I am a freelance writer, which means I work from home most days. I often don’t see a real live human being until the evening when I go out to dinner with friends. When it’s just me, myself, and I, the isolation can become crazymaking. Sometimes, I’ll go to a café, but what I really want is to prevent the isolation that comes from working from home by yourself — I want a community and a way to socialize and collaborate, minus all the downsides of corporate culture. That’s where socialization benefits of coworking comes in.
One of the biggest struggles I have as a freelance writer is a lack of community. While going to a café can be something that gets you out of the house and exposes you to other humans, the transient nature of a café, plus the lack of security for your belongings, make it less than ideal for a permanent or part-time solution. For those who like quiet for working and concentration, the hustle and bustle of a café can be distracting. I once went to a café with a piano that was there for anyone to play, and in the middle of the day, someone just started playing extremely upbeat, extremely distracting tunes. I gritted my teeth until they started playing something more relaxing and jazzy, but for those 30 minutes, not even a pair of noise-blocking headphones could do the trick. I can say this with almost 1000 percent certainty: there will not be a piano player in the middle of the workday at a coworking space.
Here’s why coworking is beneficial to prevent the isolation of working from home and offers the best of both worlds.
What is a coworking space? And how is it different from renting your own office?
If you’re not familiar with the concept of coworking, you might think it’s the same as renting an office in one of those corporate buildings. If you were to rent from a traditional office space, you might spend $600 or more a month (in New York City, I’ve seen private spaces advertised for over $1000), and you may or may not have some of the same perks, such as a business mailing address, your own desk and office, and access to a conference room, but you would still be working alone, in your own space. There would be other people in this building but they would also be in their own space. It would not solve the problem of isolation, other than getting you to leave the house and not work in pajamas. There’d be no after-work events to go to, and in many cases, there’s no kitchen or shared lounge area. Renting an office by yourself in a regular office building doesn’t solve the problem of isolation or lack of socializing opportunities the way coworking does.
In contrast, coworking spaces offer many socializing opportunities to ward off isolation. At the Riveter, for example, you can go to a meditation class, attend one of the Office Hours to get a (free for members) 30-minute session with an expert in different fields (such life coaching or business banking), or see one of the Democratic presidential candidates live, in-the-flesh. These events happen throughout the day and after work hours, and are open to members for free and the general public for a nominal fee. At many coworking spots, there are often happy hours, or lunchtime breaks sponsored by a local restaurant or cafe. These give you a much-needed oasis from staring at your computer and allow you to chat with the person who was sitting next to you yesterday over a drink or a donut and find out what they are working on.
This is one of the reasons coworking is on the rise. The 2019 Global Coworking Survey report found that by the end of this year, almost 2.2 million people are expected to be coworking. By 2020, there are expected to be more than 26,000 coworking spaces around the world.
A sense of community
After a few weeks of working in a coworking space, you’ll notice that you’ve started to ward off that isolation of working from home, where the only people you interact with daily are via a screen on a messaging app. If you join a space that attracts more people in your industry, you can begin to develop a work network and a community like the one you used to have at your old office. While many coworking spaces are targeted at tech and startup professionals, others have a more creative clientele; find one that suits your particular needs. And don’t be wary of a space just because it doesn’t have many people in your industry; finding people who work in other areas might present more opportunities for collaborating or networking than you would have previously imagined.
Some reports show that coworking to relieve the isolation and increase socialization does work. A study conducted by Emergent Research and Global Coworking Conference UnConference found that not only were they rocking their work output (84 percent said they were more engaged and motivated when coworking), but they were happier, too: “89 percent reported they are happier; 83 percent reported they are less lonely; 78 percent reported that coworking helps keep them sane.”
The researchers also found that “87 percent report they meet other members for social reasons, with 54 percent saying they socialize with other members after work and/or on weekends, and 79 percent said coworking has expanded their social networks.”
If you thought coworking benefits extroverts only, studies show that introverts benefit from a coworking space. According to Deskmag, “‘More introverted’ members often speak with around 3 other coworking members per working day,” and prefer the open-office space plans of coworking spaces, specifically because they want the socializing that comes with water-cooler talk.
Joining a coworking space with more than one branch can often mean that you can plug into the culture when you are away in a new city. I have a friend who was traveling the world and writing — going from Bangkok to Lisbon to New York — (how jealous are you right now?) and one of his tricks for plugging into a new community was to join a coworking space for the months he was in that city. Boom! An instant network of people who could tell him where the locals liked to hang out, giving him tips on great restaurants and bars and nightlife beyond the tourist attractions, plus, he garnered a new set of friends. If the coworking space was one that he was already a part of, it offered a sense of familiarity and continuity, even if the city was unknown.
Coworking spaces offer the office perks without the corporate overlord
At the coworking spaces I’ve checked out, I’ve seen amenities that make freelancers drool: coffee machines, vending machines (with good stuff instead of crap), nice kitchens, lounge areas for reading, free office supplies for members, a snazzy printer or two. In every single case, the coworking space’s amenities and kitchens are way nicer than any newspaper office I’ve ever worked in. (In one corporate newspaper, we used to bring our own silverware and dishware to the office and take it back to our desks because the dishes and silverware would get stolen otherwise). In a professional coworking space, you will bask in the glory of a fancy Nespresso machine and mugs and dishes that aren’t cobbled together from a garage sale.
The best part of this is that if you are your own boss, you can feel fancy without working for a corporation.
Other perks of coworking
In addition to beating back the isolation of working from home, there are other perks to coworking.
- Ergonomically-friendly work environment: You have a desk at home and it might not be the fanciest or most comfortable. Mine is a kitchen counter tabletop that rests on top of two bookshelves (all from Ikea). I bought a semi-decent office chair, and cobble together the rest. I triple guarantee you unless you’ve invested in an Eames chair, a coworking space has better ergonomics and a nicer set of desks and chairs than what you’ve got going on at home.
- A sense of permanence: when you go to that coffee shop, you might have a favorite table, but it’s often taken when you show up. When you want to get a drink or go to the bathroom, you have to worry about leaving your stuff on the table, hoping the stranger sitting next to you will do you a favor and watch over it. Depending on the plan you choose for coworking, which can range from drop-in, part-time, or a full-time office or desk, you will have a more consistent place to sit and you have the added benefit of peace of mind for your valuables. And, once you have been working out of a space for a while, the “coworkers” will become familiar faces, and even, friends.
Writer and editor Tricia Romano is the former editor-in-chief of the Stranger. She has been a staff writer at the Seattle Times and columnist for the Village Voice. She is currently working an oral history about the Village Voice for Public Affairs. You can find her at Patreon.