How to Spot a Great Coworking Space

Coworking at Konaspace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Workbars are a popular option.  Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

If you work for a company, they determine your working space, but freelancers can work from wherever they wish.   In fact, Amanda Rappak at Freshbooks.com compiled the results of a 2011 freelancer survey into this nifty infographic.  When asked the question “What do you like best about freelancing?” 73% of respondents indicated that they liked the ability to work from anywhere.

Though most freelancers work from home, that number has steadily decreased in the past few years.  Even with the most state-of-the-art home office, isolation can set in.  An alternative to working from home is the local coffee shop or library, but the noise is often distracting and the cost of all those lattes can add up.  On the other hand, private offices can be prohibitively expensive for some small business.  Fortunately, there is a third alternative: the emerging phenomenon of coworking.

What is Coworking?

Coworking solutions are shared workspaces where you can rent a private office, workstation or even a seat in a communal café by the hour, day, week or month.  It’s the best of both words: a semi-private workspace with a flexible price structure.

But how to you decide which coworking space is best for you?  Well, most spaces offer free trial periods that can last up to a week.  Take the trial and pay attention to how your local coworking space does in the following areas.

Accessibility

When do you do your best work?  During regular banker’s hours?  In the middle of the night?  Almost all spaces are open during the standard 9 to 5 hours and quite a few go even further.  NextSpace, a thriving network of coworking sites along the cost of California, stays open 24/7 for the night owls.  The main point: find a space that fits your work rhythm.

Internet Access

I consider this point to be non-negotiable.  Wi-Fi and Ethernet must be covered by the base price.  Even if you don’t do your primary work online, you never know when you’ll need to look something up, check your email or make a Skype call.  Today’s workplace demands at least the ability to go online.  Bonus points for Wi-Fi printing capabilities!

Printing

Speaking of printing…any coworking spot worth their salt should have some printers in-house.  Most spaces give you an allotment of pages per day and charge extra for anything above the limit.  Look for locations that offer both black and white as well as color printing options.  If you can find it at a FedEx Office or UPS Store, you should be able to find it at your local coworking space.

A man working in a hammock at Konaspace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Working and relaxing at Konaspace in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Amenities (food and drink)

Some of the larger spaces have cafes or vending machines for when you get the munchies.  Look for coworking spaces that have ample fridge space and are located in areas with at least a few restaurants/cafes/food trucks within walking distance.  Even if you plan to take your lunch, you’ve got to treat yourself once in a while, right?

Community

The biggest benefit that a coworking space can offer is its ability to plug you into a network of talented people who understand the freelancing experience.  In other words, the community is the engine that keeps coworking spaces running, so look for a space that takes good care of theirs.  Are there mixers?  How about brown bag lunches and professional talks?  What’s the vibe you get from the other coworkers?  Everyone doesn’t have to be a chatty extrovert, but when you interact with people, do you feel comfortable?

Appearance

Another advantage to coworking is the ability to project a professional appearance to clients.  You can rent a conference room for the day or a small to medium office for the month.  In fact, most solutions include a set number of hours that you can use the conference room per month included for the price of your membership.  When you go on a tour of the coworking space, look at it from the perspective of one of your clients.  Is the space neat?  Are the staff members courteous?  These are all questions to consider when choosing which space will represent you.

Virtual Office Option

Another way coworking spaces represent you are with virtual office services.  A professional receptionist will field your calls and you can use the space’s physical address for your business.  Will you be out of town when a package comes for your business?  Don’t worry, staff members can sign for and hold the package for you.  Again, you’ll want to use the trial period to see how comfortable you are with the service.  In fact, you probably want to call your number a few times to see how professional the staff is.

Collaborating at Konaspace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Coworking members often offer suggestions and services to other members.  Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Flexible membership plan

As with most services, coworking spaces offer discounts to customers who sign contracts for longer periods.  However, I advise going month to month for the first one to three months until you are really confident in the service.  Also, look for places that let you rent by the day so you can try other services on a one-off basis.  For example, you might sign up for a café plan, but then comes a time when you want to upgrade to a workstation just for the day.

Using a coworking space will get you away from the isolation of your home office or the hustle and bustle of your local coffee shop.  Their biggest advantage is flexibility.  Flexibility in their price structures and flexibility in the services they offer.  Take advantage of this flexibility to craft a solution that works best for you.

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