It used to be that if you were a freelancer and didn’t want to commit to the expense and inflexibility of rented office space, you had the choice of either working from home – with its attendant potential for isolation and demotivation – or you pounded the streets in search of free wifi and a bit of company in coffee shops, libraries and so on.
But no longer. You can now have the best of both worlds without their disadvantages. The phenomenon known as coworking has crossed the Atlantic from the US and is being enthusiastically adopted all over the UK.
Coworking means working alongside other freelancers, contractors, home workers and small business owners. You can do it by renting a desk, which comes with free wifi, by the hour, day or week at a coworking space. Prices are low enough to be affordable to even the most cash-strapped start-up. Here in the Somerset market town of Frome, the tariff at The Old Church School starts at just £20 for 8 hours a month.
The benefits of coworking are numerous. The most appealing to the company-starved home worker is probably the chance to work with other likeminded people, to indulge in a bit of chitchat and have somebody – and possibly an expert in that field – to ask if you come up against a problem. You can help other coworkers by sharing your own expertise and there is always the possibility of coming up with new projects and business ideas.
A good way to sample coworking is by attending a Jelly, a casual day event where freelancers get together, which was invented in New York a few years ago by a couple of IT professionals fed-up with the loneliness and isolation of working from home alone. (Apparently they were eating jelly beans when they came up with the idea!)
Check out the Jelly Wiki to find out what is happening in your local area, or try Googling “Jelly” plus the name of your town. Twitter is a good source of information -search for the hashtags #coworking and #Jelly to get started.
Why not start your own Jelly, if there’s nothing going on where you live? One of the wonderful and unique characteristics of Jelly is that anyone sufficiently inspired by the concept can set up their own. There is no overall organising body and no ‘rules’ – except the informal understanding that Jelly is free and that it is not a sales opportunity. I’ve written a How to Start Your Own Jelly guide to get you started as quickly and simply as possible.
And if you are still a bit puzzled about what actually happens at Jelly and what you could possibly achieve there, Attending Jelly will give you some idea about both.
Coworking shows every sign of going from strength to strength here, as it has done in the US. Not surprising given that it provides human connection as well as an affordable place to work.