The evolution of a code of conduct

Over the years Hoffice has grown from a group of friends that wanted to bring joy and effectivity to their workday, to an international community. In this process certain difficulties arose urging us not only to share and spread the specific work structure of a Hoffice but also to encourage one another to care for the quality of the Hoffice community culture. In this article we share our thoughts and practices that up until now have emerged in the Swedish Hoffice community.

Answering a deeper calling

We started Hoffice as a means to help us have better workdays. For us that meant working in a more focused way, thinking hard about our priorities and integrating reflections to aid learning and allow for more realistic expectations on the output of our work.

Hoffice was also a response to a deeper calling, a longing for a different way of life. A life with a better balance between work and play, where these aspects of life could complement and strengthen one another rather than come into conflict. A community with a deep respect for the autonomy of the individual paired with a strong sense of connection. A peer-2-peer network for support that empowers us to live lives of passion and meaning. A regenerative culture fueled by authentic sharing and generosity.

Finding a formula

Our initial answer to this calling was to conduct experiments and investigate formats of co-working that would address our longing in an appropriate way. The format that we soon ended up with was working in 45 minute blocks of shared focus and then taking fun and energizing breaks together. At the start of the day we would share our priorities and intention for the day, before every work block we shared our thoughts on what and how much work we hoped to accomplish, and at the end before taking a break we shared how we did. It was as simple as that, yet it really had a huge positive impact on our lives.

The structure created clear boundaries between work and playtime, that made it easier to fully immerse ourselves in both. We felt empowered as individuals as we started to see that we could break maladaptive work habits and establish new more positive ones. We also felt more connected through sharing this process and supporting each other. The positive impact this had on our lives lead us to want to share it with others, so that they could either join our network och start a group of their own.

Growing pains

The reactions to our social experiment was overwhelming. We were apparently not alone in experiencing this calling for a work situation that reflected a different attitude towards life. As the Hoffice community expanded we received a lot of positive feedback on the benefits of using a shared work structure. It helped people overcome procrastination, feel supported when tackling challenges and energized people that too long had neglected their need for play and regular physical activity.

However we also received concerns regarding how the structure a times was experienced as a barrier that made people more reluctant to participate in the network and use the free workspaces. Some people also found that the facilitated structure became more of an obstacle and time consuming on certain days when they needed to “work really, really hard”. Others were intimidated by the frequent sharing of intentions, predictions and results, experiencing it too vulnerable to expose one’s personal shortcomings.

We ourselves also started to see that the work structure didn’t quite deliver everything that we hoped for. Our wish was that our pop-up workspaces would have a warm feeling and be experienced as open and inclusive. As a lot of new people started to join our online community, as a result of all the positive attention we received from media, the atmosphere at our Hoffices slowly started to shift. The enthusiasm that had initially characterized the events and community started to slowly fade.

Sharing the community culture

The people that were new to Hoffice had no problem grasping the concepts associated with the work structure, it is quite straightforward and easy to understand. What was more difficult to get a grasp of was the culture and the implicit code of conduct that had emerged within our network. When realizing that this was probably at the root of the problem, a phase of inquiry into the culture and norms of Hoffice began.

The aim was to formulate a set of principles that constituted an explicit code of conduct in alignment with our aspirations for the community. We wanted to create low entry barriers to Hoffice events, yet preserve the values associated with the facilitated structure. We wanted to create more space for autonomy with regards to one’s own work, recognizing that no structure no matter how elegant can be a perfect fit for everyone all the time. We wanted to lower the thresholds to participate in the various sharing activities without diminishing their potential for learning and development. Another concern regarding the principles was that we wanted them to be as lean as possible; addressing only the most crucial aspects of how we relate to one another and the shared structure. More elaborate principles would risk increasing thresholds for participation rather than lowering them.

The proposal of principles

After a lot of thinking and discussions this is what we came up with: a proposal for a lean code of conduct. We believe it protects the integrity of individuals and the work structure and keeps the psychological barriers for participation low but still leaves a lot of room for fun and experimenting.

The proposal for a code of conduct:

1. By attending the Hoffice event I consent to respect the shared work structure. This means that I will do my best to act in a manner that doesn’t disturb it.

2. Whenever I don’t feel that participating in the shared structure is what I want/need I can withdraw my consent to participate.

3. We don’t offer one another feedback or suggestions based on what they share, unless this is explicitly asked for.

The first principle is geared towards the protection of the integrity of the shared and facilitated structure.

