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?
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