Once upon a time, freelancers were resigned to a professional life of solitude in their home office or jostling for position at their local coffee shop. Enter co-working spaces, which look set to change all that.
There were a reported 15,500 coworking spaces in action worldwide in 2017, with the figure estimated at 22,400 in 2019 – a stark rise from the 600 active in 2010.
Co-working spaces remove the isolation of working from home alone and the many distractions of working in a crowded coffee shop (not least the coffee, croissants, and conversation). But even though it’ll get you out of the house (and your PJs), co-working may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Advantages of co-working spaces
There’s something about co-working spaces. One Harvard Business Review study notes that people who use co-working spaces report high levels of "thriving" – scoring an average of six on a seven-point scale (86%). This compares to a five-point average (71%) score reported by traditional office-bound employees. By “thriving”, the research is referring to “the psychological state in which individuals experience both a sense of vitality and learning.”
So, if you’re looking to put some spring in your step and usher your productivity to the next level, the co-working option may be tailor-made for you.
Wider networking opportunities
Napoleon Hill (author of the best-selling business book, Think and Grow Rich) once said: “Your network is your net worth.” A communal, collaborative work environment, such as a co-working space, provides the perfect platform to build a solid professional network.
Aside from being flanked by other freelancers, some co-working spaces have been known to court entrepreneurs, early adopters, angel investors, venture capitalists, and the like. Who knows? Rubbing shoulders with one of these professionals could see you secure your next client, colleague, or business partner. You can hire or be hired, or even land your first investment!
Chances are, if you’re facing a challenge, it’s already been encountered and overcome by someone else – and that someone may be sitting a hot-desk away from you.
Maybe you just want a sounding board for a project proposal you’re working on. You can always connect with, say, a fellow freelancer for advice. They may have some pearls of wisdom to pass on, but be sure to weigh-up their motives first. Anyone in direct competition with you, for example, won’t necessarily have your best interests at heart.
Discipline and accountability
Discipline and accountability are staples of successful freelancers. Co-working affords opportunities for both. The clear demarcation between work and leisure instils discipline in your daily routine (no temptation from the TV or the fridge). Being around like-minded professionals can also be a source of inspiration.
Moreover, by sharing plans and aspirations with others, you’ll make yourself accountable for your progress. It’s a bit like telling someone that you’re on a diet - you’re more likely to stick to your eating plan if you know you’ll have to tell them if you later decide to call it quits.
Sense of community
Co-working spaces have a community feel to them. Unlike the regular freelance hustle, which is a largely solo affair, co-working spaces can be energising, give you a sense of belonging and make you feel like you’re part of something bigger. In fact, many people who manage co-working spaces actively try to promote this community spirit.
In the words of the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.”
If you like the creature comforts of state-of-the-art offices but don’t have the cash to pay for them, a co-working space may be the perfect financial solution for you.
You’ll have access to desk space, meeting rooms, private areas, copiers, scanners, Wi-Fi, the odd coffee machine, even meditation rooms, and karaoke. Some managed spaces even include access to healthcare and human resources.
Because it’s a shared space, the costs are lower than a normal private office. You won’t have to sign long leases as hourly charging and flexible monthly memberships are usually available, so you can use the space as often or as little as you like.
Disadvantages of co-working spaces
Just as there are distractions working at home, co-working has its fair share of distractions too – such as noise, activity, and negative vibes from the inevitable lows that come with the rollercoaster rides that are freelancing and entrepreneurship.
You’ll also need to confine your socialising to scheduled breaks otherwise one big advantage of a co-working space (collaboration) could quickly become a disadvantage (distraction).
It’s quite likely you could find yourself in direct competition with people sharing your co-working space, so you’re best advised to keep a lid on your plans until you’ve sussed out the competition.
Eventually, partnering up with a competitor may actually be a good idea – especially if you have similar goals, temperaments, and such.
With people working in such close proximity, there’s always the potential for conflict. Freelancers are a diverse breed – some are formal, others more relaxed. Occasionally, these styles may clash and spill over into the working atmosphere.
Privacy and security
Sharing a communal space increases the odds of sensitive information being lost, stolen or accessed by unauthorised persons.
Although it can add to your expenses in the short-term, investing in a system to safeguard your private and confidential data is a necessary evil that may prevent more costly data loss or compromise in the future.
If you want the freedom and autonomy of remote working and the structure and discipline of a collaborative office environment, a co-working space may be right up your street (literally).
Think about encrypting all your devices, using a good password manager such as LastPass to make sure your passwords are strong and secure, or making sure you use a Firewall on your network. There are plenty more security tips on this handy 101 security tips article from Digital Guardian.
How can I find a coworking space?
Ask around, use your local network (you are networking aren’t you?) or use Google to find a coworking space near you. Think about the type of environment you’d enjoy and visit a few to see what you think of them. Factor in cost of travel and what’s included to work out if the price is appealing.
Don't forget about your finances
Of course, we believe the best way to keep on top of your business finances is to get an accountant! At Crunch, our expert team of client managers and chartered certified accountants are always on hand to advise you on what expenses you can and can’t claim, and ways to be more tax-efficient as well as taking care of HMRC for you. You’ll also have access to our easy-to-use online accounting software to make managing your accounts a breeze.