Recently my work has taken me away from my coworking office – such is the nature of a freelancer, for whom coworking spaces are a natural habitat.
The absence has made me reflect on what it means to be a member of a coworking office, and the numerous ways it has benefitted me, and my co workers, both professionally and personally.
After joining a coworking office with the company I was working for at the time, I spent the first few weeks in relative silence: head down, eyes on my screen, tiptoeing into the kitchen for (complimentary) coffee and still adapting to this brand new, funky, relaxed, work environment.
My solitude didn’t last long. Coworking offices are friendly places. With members working in separate businesses, they are at liberty – and indeed positively encouraged – to make friends.
This is not only good for business, as coworkers network, share contacts and swap skills, but morale. Many people who opt to rent a desk in a coworking office are solo entrepreneurs who have endured the boredom and loneliness that can come from working at home. Coworking is a chance to have conversations at least, and make life long friendships at best.
I know because I have. Having been absent I realise how actively I miss my friends. These aren’t your average work relationships – a couple of drinks on Friday night and a catch up in the kitchen. We socialise outside of work hours, invest in each other’s lives and – crucially – support each other at work, free from the professional envy and competition that can be provoked by working for the same firm.
I can’t speak for the men in my coworking office but the female community I have found is remarkable: supportive, comforting and ever present.
I’ve been working on a formal, let’s say ‘conventional’, office of late and the differences are immense. Here we hot desk: on any given day you might turn up to find a keyboard filled with someone else’s crumbs, or that you’ve been lumped with the wobbly chair or, worse, that there is no desk for you at all. In my coworking office I have my own desk, decorated to suit me, piled high with the things I want and need to get me through the 9-5 (or should that be 8 to god knows when?).
There is little flexibility outside of the coworking world: no coming in late and making up the hours, no hour-plus lunch breaks just because. Teams are teams, desks and desks and there is scant fluctuation for a team to expand and contract as needed.
Then there are the smaller gripes: it is harder to store food, harder to use microwaves, so one finds oneself buying pre packed whatever every lunch break, wracking up the pounds and the calories. I can’t leave things here so if I turn up to find the air con on high whack, I’ll spend the whole day cold dreaming of the jumper slung on the chair at my coworking desk.
But these are minor things masking the bigger issue: I miss the community that coworking brings. My coworking office functions as a second home, the members as a pseudo family. I have eaten with friends there, enjoyed drinks there, celebrated and consoled long into the night there. I have napped there, done some of my best work in my coworking office, and experienced professional failures. I have discovered my professional identity there – hell, I went freelance there, like so many more before me who were all willing to share the lesson they learned and impart advice.
I walk to the kitchen and say hello to five people on the way, have a passing knowledge of how business is going for each and can offer my help knowing they would do the same for me.
Work is work at the end of the day – most of us would rather be at home than working at a desk anywhere. But I’ve been in the other side and I know: coworking is something to be cherished, whenever and however long you’re there.