Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 2): Rules

Coworking Notes, Part 2 of 6. Rules

In the previous post, I sketched out some of the kinds of communities or community vibes that can be seen in coworking spaces. Every space has some kind of rules and governance, which will be a combination of contractual, top down (by the operators) and bottom up (from the coworkers).   Given that the shared space is used by people who are not part of a single formal organization, there are a lot of ways this can be set up and executed.

Whatever rules there are, explicit or implicit, they may or may not appear on the public web site for the coworking space. To the degree that rules are mentioned, that is an interesting indication that they are recognized as critical to the community and to recruiting suitable members. And to the degree that rules are absent from the public pages it is interesting because that suggests that the operators consider them to be “obvious’, or perhaps covered in the private contract that will be required. The former case suggest a more “open” walk-in recruiting practice, the latter a more controlled, “curated” approach. (Recruitment will be considered in a subsequent post.)

As in the community cultures discussed earlier, there are quite a range of policies explicitly mentioned in the self descriptions of some coworking spaces.

One space has explicit policies about pets, which are welcome as long as they are well behaved and you clean up after them.

One space has some rules listed, including “don’t be a dick”. Good advice, if vague. One assumes that this is almost certainly a response to past experience.

Another space has a clearly stated policy about talking on the phone (don’t do it). This is actually one of the most difficult challenges for coworking spaces. It is not possible to do business without talking on the phone, but this is totally incompatible with a shared space filled with people not part of the conversation.

Some of the descriptions of the spaces imply social norms for the community. Software hacker cultures talk about dynamic, and “badass” vibes. This suggests loud music, all nighters, nerf fights and so on. College dorm stuff.

Other spaces refer to “a grown-up space for grown-up folks” or, in one case, “spa-inspired coworking space for female entrepreneurs”. Another space has an allied space for kids, so parents can cowork with day care for young children. I’m pretty sure that all of these variations are designed for someone other than twenty-year-old badass males.

Clearly, it will be interesting to examine the rules, both explicit and implicit, in coworking spaces. It is also quite likely that we can observe evolution of the rules over time, and in response to events. It will take some work to dig these out, and a thorough job will require in situ observation to determine how governance really works.

More tomorrow.


This is a working note describes ideas I’m developing that will need further research. It is based on preliminary examination of we sources, though I have not given citations here. The dataset will be explained and published at a later date.

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