As a freelancer who works from home a lot, I’ve tried coworking. And I hope it’s a concept that’s here to stay.
This trend — for remote working individuals to find shared office space, instead of working from home — has been steadily gathering pace and has taken off to a degree that coworking spaces have popped up everywhere around the country, from Edinburgh to Canterbury, Swansea to Belfast.
Though the trend remains most popular in London, where it has become a thriving initiative for workers and the property market alike, its success and momentum is spreading at such a rate that it surely won’t be long before coworking is part of everyone’s vocabulary.
Whether you’re a freelance creative, tech start-up, new business venturer or an ethical mover and shaker, here’s everything you need to know…
A brief history of coworking
The concept and the term ‘coworking’ were conceived by Brad Neuberg, a software engineer from San Francisco and founder of ‘Inkling Habitat’, a cloud-based publication software.
Back in 2005, Neuberg was inspired to create a coworking space from which remote freelancers and employees — who missed aspects of being in an office with colleagues — could work and come together as a community.
Neuberg encouraged others to run with his idea, and the model gained ground, gradually becoming something of a phenomenon throughout the US. It wasn’t long before the movement started to catch on globally, and now coworking offices can be found on nearly every continent.
You can even get yourself a ‘coworking visa’ — which allows members of one coworking space to utilise other participating sites around the world for free.
Canadian workspace company The Network Hub have created a coworking visa map to showcase their partnering sites around the globe — which alone illustrates an impressive span of locations.
What coworking involves
Marrying the advantages of working in a shared office with the independence and flexibility of working from home, a coworking space will typically provide for its attendants: desk space, free wifi, the use of office facilities such as printing, scanning, shared kitchen and the fuel for its creative minds in the form of unlimited tea and coffee.
Many sites present further provisions such as networking ‘socials’ which aim to connect individuals and businesses for their mutual benefit. Some workspaces offer less common features for users, such as on-site showers, available at Central Working’s Shoreditch office and The Guild in Bath.
Costs can be contractual, usually for a yearly or monthly basis for a ‘fixed’ desk, or the space might be purchased on a ‘pay as you go’ style basis for weekly, daily or even hourly attendance, which is known as ‘hot desking.’ Attractive to those for whom flexibility is a key factor, this is reflected in a range of coworking pricing agreements.
Why more and more people are choosing to cowork
As Neuberg noticed, people working remotely can feel isolated.
However, there are many benefits to sharing a work place which extend beyond the simple wish to share tea breaks with another human being.
Stemming from this social proximity is the focus and motivation derived from being with other professionals, especially those of a like-minded inclination. Not only can communal working drive personal productivity, but creatives can draw inspiration from each other.
There’s also the opportunity for networking. Speaking with other freelancers and business owners on a regular basis can increase opportunities for new clients, or even lead to collaborative projects between individuals, who’ll form ‘collectives’ to work together on a job.
One advantage which many coworking advocates will endorse, is having access to a professional space in which to meet clients.
Most coworking environments are designed to inspire, with the use of bright colours, open space and natural light commonplace. Some offer a quirkiness and individualistic theme, created with the vibrant clientele they hope to attract in mind. This injection of personality can be preferable to the blandness or clinical feel of traditional meeting room venues and provides a professional setting in lieu of public sites such as coffee shops.
Many perceive working from home as the ultimate dream, for some it arrives as a necessity, however most will agree that the reality holds more drawbacks than perhaps anticipated. Often the work-life balance is nudged askew, the ability to ever truly ‘switch off’ or indeed ‘switch on’ becomes compromised because there is no change in environment, no physical, and consequently, mental shift which encourages this to happen. Coworking can offer a very real, tangible solution to this, affording the simple satisfaction of leaving work behind at the office and reinstating the quality of home life.
A working space for everyone
The experimental and imaginative roots of coworking have led to innovative and uniquely designed sites which beckon creative types.
Clean lines, bold shapes and accents of colour feature strongly within meticulously presented, hip, modern offices provided by the likes of Central Working, which has locations around London and Manchester. The Guild hub, located in Bath’s former technical college extension at the Guildhall, offers communal working space within the historic beauty of a grade I listed building.
Manchester's Mad Lab, or ‘Manchester Digital Laboratory’ has been functioning successfully as a not-for-profit, grassroots, innovation organisation since 2009. Its main base – and the site of its exciting coworking space — is a three storey former weavers’ cottage within Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter.
‘The Distillery’ at Glasgow’s Whisky Bond makes inventive and spacious use of what was once a whisky warehouse, whilst The Fruitworks in Canterbury has restored a Victorian warehouse, using the bright, open space and red brickwork to its full aesthetic advantage.
Beyond style, some spaces are created with particular groups of professionals in mind.
Tech Hub which describes itself as “the global community for technology startups” boasts locations in the heart of London — including the Google-operated ‘Campus’ — Swansea and around Europe. Likewise, Edinburgh’s Tech Cube aims primarily at technology start-ups.
Ethical Property design or renovate their sites with the specific motivation to minimise environmental impact in mind. They have twenty three different workspace centres across Scotland, England and Wales and host shared office, event and retail spaces appealing to not-for-profit organisations and charities.
Similarly, Impact Hub, who have four London sites and one in Birmingham, seek individuals working to enact positive social and environmental change, to come together for networking, collaboration and inspiration.
In general, coworking spaces are open to individuals from all sectors and the overriding sense is one of encouragement for the dynamism and vibrancy which connecting workers of all experiences can incite.
An increasing variety in the work space available simply means there’s a place suited for everyone.
How to find a coworking space near you
A simple Google search is always a good way to begin, however, there are now several apps and websites which cater specifically for finding shared workspaces throughout the UK and beyond.
For instance, Café Wifi is an iTunes app which allows users to locate accessible workspaces around the UK and internationally. This includes coworking spaces, as well as cafes and libraries with wifi.
Desks Near Me provides a searchable list of shared spaces to work around the globe. By signing up as a user you can easily reserve desk space at the venue of your choice.
Specific to the UK, Near Desk provides users with a membership card, which allows them to access over 200 compatible work hubs and meeting rooms throughout the country. Described “like an Oyster card for renting desk space and meeting rooms,” once registered, members can simply search for a nearby site, then choose to reserve a hot desk with just one click (subject to availability.) Their mobile app is available on iTunes and Google Play.
Is coworking here to stay?
Speaking as a freelancer who admittedly, gets lonely working from home from time to time — and who’s benefitted from the motivating vibes of a creative, coworking environment, I do hope the coworking movement continues.
The good news is, at present the UK coworking momentum shows no signs of slowing down, so the possibilities for this new type of work community are both vast and exciting.
Home workers, it seems, need never feel isolated again.