From Sustainability Methods
Type Team Size
Me, Myself and I Group Collaboration The Academic System Software 1 2-10 11-30 30+

What, Why & When

Co-Working is about getting your stuff done while you are in the company of friends, colleagues, or other people that are also working on something. It’s different from group work since you work on your individual projects in parallel rather than working together on the same project.
While there are many reasons for co-working, it’s mostly about being together with others. This can help if you are procrastinating too much, if you have a difficult piece of work to do or if you need a partner with whom you can discuss your project.
When you have stuff to do (is there a better way to convey that this is something you can do all the time?).


  • Focused working (getting in “the zone”)
  • Helping each other, either with a concrete problem or just pushing each other when you are unmotivated or tired
  • Having a good time
  • Creating output (getting stuff done)

Getting Started

Set the Frame for Your Partnership

This is more relevant when you meet to co-work with people you know in a setting that you define yourself. There are also designated (commercial) co-working spaces that come with their own pre-defined working areas, rules etc. But even when you use such spaces, it can be helpful to ask yourself why you are going there and what you want to achieve there.

Before you start, a couple of points need to be clarified

  • What does everyone want to achieve during the session?
  • How long does the session go?
  • What do you expect from each other?

Your projects and goals don’t need to be similar, they can be vastly different, but you should be aware of what the other person is working on and what their (emotional) state is. Is your partner working on a thesis, preparing for an exam, or doing creative writing? Is your partner relaxed, are they stuck with their project or is it the day before the deadline?

Taking these factors into consideration, you and your partner(s) can think about what you might need from each other. Do you just need someone to be in the same room with you but are not willing to engage in any interaction except during breaks? Do you need a person to discuss your problems with along the way? Do you need your partner to push you? Are you energized and feel you can give some of that energy to your partner?

Don’t overthink these questions, but it’s important to have a sense of where the other person(s) are at and if your interests and needs are compatible at this point.

The Setting

Where you work should be determined by where you’re at, so to say. Think about the location based on your needs you identified previously. You might have designated spots to work on your own (your desk, the library, your favourite café…) but these might not necessarily work for your partner(s).

I think there are three basic elements you need to consider setting up a pleasant and productive (co-)working session.

Level of distraction / noise. I feel this depends on personal preferences but also on the type of work you have to do. The silence of a university library can be wholesome and foster your focus on some occasions, while on others it is suffocating and you would rather wish for some pleasant background chatter. Noise cancelling headphones can be a true lifesaver to this end as it allows for more flexibility in locations. Discuss this with your partner and agree on a location that (ideally) meets both your needs.

Work-Break-Rhythm. The upside of co-working is that you can take breaks together. If it is feasible, do joint work- and break-sessions since this enhances your concentration while working, as well as the pleasant distraction from work that you seek when taking a break. Pomodoro is a gold standard to this end with alternating 25 min./5 min. phases of working and resting. Depending on the work you have got to do, other rhythms might be even more suitable however.

If you are in the mood for it and want to take your productivity to the next level, you can not only define goals for your overall working day but also set small-scale goals for each working session. Your partner does not need to be pushy about it. The mere act of declaring a goal for the next 25 minutes in front of another person creates strong accountability that can really drive you forward.

As a general piece of advice, I recommend taking many short breaks rather than a few long ones. Instead of staying in your chair and chatting, get up and do something more energising in your break, like going for a walk or even run up and down the stairs if you need a kick. The possibility of activity breaks depends very much on your location, so consider this beforehand.

Where do you get your food from? If you are having longer working sessions, food is inevitable. Can you buy food nearby? Do you have the infrastructure (and time) to cook something yourself? Or do you need to bring something prepared? It seems like a minor thing, but many working sessions are interrupted or hampered because lunch has been planned poorly.

Common places for co-working are:

  • a library
  • an office or groupwork-room
  • a friend’s kitchen/room/living room
  • a café
  • somewhere outside

Potential Pitfalls

Incompatible partner(s). If you work with someone who has a vastly different work-rhythm or style that is somehow incompatible with yours, co-working won’t be a worthwhile endeavour. This is not to judge the other person – after all, people are different. And it may well be that your best friend or a great colleague of yours that you normally love working with are just not the right partners for you, or at least not at a specific point in time. So as mentioned before, talk about your needs and if it does not work out, move on.

Breaks are too long. It is so tempting. Especially if you work alongside a person you like and you are having a nice chat during the break, why not continue for a little longer? Remember that you can and should take longer breaks every now and then, so you can always joke around later. And after all, you meet for working; if you are having a good time with that person, you can still continue that after hours.

The author of this entry is Carlo Krügermeier.