Co-Working — The Pros and Cons in 2016
Free Coffee! Why do you love your co-working space?
Work in 2016. The year when asking "Where shall I work today?" seems like an utterly normal thing to ask.
"Where Shall I Work Today?"
But that can get confusing. Even though many of us benefit from this decades-long tear-down and rebuild of how we move through out days, the in-between time can get uncomfortable.
Though many of us have the quasi-luxury of asking "Where shall I work today?" the ability to consider work-styles and work-goals and work-needs when answering that question remains.
The clear understanding that many of us do many hours of unpaid work each day has helped many (mostly women) better understand why they either feel exhausted or why they seem to be so innately good at "multi-tasking" so separating out "paid work" from "unpaid work" is a helpful and necessary distinction.
And the recent focus on the importance of play in our lives has also helped many notice that work and play are sometimes hard to define beyond the simple fact that one needs to be done and the other is optional.
So. "Where shall I work today?" is an utterly important question many of us are able to ask each morning. And many of us are answering with "Co-working space".
What is a Co-Working Space?
The first co-working space happened in San Francisco in 2005. Fast forward 11 years and they are doubling each year worldwide, with Berlin and London being a couple hot spots around the world.
Co-working spaces can be divided into "space-first" and "community-first" - Sometimes the space exists and then workers individually swarm to that space, populating it one by one. Sometimes, a community in need of space "jellies" or organizes together around a similarity. As they get together in someone's living room or a coffee shop they define their needs and eventually find a shared space to work in.
Co-working has evolved to include more than just a kitchenette with free coffee. Sometimes the spaces include beer, too! But beyond those obvious draws, other benefits of co-working spaces include shared financial services, shared courses, shared insurance, etc. In other words, practical stuff that can be more economical when shared. The beer and coffee is a great little perk, but the idea of sharing actual business services is inspired.
Co-working can mean more than white collar digital creative work. There are shared biology labs, shared maker spaces, shared kitchens for professional chefs.
Selling a Sense of Community
Of course, in this environment, co-working chains are popping up and savvy entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the seeming need for people to leave their home offices but not quite join a traditional office space.
Design of the space is important. But so too is the vibe created, the work environment, the chill-factor. Who else will be there? Is the environment serious or playful? Can we get any work done? Are these people I'd like to hang out with?
Pros and Cons - Cons First
If you are aware of the Bugle, the hilarious podcast by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, you might have heard this definition of co-working:
Do you work from home but miss the office atmosphere? Then simply hire a group of people you don't really like and would never otherwise spend time with, to mill around your livingroom for nine hours a day.
The most obvious argument against co-working is that you might rent a desk among a bunch of people you actually don't like very much.
Similar to this might be the argument that you may very well be surrounded by a bunch of people who are looking to take advantage of one of the biggest perks of these spaces: the fact that you can learn a lot, get advice, and "network". If you are the one giving advice, teaching, and otherwise helping your fellow co-workers, that could get old, fast.
If you currently work at home, cost can be a consideration. Is it worth the couple hundred dollars a month just for a bit of socialization, "free" coffee, and a different view? It's something to think about.
Thinking about the distinctions between networking and simply taking time and advice from others leads to another potential negative: competition. It's all well and good to collaborate and work together, but there are also situations where you're better off keeping your ideas to yourself.
And, again related to the noise of people asking, asking, asking...you can easily find yourself distracted in a co-working environment. The balance between work and water cooler chatter needs to be balanced.
Moving to the Pros
The benefits to co-working are, I think, both more straightforward and also more theoretical. Let me explain.
This utopian space that isn't quite working at home and isn't quite working in an office has ethereal benefits. You're at home, but wish you had a bit more "noise" - you're working in isolation and feel the lack of human interaction. Fair enough.
Or you're in an office space but feel the tug of autonomy. You know you'd like to set your own hours and you know you'd be way more productive without the constant interruptions.
These benefits can manifest in real-time. Co-working can work, in other words.
It can be cost-effective. If you need a space that is outside your home, a co-working space is less expensive than a full-blown office space. There's less commitment, less hassle, too. Often a desk can be rented by the hour.
That networking thing is real. If you practice setting boundaries, you can give and take with other co-workers in a way that is mutually beneficial. And if you find you're often giving advice and offering services, you might very well find both clients and employees.
Free coffee! The perks of a co-working space can add a bit of fun and playfulness to an otherwise ordinary day.
Shared communal costs - especially if there are lots of these in your line of work, a co-working space can really help. A bio-lab, pro-kitchen, or shared maker space are prime examples of this. Art supplies, classroom space, recording studio - use your imagination.
Real Life is Messy
In the end, whether you choose to work at home, at an office, or in a co-working space (or playground, cafe, or bar!) remember that real life is always messy and never perfect. You're going to have to put your nose down, your bum in your chair and get to work at some point. Good luck - and what have your experiences with work spaces been? Any new insights? Any warnings or best practices?