If working from home is holding your business back, co-working could be the answer. Serial entrepreneur Andrew Brown shares his experience with the co-working scene.
On the face of it, working from home is career nirvana. It eliminates hours of stressful commuting from your week and means you don’t have to change out of your pyjamas. Importantly it gives you the flexibility to do valuable things like volunteering or simply hanging out with your family.
Yet, despite these advantages, as the co-founder of a start-up business, I was disappointed by my work from home arrangement. It was isolating. I missed the camaraderie of the office and found that the lack of networking opportunities was holding my business back.
So I decided to try co-working spaces as they appeared to offer the ‘best of both worlds’.
What I found was that co-working can deliver all the benefits of the traditional office environment without the restrictions of a conventional lease, but … there are a number of pitfalls you should look out for.
Here are my tips to help you avoid the seven deadly seductions of co-working.
1. Go for the right vibe
Joining a co-working space is like being inducted into a tribe – you commit to the vibe of the space and the ethos of its members so it’s important to make sure the crowd suits you. At one co-working space I found myself with a team of consultants who were a bit humourless (they in turn found my dress code and behaviour a bit too casual for an office).
Make a short list of the co-working spaces in your preferred location and arrange to visit them all. Consider the general ambiance of each spot. Ask yourself which ones align best with your corporate image and the markets you are tapping into. Which ones suit your style of working?(For example, if you need a quiet desk away from the general buzz, is there one available?)
2. Don’t fall for the sales pitch
It’s easy to be seduced by the charming concierge who gives you a tour of your new digs but be absolutely certain that the organisation offers the all amenities you need. I signed up for six months at a co-working space because the concierge made me feel important but I soon realised I was always short of a meeting room.
Make sure your space provides reliable access to meeting rooms, audio visual equipment, quality printing etc and gives you enough time to use them. I know from experience that it’s extremely irritating to be forced to move half way through an important discussion.
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3. Stand up for your desk space
Co-working spaces are extremely fluid places and are always re-configuring to meet the needs of growing client base. At one co-working space, the desk I was given on my first day was twice the size of the actual desk I had for most of my tenancy. The lesson is to look at whether your designated work area is comfortable and ensure your requirements are locked in contractually.
4. Avoid buying a membership for the frills
Co-working spaces foster a sense of community by scheduling events and activities like professional development talks, guest speakers, social drinks, and exercise classes. In order to get the most out of your co-working space it’s important that these ‘extracurricular’ activities are actually beneficial to you. Don’t get seduced by networking nights only to find that everyone is in the same profession and not open to connecting you with opportunities.
5. Find out who is already in the club
Look carefully at the tenants you’ll be co-working with. It’s important to rub shoulders with a diverse crowd who can provide help with a broad range of issues, not to mention client leads.
Be cautious about working alongside competitors. The atmosphere could soon become tense if you’re chasing the same clients. A graphic artist I know told me that networking was pointless at his co-working space because all the tenants were in the same field pitching for the same work.
6. Do your own digging
I advise chatting to a few of the existing tenants before committing to a contract. Organise a ‘date’ off site where they can speak frankly about potential problems such as noise levels, dress codes and the overall cohesiveness of the place.
In my case using Linkedin to ping a few tenants before locking myself in would have saved me a lot of hassle.
7. Try before you buy
Once you’ve found a space that ticks all your boxes, I’d recommend ‘trying before you buy’. See if you can use the co-working space for a trial period or begin with the shortest available lease so you can be certain that the setting is right for you.
On the whole my experience with co-working was extremely positive. It was definitely better than working from home. I found that the encounters with people I would normally not have the chance to meet, the uplifting mood and vibe, were well worth any drawbacks. But it’s definitely not for everyone (as the results of the 2016 Flying Solo survey showed!).
Have you tried a co-working space? What was the experience like for your business?