Let's explore the many options you have available now as a modern worker for spaces and places to work.
With restrictions continuing to lift across the UK, there’s increasing flexibility in where you can work from as a freelancer - and after over 18 months of working from home, many of the self-employed are looking for alternatives to their kitchen table, and it's not surprising why.
"On a high level, the benefits of working elsewhere other than home are increased productivity and improved mental health. Getting out and being around people is something we are all really craving, and the change of environment sparks creativity and productivity. Plus it's just fun to find your favourite vibes :)” - explains Brooke Hurford, co-founder of Workfrom, a platform which helps people find spaces and places to work from.
Whilst many articles seem to have a binary “office or home” mindset towards where you can work from, the reality is much more varied, and a huge range of options are available. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks, and really depends on what you’re looking for in a workspace, and it’s important to consider what you value most when you’re working: Do you need great wifi? Are you looking for quiet or noisy environments? Do you want to work with others or just find somewhere to keep your head down? Do you want a formal working space or something more casual? Are you looking for space or connection?
Of course, you’re not required to pick a single option - having flexibility to choose a space you want to work from doesn’t have to be a commitment to always working from the same space. Different types of work require different types of environment - and being self-employed means you are more likely to have more flexibility in moving between spaces, rather than being tied to one. Building up a portfolio of options, for the different work modes you need to inhabit, gives you a list of different spaces and places which you can call upon when the need suits.
Let's explore the many options you have available now as a modern worker for spaces and places to work.
Whilst freelancers have known this for years, working from home is an entirely viable option for people - technology allows us to remotely work from anywhere, and with a commute time of zero, snacks a plenty, and no restrictions on what you choose to wear - working from home is a great option for the self-employed. It’s zero additional cost to your business and you can even claim a portion of your home costs as a business expense.
However, working from home comes with its own challenges - mostly boundary setting. Having a clear distinction between the space you work and a space where you don’t work is important to be able to switch off. Having a dedicated space within your home can help, but not everyone has this space available to them, so using techniques like the WFH Commute can help to create a separation.
There can also be other challenges - perhaps you’re a carer or parent, perhaps your working space doesn’t have a great chair or desk to spend hours at, and after months of enforced working from home, it also offers lack of variety and potentially lack of inspiration. It’s also mostly solo-working - you’ll be sat on your own, and even with virtual options, it can be lonely.
Working from home doesn’t need to be a full-time option - many homeworkers can wander down to a local coffee shop to mix it up, combine it with a formal working space like coworking venue on occasional days, or spend time onsite with clients too.
Depending on your type of work, your clients may have working spaces they make available to you - either expecting you to work onsite, or offering a desk where you can work from. Even if your client doesn’t expect you to work onsite, it’s worth enquiring whether they have a space where you can work from if you’d be interested in trying that out - often client workspaces are vibrant, have your project team nearby, and have tea and coffee available during the day.
However, if you’re on-site, it can be much harder to have the flexibility you’ve become accustomed to - just taking a break or going for a walk might feel harder if you think there’s eyes on you, and if you’re juggling multiple projects or clients at once, it may not seem appropriate to work on Client B work whilst you’re sat in Client A’s space. Interruptions can be frequent too - especially if your client is keen to chat or get involved in some way, and of course you’ll need to be “chaperoned” in some way, with someone responsible for your time onsite.
Yet, this is a brilliant zero-cost option for an alternative workspace, and fantastic for when you’re looking to collaborate closely with your project team or spend time with your clients, for those times where digital communication tools just don’t come close.
Many clients pre-pandemic would demand that freelancers worked on site, but now remote working and perhaps more trust has been developed to let people work remotely, client might be more flexible with where you work from - so open up a conversation with a client who suggests you’re onsite full time with options of part-time onsite and a hybrid of on/off site.
Ah, the classic option - a stalwart for freelancers globally, and partially responsible for the explosion of the digital nomad. Great coffee, wifi, a seat and an alternative to home. Over the years, coffee shops have increasingly supported laptop workers spending prolonged periods of time in their spaces, or at the very least being clear on where, when and how laptop users are welcomed - either setting out specific spaces or times where people can or can’t work from.
Benefits are the minimal cost and ultimate flexibility - with thousands of options to choose from, there’s going to be a venue nearby wherever you want or need to work from - and coffee shops offer a useful base to work from between meetings or if you’re temporarily in a different location. There’s also food and drink available, and most spaces have decent free wifi. The ambient noise benefits many too, enjoying other people being around. There’s a wide ecosystem of platforms and tools to help people use coffeeshops as workspaces too, platforms like WorkFrom which allow you to find locations nearby, along with ratings for things like wifi, noise and food.
