The traditional office has become less important as more people work via mobile phone and a laptop computer, and coworking is becoming a popular alternative. Members get many of the benefits of office life — a community, a work environment, and meeting spaces — without giving up the freedom of working on their own schedules.
Coworking has been growing in popularity since the phrase was coined around 2005. Almost every major city has at least one space, and most spaces have options that allow you to drop in for a day or two before committing to a monthly or yearly membership. Here are five signs that giving coworking a try might be a good idea for you.
1. You Often Forget to Shower During the Work Week
Sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the house. “The basic common denominator comes from the desire to be around people and get out of the house and be a part of something,” said Evona Niewiadomska, who manages a coworking space in Boston called WorkBar. “The most common thing that I hear from people is that working from home is just driving them crazy and they need another work environment.”
For some people, being around other people who are working helps them get in the work groove, too. Or at least gives them an excuse to shower.
2. You Hate Networking Events, But You Need a Network
Tired of trading business cards and shaking hands while trying to hold a cocktail at the same time? Working alongside other professionals can help you develop meaningful connections without much effort.
“It’s fine to meet somebody and get their business card at some networking event or some conference, but once you actually get to see what they’re working on — they show you on their computer — you see somebody’s real expertise when they’re working on something and they’re talking about it, and they can also spread the word on the stuff that you’re doing,” says Jay Catalan, the co-founder of a coworking space in Vancouver called The Network Hub.
3. You Are Not An Expert in Everything
Bill Jacobson and Dave Ulrich, who co-founded WorkBar, remember a startup law firm that set up shop in WorkBar that needed a website designed. Meanwhile, a design firm in the same space needed contract work done. Lightbulb moment: they traded services.
“[At WorkBar] there are people who do all facets of what you need for your company: lawyers, accountants, to web designers, to software designers,” Jacobson says. “So it’s a community of resources as well as people, too.”
There are stories like this in every coworking space. Jeff Park, who manages the Ravenswood Coworking Group in Chicago, gives the example of a woman who imported outdoor equipment in bulk that met a man who designs packaging at Ravenswood. He says a lot of times programmers will also seek help from other programmers in the space who might be versed in one particular coding language. “It’s a captive pool of talent that you can readily access,” he says.
It’s good to make contacts within your field, but in a coworking space you’ll likely make contacts beyond it. Being connected to other industries can be a great way to find resources when you need them.
4. You Have Gotten in a Fight Over a Café Electrical Outlet
“Why not just work in a coffee shop?” many skeptics of coworking ask. On the road, that might not be a bad strategy. But as an everyday routine, coworking trumps cafés every time.
“As someone who has friends who work in coffee shops, it’s just rude to go somewhere and sit down with your laptop and occupy that space for hours,” Park says.
For Catalan, the frustration with the coffee shop workday stems more from needing to pack your work up and take it with you to the bathroom, the noise of the coffee grinder, and the competition for space. Some cafe owners have intentionally made their businesses unpractical work places by banning laptops, blocking outlets or shutting down their Wi-Fi.
Coworking spaces, on the other hand, encourage a work environment with lots of desk space, outlets for everybody, printers, and back-up Wi-Fi. Also, coworking spaces generally do not play awful music all day.
5. You Meet With Clients in Your Kitchen
You might work well in your home, but moving your breakfast dishes out of the way to have a meeting might not make you appear as professional as you would like.
Client meetings were part of what drove Catalan to start looking for a place to work other than home. “A lot of our clients were somewhat doubtful of ‘how professional are you if I have to meet you at the Starbucks and we have to fight for a seat?’ ” he says. “[Meeting at the coworking space] shows your client that you’re serious about your work.”
Some Signs That Coworking is Not for You
Coworking is not for everybody. The first group of people who fit into this category, according to Work Bar: “Wood choppers.” Some more subtle signs that coworking might not be right for you include:
- You’re a company of 10 people or more. “When a company has that many people, it’s harder for them to integrate with the rest of the community because they are basically too busy communicating with each other,” Catalan says. “I would say it’s ideal for companies that have two to three people.”
- You need a lot of privacy. Coworking is generally not optimal if privacy is a big concern for your company. If you’re a lawyer who deals with a lot of confidential documents or doesn’t want to be overheard on the phone, coworking doesn’t work.
- You don’t like people. It’s hard to avoid at least minimal socializing in a coworking space, so if that’s not your cup of tea, go to a coffee shop.