1. By attending the Hoffice event I consent to respect the shared work structure. This means that I will do my best to act in a manner that doesn’t disturb it.

This is the glue that holds the day together and creates a frame for a sense of togetherness and mutuality during the day. This is one of the things that sets a Hoffice apart from most other co-working experiences. When we can trust that everyone that we are sharing the workday with understands and have given their consent to this, it is easier to relax and reap the benefits of both the focused work blocks and enjoy the shared breaks. We can also resolve issues when someone acts in a way that disturbs the structure more easily, simply referring to our agreement.

Consent to the structure and facilitation during the workday doesn’t mean that we can’t question and have opinions about it. On the contrary, we hope that this will continue to happen as it is the creative engine that can improve Hoffice. These ideas about how things could be done in other ways are however easier to process in a constructive way if they are raised at a time and space where they can be given the attention that they deserve. Ideas and proposals related to these constructive outlets for processing tension will be described in an upcoming article and we aim to go even deeper into this subject in the book about Hoffice.

The second principle is geared towards protecting the autonomy of all participants.

2. Whenever I don’t feel that participating in the shared structure is what I want or need I can withdraw my consent to participate.

We come to Hoffice with our own agenda. Even though it is a workday that is shared with others, and the value that the facilitated structure can contribute is dependent on active participation, there are still good reasons to hold the autonomy as sacred at every Hoffice-event. Having one’s autonomy being acknowledged and respected is a primary human need. When we attend a Hoffice we want to use the space and shared structure as a means to get work done in a manner that support what is important to us. When the activities proposed are not in alignment with our own agenda and motivation, we are free to opt out at any moment.

The only thing we need to remember when doing so is that we still have given our consent to respect the shared work structure. This means that if we want to break the silence during the focused work blocks, we are free to do that but we should make sure to do it in a space where no one else is disturbed. If we don’t want to participate in a sharing round or a break we still allow others to do so. This principle allows everyone to be more relaxed at the Hoffice, especially during the more silly and adventurous break activities that sometimes occur. It is so nice to be able to trust that everyone participates because they really want to, making it easier to focus on the experience and enjoy.

The third principle makes it easier to share freely and honestly about how our workday is unfolding.

3. We don’t offer one another feedback or suggestions based on what they share, unless this is explicitly asked for.

Hoffice gives us the rare opportunity to share our trials and tribulations and to celebrate our successes, big and small. At Hoffice we don’t have to strive to be perfect or appear more successful than we are. We come as we are. We work at our dreams. We share and listen. If we fear that what we say will be judged or diagnosed by others this is likely to decrease how open and honest we will be. And the most profound insights come as we hear our own honest words, this is the kind of feedback that helps us grow and learn from our own experiences. When we feel secure that the group complies to this principle, sharing become less psychologically vulnerable. As trust builds with support from this principle it often happens that we start to ask each other for advice, comments, feedback on our work or even coaching. When this kind of support is being welcomed it can become a truly valuable experience for both giver and receiver.

Principles in action

Having distilled these principles for a code of conduct the next step for us was to see if we could make any amendments to the work structure that we presently used and how we facilitated it. For starters we agreed that it was a good idea to always include the code of conduct in our invitations. Clearly communicating before the event allows presumptive participants to make an educated decision if this is something that they think they can agree with. We also decided that it would be a good idea to make it easier to exercise the second principle. When facilitating we started to announce the upcoming break and sharing round 2 minutes before it was time for it. When doing this we would also ask anyone who did not want to participate to show this by raising a hand. This seemed to make the process easier for everyone. When it was time for break the facilitator would know which participants wanted to partake in the sharing round and break activities, and no time was needed for explanations about why someone didn’t want to participate. The third principle has not resulted in any real changes to the structure but in the role of being the facilitator we tend to include a reminder when we open the sharing rounds, especially when there are new participants attending.

Our invitation to you

We are happy with the principles that we have come up with, they work for now. However it is more than likely that they will be amended in the future and that different sets of principles might be used in different Hoffice events. We learn from our shared experiences and we are more than excited to hear from you, in other groups and communities, about your thoughts and experiences regarding an explicit code of conduct and how it can be used to support the community. Please let us know by e-mail, on facebook or comments on this article.

In the upcoming Hoffice book we will share our ideas for inviting to and facilitating a process that helps you develop a code of conduct that matches your Hoffice community’s purpose and way of working together. Stay tuned.