Coffee shops aren’t without their drawbacks though - you’re not guaranteed a space to sit, most spaces are designed for drinking and chatting, rather than sitting and working - so tables and chairs can often be awful for your posture, and even if coffee shops embrace laptop workers - there can still be a sense of outstaying your welcome, offsetting the guilt with more drinks and snacks than you’d normally consume. Spreading out and working a little bit wider, with paper or mouse and keyboard, generally isn’t an option either, and they’re noisy - so if you’re looking for a calm space, the constant frothing of milk and grinding of beans, is generally not ideal. And, what do you do when you need the loo? Leave your stuff at the table? Awkwardly ask a stranger to watch your things? Pack everything up, take it with you, and then return to find your table being used?
Coffee shops offer a brilliant bit of variety - whether you’re based onsite or working from home, to mix it up for a couple of hours, and work in a different environment, good for combining with other options, but not hugely sustainable for building a business.
With more and more people turning to flexible and freelancing models of work, public and community spaces such as libraries, community spaces, and arts centres are increasingly welcoming laptop users into their spaces, with the promise of an interesting environment, a space to work, and often community.
Many of these spaces are publicly funded, and offer small business or entrepreneurial support too, through community interest companies, such as Wimbletech, which aims to transform under-utilised spaces into affordable ‘workary’ spaces for local businesses; or are local government funded and provide access on a non-profit basis.
Sometimes these spaces are simple - they might be a room in a library with fast internet connection where you can work, or a community space run by volunteers, so if you’re looking for a flashy ’shoreditch coworking’ vibe, that’s not always what these offer - but don’t make any assumptions too quickly, many of the spaces are very well equipped, well designed and come packed full of local wisdom and expertise too, and most importantly, invest in reinvigorating the local community and creating connections.
There’s a huge variation in what these spaces offer - and it’s best to find something locally, go and visit and see if it suits your needs. The focus on investment in the community is great and much needed, and many of the spaces really cater for a wide variety of people using the services. Start with your local library or arts centre and enquire what they have on offer, or if they can point you in the right direction.
The term ‘coworking space’ obviously has lost some of its meaning, as almost any space can be a place to work from, but we’re talking about more formal rentable working spaces like WeWork here. The coworking industry has been through a huge transformation - with the pandemic both hitting coworking spaces hard, whilst also looking to be the answer to many employers who are reducing the amount of their own office spaces. Pre-pandemic, many coworking spaces were a mix of start-ups, entrepreneurs and small companies who didn’t want to commit to long leases or only needed small spaces, and larger companies without a central office or wanting remote office spaces, and would almost always be costly and require a contractual commitment.
These days, with an increasing number of coworking spaces which cater to a wider type of audiences, offers are more accessible and more flexible, in location, tonality, the type of people they serve, and the cost structures. Many coworking spaces are offering PAYG and Day Pass options, weekday and weekend options, hot desk and full dedicated office options - so there’s something to suit everyone.
It’s still the most ‘formal’ option, you’re effectively turning up to a desk in a workspace, and whilst the levels of volume might vary from space to space and within spaces, it’s the closest you’ll get to an ‘office’ environment - and there are coworking spaces dedicated to certain trades, such as beauty or wellbeing.
Increasingly coworking spaces offer more than just a place to sit, as Hannah Philip of ARC Club explains: "Shared workspaces should offer everything you get in an office - printing & scanning, tea & coffee (that you don't have to make yourself), meeting rooms and a place for after-work drinks. At ARC, we also offer additional member benefits that we think people will find fun or useful or both - like a skillshare network, discounts at local businesses and, of course, events. Ultimately, though, the most important things are harder to define - because they're atmosphere, people and shared values (which is why there is so much to be said for personal recommendations), and by having a place where people can 'feel professional', they can side-step the imposter syndrome that hits many people when they go it alone."
As most coworking spaces are generally membership based, what they offer most valuably is a sort of ‘base’ where you can arrive and get going, and relationships into the community around the space. Larger coworking groups offer multi-venue memberships, so you can work in more than one space, and there are platforms like coworker which allow you to coworking spaces which offer day passes if you’re not interested in signing a contract, ranging from around £20/day - and many offer the ability to book meeting rooms if you’re wanting to work as a group or host a client meeting.
The downside is of course the cost - and even at the affordable end of £20/day, if you’re looking at using a coworking space two or three times a week, you could be spending upwards of £150-£200 a month, although any costs are valid business expenses you can offset against your income.
But these more ‘office’ like spaces can be excelling if you’re really struggling to focus on getting work done from home or other type of spaces - there’s a definite psychological effect that you’re here to work, which can really help, and leaving at the end of the day really sets a good boundary between work and home.
Established in 2006 in NYC, where two freelancers invited others to come and work from their home for the day, Jelly was an early coworking movement which never really hit mainstream attention in the UK, but since 2009, there has been an active community of people hosting and organising sessions in coworking spaces or private homes.
During the pandemic, whilst bubbles weren’t able to mix, working from someone else’s home wasn’t allowed, but as things open up, the idea of creating a small coworking space at home, inviting local friends or fellow freelancers who you know and trust, to work from a space together, is a wonderful concept, and whether you organise something open, or just informally between friends, actually working alongside others you know can help with accountability, isolation and boundaries.
