Is Coworking For You?

I won’t lie to you–as an introvert, I’ve learned to love working from home. I get to set my own hours, play my own music (or not), arrange my environment as I would prefer it, and don’t get interrupted by a lot of people when I’m in the middle of a hot deadline or train of thought.

That said, technical writing is one of the “knowledge economy” careers that works well in a coworking space. What’s coworking, some of you might be asking? In essence, it’s a shared office space for a bunch of individuals who have their own business or work for multiple companies but otherwise would work from home. Why would you want to join such a community (and yes, there are membership dues)?

It’s Quieter Alternative to Starbucks, BUT…

I’ve made the rounds at Starbucks, Panera, the local library…whoever has wifi and/or breakfast, sometimes just to get out of the house. Coworking sites are often converted industrial or office properties that have been made over into comfortable shared work spaces.They’re made for work, whereas Starbucks, while it has wifi and allegedly good coffee, is noisy and not wired for someone trying to get content written.

On the other hand, coworking sites differ from rented formal office space, such as you might find at Regus, as they tend to feature open floor plans and an atmosphere that is built with some socializing/networking/collaborating in mind.

Office-based Networking

Why on Earth would an introvert want to work among all those people? Aren’t we happy to finally have the luxury of working from home?

Two words: business contacts. Depending on the types of customers you support, you might meet potential clients or people who know potential clients.

And there’s this: not every work-from-home business is run by an introvert.

So really what you have in a coworking facility is the “social” aspect of an office without everyone reporting to the same boss(es). You’re free–or encouraged!–to talk with others to find out what they’re doing and see if they might have an opportunity for you to help.

Downsides

I’ve only really been to a couple of these places, though I’ve been doing research and other writing for a local startup coworking place in Orange County (ScribbleSpace), so I have a general idea of the different types of environments you can find. Some coworking places can be louder than others, some will just have a different “culture” because of the nature of the people working there or how the place was organized.

One coworking place I visited was rather messy–chairs and tables all over the place, random paint splashes on the wall–and noisy, as they were playing some loud music that did not appeal to me.

Another issue (for me, anyway) is the “cruise director” mentality, where coworking managers feel they have to create activities or events to keep the members engaged. Quite frankly, those types of events can be off-putting at times and you can be made to feel “guilted” into attending. I had enough of that in corporate America, thank you. But hey, if you miss that aspect of working in an office, there’s probably a location that can do that for you. And because you don’t work for a coworking space but at one, you’re not as obligated to go, so that’s one advantage.

Finally, there are just days where you need to be in your zone–a quiet place or a loud one–and you can only achieve that at home. Fair enough: work from home that day. Unlike a traditional office or company, you’re not required to be there–just remember that it’s your money. If the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t work for you, try something else.

Finding the Right Atmosphere

ScribbleSpace is a project developed by a small-business-owning friend (and customer) of mine, Cynthia. Cynthia’s primary business is a creative shop that handles graphic design, advanced public-facing touch-screen applications, animations, and other cool things. Because her work puts her in contact with IT, marketing, and other business units as well as creative types, she’s in the process of developing a space that can appeal both to artists and more traditional business professionals. This means ScribbleSpace is a mix of more traditional furniture and fixtures (desks, tables) with the occasional artistic design flourish, as seen below.

image1

This is a desk lamp…no, really!

image2

Ceiling light, which I call the Death Star…

image3

The primary bright color at ScribbleSpace is orange–Cynthia is playing that up to the max!

image4

One of several groovy chairs from IKEA.

The goal of this mixed artsy/professional look is to make the place inviting to both types of clients–enough “cool” for the artists to feel at home but enough “normal” that accountants or the more traditional technical writers (that’d be folks like me) won’t think it too weird or messy. ScribbleSpace is still in soft-opening mode, as we still don’t have all the furniture yet. However, a lot of the hard thinking and doing has already been done, from deciding the target market to acquiring the facility, a new commercial space in the upscale neighborhood of Summerport Village in Windermere, FL. In addition to being an office-away-from-home, ScribbleSpace is also being designed to support classes or other events. Cynthia’s also been working with a consultant who has set up and run other facilities in the past. The goal is not just to run a well-organized facility but to help build a community of freelancers, who otherwise would be disconnected from the social whirl of the business world.

The bottom line, in any case, is that you have to determine what type of atmosphere works for you and to figure out whether you want to create it yourself–in your home or by starting your own space. And if having a lot of people around all the time isn’t for you, you don’t have to make it a habit. However, I would strongly suggest that you at least try coworking. While not everyone works in the “knowledge” economy and is able to take their work on the road, technical communicators definitely are in that category, and should investigate this new form of workplace. It can help relieve some of the loneliness of working from home, and (even if you don’t have the loneliness problem) you might make contacts that lead you to new business!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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