Everything you need to know about coworking

Home working can be the most liberating – and lonely – of working options. You’re usually free to work when, where and how you like. But the downside, especially if you need human contact, is that there’s often no one to talk to or exchange ideas with.

So it’s no surprise that more and more freelancers, flexible home working employees and small business owners are choosing to spend at least some of their week in the growing number of coworking spaces cropping up around the UK.

Traditionally, a frustrated freelancer looking for an office away from their home (and someone to chat to during tea breaks) would have been tied into a cast-iron contract in an office share or rental. But, recognising the more fluid way that people now want to work, a new breed of coworking spaces is emerging offering a flexible range of choices.

What are coworking spaces?

According to DeskMag, coworking spaces are a mix of business centre, shared office and café. Originating in the US, over the past few years they’ve rapidly spread to towns and cities across the world.

Most coworking spaces offer packages of benefits, including use of desk space, for set monthly fees. You can usually choose to ‘own’ a particular desk, or opt for a cheaper package with flexible shared access to desks for a limited period each month.

Most coworking spaces are friendly, sociable communities of like-minded freelancers, home working employees and small business owners.

Read five signs you may be ready for coworking

What are the benefits of coworking?

For many people, coworking offers the best of all worlds. You enjoy all the freedoms of working for yourself or from home, with the sociability, convenience and access to facilities you’d get in an office. When you need to concentrate on a task you can, but you can also sense check an idea, ask for advice, exchange contacts, or even just have a friendly chat when you need.

They also force you to get out of your house (and pyjamas!) and be productive. Even just the fact you’re paying for the use of a space can be the encouragement you need to actually produce something worthwhile!

Another benefit is the ability to actually leave work behind. If your workplace is your spare room, or worse your sofa, it’s hard to define a work-not-work boundary. However, if you’ve defined your workspace as an area outside your home, you’ll find it easier to switch off an enjoy your precious home and family time.

And, while you might assume that moving from the solitude of home working to the more sociable coworking environment would affect your productivity, it would seem that most people actually find the opposite. According to DeskMag’s third Global Coworking Survey:

  • 71% of people find their creativity increases.
  • 62% say their standard of work improves.
  • 68% say they’re able to focus better.
  • 64% say they can better complete tasks on time.

And what are the downsides?

That said, if you’re the kind of person who really needs silence while you’re working, or has to make frequent confidential phone calls, coworking probably isn’t the best choice for you. You may instead prefer to work in the comfort (and quiet) of your own home, and relocate to cafes and other locations with WiFi, or arrange to meet other home working friends when you need a bit of real world interaction.

Or you could opt for a smaller coworking package and get your fix of company and colleagues for a few hours a week, when you have work that requires less concentration or privacy.

Who’s doing it?

According the DeskMag survey, over half (53%) of coworking users are freelancers. The rest are entrepreneurs, and both small and big company employees. The proportion of female coworkers is also growing – from 32% in 2010 to 38% by 2012.

How much does coworking cost?

Unlike traditional office shares, coworking spaces are often relatively cheap to use, with a range of packages designed to meet different needs. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city or town with a choice of coworking spaces, it’s a good idea to compare prices. (But it’s just as important to visit them and factor the space, vibe, facilities and your fellow co-workers into your decision.)

Coworking fees usually cover desk space, Wi-Fi and use of a kitchen area. Some also cover use of a shared meeting space, and offer additional paid-for extras including phone handsets, storage and your own set of keys for round-the-clock access.

What are your coworking options?

Many cities and towns around the UK have some kind of coworking offering. Here’s just a few we’ve found:

  • East London’s Workhouse One has a friendly, collaborative atmosphere. Located next door to Google’s Campus, it offers fast wireless, a Canon copier, large meeting spaces and various multi-use areas, which include a chill out room, kitchen/dining section and showers.
  • The Old School Club in Battersea offers coworking space, including creative workshop area, for crafters, freelancers and small businesses. It even has an on-site creche, making it perfect for mums with babies and pre-school children.
  • Down in Brighton, The Skiff offers a wide range of part time, full time and meeting-only packages starting from just £19 a month, while The Werks has packages from £77 for 12 days a month.
  • In Bristol, Funky Spaces has a variety of alternative, community and affordable business spaces for start ups and small businesses, while Urban Desk Space is a comfortable, stylish and supportive workspace for freelancers.
  • At The Assembly in Manchester you get 24-hour access to your own dedicated desk, fast internet and access to meeting rooms for £160 a month.
  • Indycube is a growing community of coworkers in South Wales. They have a number of workspaces around the area that offer a professional working environment when you need it.

You can search for more coworking options near you in London on ClubWorkspace and The Brew, and around the UK on Office Genie.

Regus Connect plan a UK-wide network of coworking spaces

If you’re unlucky enough to live in a place without an existing coworking space, don’t despair quite yet. Regus are using their 30 years of experience, and network of 220 centres around the UK, to launch an exciting new coworking concept.

Regus Connect brings together freelancers, start ups and small businesses with flexible, affordable coworking packages. They recently held a poll to find the 10 first sites, with the forerunners including:

  • London
  • Birmingham
  • Manchester
  • Liverpool
  • Belfast
  • Reading
  • Edinburgh
  • Cambridge
  • Brighton
  • Bristol

Create your own coworking community with Jelly

Another twist on the coworking concept is Jelly, an informal coworking event where freelancers, home workers and small business owners bring their laptop or other work, and work, chat and collaborate. Jelly groups meet regularly (usually monthly) in cafes, pubs, libraries, community centres, work hubs and other locations.

There are Jelly groups popping up all around the UK. And if you can’t find a Jelly near you, you can always start your own in a free venue near you.

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