Freelancers usually work alone, in home offices free of distractions, noises, colleagues and bosses. That should allow us to work at our best, in environments that we’ve created. In fact though, if we really want to improve our productivity, the best strategy might be to gather a bunch of people in a room and work alongside them.
That’s one of the principles of co-working — spaces which allow freelancers and others to share the kind of open plan office that employees usually try so hard to avoid. Although sitting at a large desk with a dozen other people should always do wonders for a lone freelancer’s social life, that co-working can actually improve productivity is a bit more surprising. According to one survey reported last year, 93 percent of co-workers said that the practice had increased their social circle and 88 percent said it had reduced their feelings of isolation. An incredible 76 percent of co-workers though also said that joining a co-working space actually improved their work output.
“It’s not intuitive that leaving their ‘office of solitude’ to work alongside ten other people would actually help freelancers to be more productive,” says Kristin Golliher of Cohere, a co-working space in Fort Collins, CO. “But over and over we hear stories of that exact thing happening.”
Get More Out of Co-Working
You can only take out of co-working what you put in. Here’s how to make the most of a shared workspace.
- Discuss your work Let your new friends know what you’re working on. You might well find that you’re sharing a table with someone who can help you finish the job — or who knows someone who needs a similar project completed.
- Offer help The more support you provide, the more support you can expect to receive. If you can lend a hand to someone else in the co-working community, don’t miss the chance.
- Look for collaborative opportunities Companies have multiple employees because it allows them to make the most of different kinds of talent. When a co-working space has skills as varied as designers, writers, and programmers, there are always opportunities for new start-ups.
The Buzz of a Workspace
Some of that improved productivity can be put down to the environment. A good co-working office will have the buzz of a workspace rather than the relaxed atmosphere of a home or the multiple distractions of a corner table in a café. When you’re surrounded by other freelancers who have their heads down and are focused on a project, peer pressure forces you to do the same.
Other co-workers have also found that going to an “office” lets them to draw a clear line between work and personal time, enabling them to get more out of each period.
“This reduces stress and allows them to feel more relaxed when not ‘at work,’ says Golliher.
But the increased productivity can mostly be put down to the camaraderie that co-workers feel about their community — as well as the opportunities those connections can bring.
Cohere, for example, has existed for two years and now has 36 members, most of whom pay either for a five-day a week membership plan or a one-day a week membership plan. The site contains four private offices, all of which are rented out, a conference room capable of seating fifteen, a kitchen and two private phone booths. Members include computer programmers and IT professionals, writers and designers, consultants, researchers, lawyers, accountants, artists, musicians, marketing and public relations professionals, photographers and students too. (The site is close to Colorado State University.) At any one time, as many as fifteen people can be found working on various desks around the office.
That mixed community has led to a number of collaborative projects. Four of the members have begun building a niche start-up called “4 Courses.” Two have worked together to create ebooks about the benefits of co-working.
“Cohere has introduced these professionals to each other, and friendships, increased incomes, and even new companies have resulted,” says Golliher. “This type of collaboration is contagious, and many of our members can’t imagine working without it.”
Take Out Your Ear Buds
The productivity — and collaboration — benefits of co-working don’t come to freelancers automatically with a key and a membership fee though. Golliher notes that users of co-working spaces need to see the site as more than a desk, a chair and endless free coffee to match the Internet access. Plugging in your ear buds and communing only with your computer might look like the best way to get work done but making the most of co-working requires engaging with the community, becoming a part of it and allowing it to support you.
“We all have ‘do not disturb’ days, but this is not coworking,” says Golliher. “Getting to know your neighbor, participating in both social and educational activities, and piping up when you can offer advice, feedback or encouragement to someone is how you tap into the real value of co-working.”
In fact, those social and educational activities are becoming increasingly important in co-working. What started as a way for lone freelancers to work together in February 2006 when Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford formed Jelly, is beginning to grow into an incubator for freelancers who want to build their knowledge and develop connections as well as get out of the house and away from the coffee shop. New York space General Assembly, for example, is known as much for its campus that includes classes on group buying, algorithms, getting hired and reading a cap table, and as a launchpad for start-ups like Art.sy and Amicus, as it’s known as a community for rising entrepreneurs.
It’s possible that the declining economy and the loss of full-time jobs has pushed some freelancers into co-working. But it’s also becoming clear that those freelancers are staying for the camaraderie, the opportunity and the increased productivity.
The first co-working space is still a valuable resource for anyone looking for an place in their area.
New York’s entrepreneurial site shows the new trend in co-working with education and networking as important as desk space and wireless connections.
A co-working space in Fort Collins, CO.
A guide to creating a co-working space by Cohere’s Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski.