Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Don't be that guy.
Nomadic workers are on the rise. (Some estimates predict that within the decade, these office-less employees will comprise a full 40 percent of the workforce.) Untethered to cubicles, freelancers, contract employees, and solo business owners are seeking out alternative desk arrangements. After all, you have to change out of your pajamas sometime, and can only sit in a coffee shop nursing a single cup for so long before the baristas give you the side-eye.
Many free-range employees head to co-working spaces, fully stocked drop-in environments that cater to professionals who lack a brick-and-mortar workplace. The number of such spaces nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012 alone. According to Deskmag, more than 110,000 people worldwide currently set up temporary shop in this type of environment. In one survey, 7 out of 10 co-working spaces reported that they didn't have enough desks to keep up with client demand.
But there's one problem: other people. Just like in an old-school office environment, you have to contend with co-workers' sneezes and absurdly loud chewing—and they're subjected to your habits, too. Here's how to be a co-worker that people don't hate:
Use your indoor voice
Cell phones aren't usually off-limits, but keep chats brief and relatively low-decibel. If you know that your call will drag on, take it somewhere else. Some spaces, like Brooklyn Works 159, have areas specifically designated for calls. (In their case, little phone booths.) You can also ask about ducking into a conference room. The same goes for conversations with someone next to you.
Don't be a slob
If your co-working space has a fridge, don't shove your lunch in there and forget about it for a month. "We've had members send us crazy pictures of mold growing on food," says Amanda Lewan, co-founder of Bamboo Detroit, a collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs. Take the initiative to purge the shared space of your congealing leftovers before you overhear someone asking, "Does something smell funky in here?" And don't smell funky yourself, for that matter.
Don't be a misanthrope
“Don't be rabidly, unapologetically anti-social,” begs Jamie Hodari, co-founder of Industrious, a hive-style space that has locations in a dozen cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. Many co-working spaces aim to foster an environment in which collaboration is encouraged. “People want to be shoulder-to-shoulder and get the bustle of being in a crowded room,” says Hodari. It doesn’t hurt to say hi or share info about your work—cross-disciplinary brainstorming can come in handy.
If you've got a suggestion, speak up
Feel free to offer ideas for how to make the environment better for everyone. Bleary-eyed entrepreneurs who pulled all-nighters were the inspiration for Bamboo Detroit to develop a new perk. "We let people take naps on the couch, and in the morning we have to nudge people awake," says Lewan. "If they need to sleep, that's safer that they do that than driving home." Now, the company has worked out a discount with a local hotel where members can crash for a reduced fee after midnight.
Don't be gross
This should go without saying. And yet. Granted, when you're in the zone, it can be hard to notice that you're gnawing on your cuticles. That's a benign infraction compared to clipping your nails at your desk or using a pen cap to fish scraps of food out of your teeth. The most important thing to remember? "You're not alone in your apartment," says Lewan.