It might seem unusual to do open up your home to strangers or visit someone else's home who you don’t know, and naturally, safety is the most important consideration here, so finding Jellys which are hosted in public venues like community spaces or coworking sites is probably the most sensible approach - but if you’re keen to try working from home with others, perhaps start with just suggesting it to a freelance friend. You can also use the #worktogether channel on Leapers to share what working space you’ll be in for the day, and invite fellow members to work with you.
If you’re happy working from home, but are keen to still connect to the more social and community aspects of coworking, there are also an increasing number of virtual coworking options available, which aim to replicate some of the physicality of spaces, using digital tools.
"A virtual workspace is a dedicated space where a host can create a coworking environment for their community or team. Combining the use of video, background music, and beautiful design to create virtual spaces people love to be in. With the use of modes, you can create a silent coworking environment that removes the need to talk and you can really get straight into work while still being around others. Virtual workspaces are meant to give you that “working around others feeling”, that feeling we missed by not being able to go to coffee shops. You can see faces of others working, have a quick catch-up in chat, and get into your flow with great jams on in the background. This is something you don’t get from a text-based tool like Slack.” explains Brooke from Workfrom, who have built their own offering in this space.
This form of coworking provides some of the benefits such as accountability, conversation, and not feeling like you’ve not seen anyone for hours or even days, and whilst you’re not guaranteed to make meaningful connections with strangers, there’s certainly a chance you’ll be able to join communities which foster making connections and encouraging serendipity, or even professional networking and new business leads - but, no matter how immersive the experience, you’re still effectively sat on a zoom call.
There’s no silver bullet or single answer when it comes to finding the right workspace and place for you - and as the rest of the world is discovering, having a more hybrid approach to where you work. You don’t need to choose a single place, but rather build a portfolio of options which are right for what you need, when you need it.
Perhaps you may choose to work from home for three days, and two days from another space. Perhaps you use a formal coworking space for client meetings and workshops, and a coffee shop when you’re catching up with admin. Perhaps you become a member of multiple online and offline communities. The most important thing is to be aware of what your options are, and try them out, to see what works for you.
What “modes” of work do you have, and what environment supports them best?
We all have different modes of work, perhaps some of your work is head-down getting stuff done, another mode is more collaborative or creative, and another mode is more reflective. Different work modes benefit from different environments. Try and map out the different work modes you have, and think upon what types of environments would be useful for each mode. You might not know the answer, especially if you’ve only ever worked in an office or from home - so trying out different places and spaces can help until you understand your modes and their needs.
Do you want to create, connect or converse?
Workspaces are not solely for working - creating connections and being part of a community is an essential part of working well, and considering what you get back from a space, and whether that’s something you want or not, is really important. Make sure you have a selection of spaces, so if you need to just focus on work without socialising, you can - or if you’re seeking community, connection and conversation, you’ve got that available too.
Spending or Investing in your business?
Whilst it can seem like spending money to sit at a desk could be a waste, does it actually save you money in the long term? Are you able to be more productive by finding the right environment, and get stuff done quicker, or to a higher quality? You might actually find that spending £20 on a day in a coworking space helps you get a £1000 project delivered. Also, don’t forget that the cost of workspaces is tax deductible - make sure you’re keep receipts for any workspaces you pay for, and work with your accountant to ensure that both any working remotely and working from home is being maximised in your allowances.
Don’t commit yet.
Just jump in to signing a contract or membership on a space or platform until you’ve given it a try a few times - most places and platforms offer day passes or trial memberships to see if it really suits, and even if they don’t mention it on their site, call or email and ask. The idea of having your own space can be exciting and feel like an important milestone in running a business - but is also a significant cost, and not one to be taken lightly.
Things change, you change.
Once you’ve built up a portfolio of places and spaces, don’t assume it’ll continue to work for you forever - your needs and preferences change over time, as does your work. Continue exploring and experimenting with new ways of working, new environments and new spaces - and share your experiences with others.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that being in a space with other people is the same as connecting with other people - you can feel just as isolated, sometimes more, if you’re in a busy space where you don’t know anyone or feel disconnected from everyone. Use the communities we’ve mentioned above to make connections, or post in #WorkTogether on Leapers to find or suggest spaces to work together and connect with other members of our community.
Thanks to Hannah from ARC Club, Brooke from WorkFrom and Ben from Othership for sharing their views on different types of spaces and places to work from.
ARC Club: coworking space, Homerton - https://arc-club.com/
Othership: workspace booking - https://othership.com/
Workfrom: physical and virtual spaces - https://workfrom.co/
Wimbletech: community coworking - https://wimbletech.com/
Coworker: find a coworking space - https://www.coworker.com/
Jelly: work at home with others - https://www.uk-jelly.org.uk/
#worktogether: meet up with other Leapers - https://leapers-co.slack.com
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