Whether you're a digital nomad with a remote job or an entrepreneur with a side hustle, a co-working space is an alternative to a home office or a coffee shop. These shared offices, which have become increasingly popular since their early days nearly 15 years ago, offer not only a place to work but also a variety of benefits.
No longer exclusive to major cities, co-working offices continue to pop up in communities small and large all over the world. According to the publication WorkingResources.com, there were 14,411 co-working spaces globally in 2017—and the number is forecasted to grow to nearly 26,000 in 2022.
With so many options, how do you choose a co-working space? Melisa Celikel says it's like buying a home. Celikel runs her business, Let's Get You Organized, from a shared private office at a co-working space in San Diego.
“You'll know right away if it's the one that's meant to be," she says. “Definitely tour as many as you can—and then see if you can get a 'trial run' and work there for a day."
Spending a day or two there will give you a better feel for the environment before you commit.
“It's important you feel comfortable and happy when working there, and there is no better way to figure out the best one for you than to try multiple ones in your area," says Stacy Caprio, founder of Chicago-based Accelerated Growth Marketing, who spends time in co-working spaces several times a month.
You'll get the most out of co-working by taking full advantage of all the benefits it offers, from educational events and mentoring programs, to after-hours networking. If you're new to the experience, here are some strategies.
Find the Right Culture
All co-working spaces cater to the same general idea: providing an alternative to your home or public places like libraries and coffee shops. But each has its own vibe, atmosphere and niche. Some target startups and entrepreneurs while others are trying to attract large companies that have remote workers.
“The culture is going to be different from place to place," says Leslie Schneider, co-founder of OfficeXpats, a co-working space with about 20 desks on Bainbridge Island, Washington. “Some co-working spaces are very corporate—you may like the anonymity of rolling in and grabbing a desk. But if you want more of a community, you may be better off finding a smaller space."
Alberto Pina co-founded his business, Braustin Mobile Homes, from a co-working space in San Antonio, Texas, while he and his brother bootstrapped their startup for more than two years. They liked the energy of the place.
“All around the co-working space were teams and individuals working to get their own companies off the ground, and we were attracted to the buzz we felt around us," says Pina, who eventually moved his sales team into the Braustin Mobile Homes' model center, but continues to manage the business remotely from the co-working space.
Celikel, who considers her co-working space her “home base," sometimes works from smaller co-working spaces around San Diego.
“Some are really quiet—you could hear a pin drop, and they don't even play background music," she says. “I don't like those ones because I want more of a lively ambiance."
Boost Your Productivity
Many people find that change of scenery boosts their productivity. If pets, children or maybe chores create distractions at home, you may find that co-working improves your concentration.
“For me, co-working is about getting out of my usual space for a change of scenery, but it's also a productivity trick in a way because I know I'm paying for the time," says Angelina Ebeling, founder and CEO of acework.io, a remote-work matching platform.
Ebeling, who lives in Berlin, has a small staff distributed around the world, including the United States, and acework offers a co-working allowance both to employees on a case-by-case basis and to platform members.
“The ones who want to work out of a co-working space prefer a professional environment that stimulates them to be productive—they're not joining for the lounge chairs and the free beer," she says.
But just sitting in any co-working office isn't enough to do the trick. Caprio says she finds herself more productive in places that have floor-to-ceiling windows and a barista working at a coffee bar—she likes the atmosphere and the convenience of the coffee.
“I find [co-working] to be more productive since there are fewer distractions than working from a coffee shop or my home office, and I can fully immerse myself in an activity," she says.
Create a Professional Image
In addition to providing alternative workspace, co-working companies typically have at least one conference room. It's much more private—and quieter—for meetings. That's one of the reasons why Celikel traded her home for co-working when she changed her business focus to B2B consulting instead of organizing for individuals.
“I needed a co-working space to meet with clients," she says. “We also have access to conference rooms with high-resolution TVs if I need to teleconference to present a pitch deck. Whereas hunching over a tiny laptop in a loud coffee shop may not be the best way to meet clients."
She also takes advantage of the guest open bar hours. “At 3, they open up the beer tap, so I can invite a client and say, 'Hey, come get a complimentary espresso, cappuccino or a pint of beer and we can chat,'" she says.
Network and Build Relationships
Schneider says oftentimes, new members come to OfficeXpats because they're trying to solve a problem like distractions or poor Wi-Fi at home.
“If they stick around long enough and it works for them, they find they like being here because they build professional relationships," she says.
For me, co-working is about getting out of my usual space for a change of scenery, but it's also a productivity trick in a way because I know I'm paying for the time.
—Angelina Ebeling, founder and CEO, acework.io
It's the networking and collaboration opportunities that helped Pina grow his business. Braustin's software developer, media company and augmented reality expert all came on board as a result of their co-working space.
“We have met so many people doing amazing things here and getting to know them and what they were working on, we were able to come up with synergies that made our company better," he says.
Some co-working spaces create a community through events, workshops and online portals. Others strive to offer a quiet place to put your head down and work while taking advantage of good internet service and being surrounded by other remote workers. Whatever your hope to accomplish, make sure your shared office is suitable for it.
“We have one employee who makes all her calls from home, but does other work from a co-working space," Ebeling says. “Know what activity or task you can perform in which environment."
While benefits like free coffee, high-tech conference rooms and networking events are some of the many attractions of co-working, ultimately the greatest perk may be getting out of the house and taking in the energy of your “co-workers."
“People are tempted to say, 'It's easier to stay in my pajamas today and get this work done from home.' But the whole point of having a co-working space is to get yourself out of the house," Celikel says. “Treat your business seriously in that regard—act like you're actually going to a job."
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