans of Office Nomads in Seattle, Washington. They proposed it on a google group to a network of people running coworking spaces around the world, and it was almost immediately successful.


2. The Prague Coworking Visa.
A group of coworking spaces in Prague (including Locus) were inspired by this visa program to create a Prague version of the visa that allows members of each space to use the other spaces for up to 25% of their membership time. See details here.

 
3. Loosecubes
Loosecubes is a corporate alternative to the Coworking Visa and it remains to be seen whether their intentions are pure and how well the system will work, but as it stands it looks very promising. It is an invite-only workspace-sharing network of about a thousand coworking spaces and other shared offices around the world. Right now (and from what they’ve told me, this is their permanent business model), their system is absolutely free for members of the network (including Locus Workspace members). This means you can use any of the other spaces on the Loosecubes network for free, though each space has its terms in terms of number of free days. So if you’re traveling abroad and want to cowork in most major cities around the world (though biased towards Western Europe and North America), you’ll have a coworking space to work at for free. Loosecubes also provides a software backend and a user-interface that make it easy to use and (it seems at least) perhaps more reliable than the Coworking Visa. 
 
4. Jelly
 
Jelly is informal coworking that started around the same time as the coworking movement itself with a group of freelancers in New York City who decided they’d rather work alongside other people than alone in their home office or at a cafe. They starting meeting as a group at each other’s homes or cafes, they created a wiki, and Jelly grew into a movement, with groups meeting to work together rather than alone around the world. Here’s a sample list of Jellies around the world on Meetup.com.
 
The group of collaborating coworking spaces in Prague mentioned earlier hosts a rotating series of jellies across their three spaces, which means people who don’t work in a coworking space (and may not want to) can experience some of the benefits of coworking for free every two weeks, and get to know a few of the coworking spaces in the city in the process.
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To me the added value that comes from sharing membership across coworking spaces (and with the public)–not just for independent workers and coworking space members, but also for the coworking spaces themselves–is immense. For the members, of course, it means they can literally work their way around the world (as long as they stick to major cities), for the price of the coworking space membership they already have at their home city. For coworking space owners, it means a wonderful influx of interesting visitors who add spice to the host spaces and use resources that were mostly available and going unused anyway!

Broadening and Building in Coworking

It seems that many people who join a coworking space find the experience to be overwhelmingly positive. Much of the growth of this movement can be credited to the fact that people who partake in it are often the most vociferous proponents of its continued existence. How can this phenomenon be explained? What is it about coworking spaces that makes them so overwhelmingly positive for people?

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has developed a theory known as broaden-and-build which may help explain it. It’s easiest to explain broaden-and-build by contrasting it with what we experience due to negative emotions. In times of fear, our bodies react in a very narrow and focused way in order to help us escape or vanquish the threat (fight or flight). Negative emotions generally produce a very intense and narrow repertoire of actions and thought. Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Negative emotions are usually accompanied by things that could possibly kill us, generally something we are looking to avoid.

On the other hand, broaden-and-build posits that positive emotions like contentment, joy, interest, and love, allow us to have a broader thought-action repertoire which leads to increasing physical, personal, psychological, intellectual, and social resources. For example, Fredrickson looks at animal research which shows activities exhibited during play by young mammals, such as throwing oneself onto a sapling and being catapulted in an unexpected direction, is only ever shown in adults faced with threat. Building these important resources can lead to better outcomes in future threatened situations.

What does this mean for coworkers and coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces can, and should, be environments where positive emotions are cultivated and shared. Interacting with positive people, building relationships, being in an aesthetically pleasing environment, and doing good work can all lead to positive emotions. These positive emotions, in turn, lead to important adaptations like increased creativity, being more open to information, being more flexible, and increased efficiency. Most independent workers would argue that these characteristics are important to doing good work.

Not only do positive emotions lead to better outcomes, but the better outcomes can lead to more positive emotions. It is a cyclical process that can “build” on itself in what has been described as an upward spiral. For example, a member of a coworking space builds relationships with her fellow coworkers which leads to an increase in positive emotions, these positive emotions allow her to think more broadly and creatively on a project she’s working on, her client is very pleased with the quality of her work and recommends her services to a friend which leads to another well-paying job for our fictional coworker. This obviously elicits more positive emotions which in turn lead to more positive outcomes. It’s a reciprocal and self-feeding cycle that can lead to very high levels of well-being.

Coworking spaces can provide excellent environments for this positive upward spiral to begin. By providing a pleasing environment to do work, opportunities to meet interesting new people and collaborate on new projects, and by providing a way for an independent worker to feel like he or she belongs to a group, the stage is set for increasing positive emotions and the positive outcomes that accompany those emotions.

Reference: Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: the Broaden-and-Build Theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.