One of the first things you learn when you go freelance is that isolation can be a soul-killer. Dreams of sleeping late, working in your pajamas and taking your laptop to the coffee shop to impress the baristas are quickly overshadowed by just how hard it is to be creative, energetic and connected to the world around you’re perpetually on your own.
Enter the latest trend in freelancing: coworking.
Coworking isn’t about going into business with others, although that’s been known to happen as a result. Instead, the term refers to finding or creating a communal space where you can work alongside other freelancers and entrepreneurs, in a stimulating and creative communal environment.
Coworking spaces often provide large communal work areas and desks as well as individual cubbies for getting away from the crowd when you need to concentrate. In addition, most of them also provide conference rooms, copy/print centers and other “officey” amenities that members can reserve or use as needed. Many such businesses require you to purchase a long-term membership (like a gym) or join a coop, although some places will rent space by the week or even the hour.
Full services coworking spaces often feature lecture series or classes, group events and other activities to help members improve and increase their skills and their businesses. They may also offer networking events, equipment rentals, member business showcases or promotions, fitness rooms, resources and other value-added options.
Coworking spaces provide a place where freelancers can get out of their own heads. They offer professional spaces where members can meet clients and deliver presentations, and where they can connect and collaborate with their peers. In short, coworking gives you all the benefits of working in an office with none of the downsides.
Coworking spaces range from simple coops to expansive, CEO-level environments and small business incubators. If this sounds like your sort of thing, you can start your search at the Coworking wiki (http://coworking.pbwiki.com/), and there’s a coworking conversation going on at the Coworking Community blog. (http://blog.coworking.info/)
Here are a few things you should keep in mind if you’re considering coworking:
Basic services. Basic services at coworking spaces include desk space, internet access and usually some sort of communal workspace. Most also offer conference rooms, access to equipment (computers, phones, copiers).
Advanced services. Additional services range from classes and seminars, networking opportunities, business incubation and start-up resources, nap rooms, recreational areas, cafeterias or coffee bars, high-end equipment (specialty printers, electronic whiteboards, etc.), concierge services and other amenities.
Questions to ask:
- How much will joining a coworking space cost and what does your membership include? What other services are available? Most offer tiered options, ranging from basic access to private offices and specialized services.
- Is this a “business hours only” space, or is it available 24/7? Are you signing a contract, or is this a pay-as-you-go set up? If it’s the former, what happens if you cancel early?
- Do you like to work in a communal space with lots of interaction and conversation, or do you need a quiet space where you can concentrate? Coworking spaces differ greatly in this area – it pays to go in during peak times to see if the noise and interaction level works for you.
- Is there adequate, convenient parking (or are parking validation and expenses included in your fee), or will you have to pay the meter or a parking garage in addition to membership costs?
The most important feature of the coworking situation isn’t private conference rooms or computer rentals – it’s other people. Humans are social creatures. We crave company. We love being able to toss ideas around, bounce things off each other and share in conversation. By combining several freelancers in one space, a sort of communal energy is created that reawakens the spirit and sustains the soul of the solopreneur. As a way to combat isolation, it’s ideal. But it does far more than that – it can inspire you to greatness.