Where do you work? I've been a freelance writer since 1994, and I have almost always worked from home. It offers its benefits - the coffee is free, there's a well-stocked fridge, and there is always an office cat or dog available to lower your blood pressure. You get to arrive at work whenever you please, and you get to work in your jim-jams, all day, should you wish.
But there are downsides, too. Isolation. A lack of people to bounce ideas around with. A distinct dearth of office camaradarie. Let's face it: for a freelance worker, working at home can be dull, and lonely. And that temptation to work in your pyjamas all day can be a curse in disguise.
Coffee shops and libraries are alternatives, but they're largely transient. You may get to enjoy the ambient background buzz, but you are unlikely to really connect with someone who has the same mindset as you. What's the answer?
Co-working spaces aren't a new thing, but they create new possibilities. Known in the past as as 'telecottages', they have been gaining traction. For a freelance worker, or for someone starting out building their own small company, a co-working space can be a godsend.
Co-working spaces are best when they play host to a co-working community. The community is really the meat in the sandwich. Without a community, a co-working space is little more than a collection of desks and a whiteboard. But bringing a collection of like-minded people together can produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
What does a co-working community look like? It shares an element of commonality. It may simply be that all of the members work in the same field. Maybe a cadre of coders can come together to lend each other support and advice, for example. Or the sense of community could be little more than an ideology, such as subscribing to the notion of quality in work. For some, simply sharing a fabulous working space can be enough.
There are various approaches to co-working. Some of them emphasise the community, and the space is secondary. One example is Jelly, an occasional get-together where people in an area arrange to work together in a temporary space, such as a coffee shop or a person's home. For writers in particular, National Novel Writing Month hosts a series of 'write-ins' where people gather together to work on their novels. These are valuable initiatives. Working together encourages and inspires people.
I like the idea of co-working communities because they help you to manifest your own ideas. As a freelance writer I have had lots of business ideas over the years, but I have never got any of them off the ground, because I didn't have a community of people around me that could help me to make it happen. It is very difficult for one person to make a large project work without the help, support, and skills of others.
Other co-working initiatives focus on the space and the community together, as a single entity. I recently set up The Office, a co-working space and community based in Vancouver, it brings together a selection of people with different skills. I have graphic designers, coders, copywriters and videographers. There's an ounce or two of social media in our skill set, and one or two startups too. I created a set of principles for The Office, that everyone is asked to abide by when they come to work in the space. The principles are pretty basic. Integrity, honesty and transparency figure highly, as do the willingness to commit to something larger than yourself, and be fulfilled in your work.
The idea behind The Office is to make individuals more powerful when they come into the space. We host speaking events and workshops on a regular basis, and also encourage people to share what they're working on via 'show and tells' with a networked projector.
The ultimate goal behind this not-for-profit co-working space is to create a fund using any surplus revenue. Rather than the founders taking a profit, we pump the money back into the fund. Any member with a socially progressive business idea that needs help to get started can apply for funding, and can also use the skills of the community to make their businesses happen.
The Office is based in Vancouver, and most of our readers are in the UK. Otherwise, I'd invite you to stop in for coffee. But for freelancers in our fair city, it is turning into a sanctuary for people to come and work at, and feel at home.
What's your ideal working environment?
I have posted before about Delphi, a rapid development tool forgotten by some, but still the best option for Windows native code development combined with a productive visual component library. That was over two years ago though, shortly after I met with Embarcadero CEO Wayne Williams who promised a version of Delphi that would compile for the Mac as well as Windows.
I had nearly given up waiting; but a couple of months back Embarcadero released a new Delphi with features which, on the surface at least, exceeded my expectations. Here are the highlights:
It is an amazing list of features, particularly considering the rather disappointing first version of Delphi XE. Embarcadero seemed to have done everything promised and more, in one release.
I was keen to try cross-compiling for the Mac, and set it up in what seems to be the most popular way, using a virtual machine on a Mac to run Windows, and running Delphi in the VM. When you install Delphi, or the full RAD Studio which includes C++ Builder and other features, it installs several components that you then run on the Mac side, including the FireMonkey libraries and a server calls the Platform Assistant. You then create a remote profile in Delphi that connects to the Platform Assistant, password protected for security.
Everything worked first try. I added an OS X target to my Windows FireMonkey app, clicked to run, and my simple app opened like magic as an OS X application on the Mac desktop.
Coding for iOS was more work, since you end up exporting the project to Xcode and compiling with the Free Pascal compiler rather than simply using Delphi on Windows, but it did run successfully, and I was able to use my simple test application on an iPhone.
Embarcadero is promising to add Android support at some future date, making this an interesting tool for those who need to support multiple platforms.
Is this the Delphi we have been waiting for? There are a few things that spoil the product. It does seem to have been rushed, which is hardly suprising when you realise that Embarcardero acquired VGScene and DXScene, products for Delphi that form the basis of FireMonkey, from a company called KSDev only around 6 months before RAD Studio XE2 was released. I am not sure what plans Embarcadero had for a cross-platform framework when I spoke to Williams in 2009, but does look like the KSDev deal solved a number of problems.
This rush shows itself in the immaturity of the FireMonkey framework. There are some performance issues as well as limited features compared to what was available with the VCL (Visual Component Library) for Windows. The VCL may be wedded to Windows, but it is hard to leave behind sixteen years of VCL evolution in favour of the first release of a new framework. Existing applications will not necessarily port easily. It is not only a matter of porting from the VCL to FireMonkey. Delphi developers are used to calling the Windows API when necessary, creating code that will not run cross-platform.
It is also worth noting that all FireMonkey controls are custom drawn. There are always compromises in cross-platform development, and in the case of FireMonkey you are giving up the advantages of using native controls on Windows or Mac.
As a cross-platform development tool, Delphi is now up against Adobe Flash Builder, Appcelerator Titanium, PhoneGap, and others. I have been impressed with Adobe AIR in this context, and PhoneGap also has lots of momentum and is ideal for web developers who now need to create mobile apps.
There is every sign though that Embarcadero is serious about FireMonkey and investing in its future. Existing Delphi developers now have a way to move beyond Windows while still using their preferred tool; and the product looks likely to attract new users thanks to its cross-platform capabilities.
Finally I should add that while it is the cross-platform aspect that is most eye-catching, the VCL is not dead and with 64-bit support Delphi is better than ever as a Windows development tool.