Open office (or co-working) is hot news nowadays. The press has been full of it this week, with magazines (Company) and radio (4) running features about this very 21st century way of getting stuff done.
So how does it work? Well, either by membership or a one off entry fee, you gain access to an open plan environment, normally with wi-fi and hot and cold running drinks where you can plug in, log in and work. It has become a refuge for home workers desperate to get away from Jeremy Kyle and the washing up.
In theory it’s a great idea: away from the distractions of home life, you can focus and increase productivity. If you want to chat, the people around you are vibrant, trendy media or programmer types who want to share their ideas and collaborate on some wonderful magical project that will cure cancer or make Twitter fail-whale proof.
In reality, its a bit like being in a library. However, at least in a library you know the rules as they have been drummed into you since an early age. No talking, no mobile phones, no eating and generally don’t be a pain to everyone else or face the wrath of the chief librarian.
In a co-working space, do these rules apply?
If your phone rings, do you answer it? Should it be on silent?
Should you have a spontaneous little creative chat with your co-workers if everyone else is sitting there in silence?
Are they all wishing you would just SIT STILL and stop fidgeting?
If you work in an office you KNOW the person sitting next to you. You may not like them but at least you know their name. In a co-working space you are sitting next to a total stranger. So when you go to the toilet, should you take your bag with you? Or is that seen as a lack of trust? You wouldn’t take your laptop, but what about your mobile phone?
And that nice person that you exchanged a few pleasantries with an hour ago: do you offer them a drink when you get yourself one?
It’s a minefield. But at least it’s better than Jeremy Kyle.
MORE ON CO-WORKING
Recently I began renting a desk at the Substrakt offices. It’s a great location based at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth in Birmingham and is 50% populated by this very cool creative communications company and 50% by other people, like myself, who just need somewhere to go.
It’s early days and I need to decide if it’s value for money, but for now it’s proving to be incredibly good for me. Without my stuff to distract me I am getting a LOT done. I also feel obliged to actually get up and go into the office as I am paying for it. It’s nice to have people around, and you never know, I may get some work out of it.