The CoWork Chronicles, II

This CoWork Chronicle story is inspired by an event that may or may not have happened while being a tenant of a co-working space. As per co-working, these stories follow no particular order, but to read the previous short, take a look here.

There are a few occasions that I need to leave our fish tank of an office. I have my water breaks in the communal kitchen. There is, of course, the option of industrial style and strength coffee, but I steer clear of caffeine and leave that for my colleagues. Then I have my rest breaks.

Ladies’ toilets can be an eye-opener, particularly in a large office or co-working space where you’ll never really get to know all the other ladies that frequent the powder room. They reveal traits of bad hygiene, bad manners, questionable dietary habits, hints at substance abuse, alternative social practices — I could go on, though I’d rather not dwell on the horrors. But I digress.

I didn’t get to know too many people outside of our fish tank — not for lack of trying, but people are in and out. A co-working space typically attracts a young, tech-enabled start-up trying to make it. I specify “trying to make it” because a fish tank is for about 1–15 people so the way that I see it, three things can happen: you could grow and therefore outgrow all available fish tanks. You could fail, and have to leave. Finally, you could stagnate and stop being a start-up and be re-classified a steady-state SME.

In this way, it is normal for new people to come (and go) from our co-working environment. So in came four Chinese ladies from China. You’re wondering how I know that they are Chinese? I took beginner’s Mandarin for a summer a long time ago, enough to recognise it but not enough to participate in their conversation or ever bond with them. In any case, they came as a four: they would eat lunch as a four in the common area. They would book meeting rooms for four people (though I never understood that because they didn’t have external guests, they could simply stay in their own fish tank. But I digress). And then they would go to the bathroom together.

So then came the day that my bathroom visit coincided with theirs. They were in front of me, all four of them, in the queue. To frame the situation the bathroom has four toilet cubicles and four sinks. All four of them were in front of me in the queue. Cubicle four flushed and became vacant and in quick succession cubicle three also freed up. The four of them made no move towards them, so I thought to ask if I may excuse me so I could go ahead (not to mention, cubicle four was my favourite as generally the least frequented cubicle and usually the least messy). To my amazement, they said no, that they are waiting for the toilet(s). I pointed out that a couple of them are free and they pointed out to me that they are all waiting.

Yes, ladies often go to the bathroom in packs. One could be checking her teeth for lunch remains; another might actually use the toilet; perhaps the third will refresh her makeup. To actually synchronise the need for and use of the toilet, across four women to this extent that they wanted to use the cubicles at the same time was and is totally alien to me. I am of course often guilty of going to the bathroom in a pack, back in my school days and nowadays at social occasions. I generally have not felt the need to coordinate my bathroom visit for the sake of a bathroom visit with anyone else except when travelling or setting out on a long journey, not the regular humdrum circumstance of stepping out of the fish tank. Whilst on the topic, those who go into the bathroom to take phone calls (while doing their other business) or those who communicate across cubicle frontiers with their bathroom-mates (again, while doing their business) are already weird to me.

The environment in a co-working space’s bathroom is already odd. Suddenly the music that routinely permeates the corridors and common areas becomes much more audible and when you’re in the bathroom for the sake of using the bathroom, you’re likely to have a heightened awareness of the lyrics. I wish that I could quote some of them for you, but imagine that these sound like the demo songs that were most definitely rejected by the likes of Justin Bieber upon hearing any one line of the chorus and sung by aspirational pop artists. Unfortunately, those songs are not going to take them anywhere beyond the soundtrack of people’s bathroom time in a co-working space who probably didn’t pay for it. But I digress.

Back to the fantastic four in the bathroom, I really couldn’t be bothered to deal with them, so nothing more dramatic happened beyond this. I left, took the stairs to another floor and relieved myself. I imagined that they were still waiting by the time I was done and back in my fish tank, but not interested enough in the situation to corroborate that. Some of us actually have work to do in a co-working space, albeit we are in the minority. And what became of the fantastic four? I don’t know, after about two months, they never graced us with their presence again. I hope that they found their ideal (and private) powder room out there somewhere, or perhaps they always had it wherever it is that they came from.

Thank you for persevering through to the end! I would love to hear your thoughts and also whether this matches up to your experiences.