Collaboration, flexibility and free coffees… everyone is aware of the benefits of coworking.
But what is coworking actually like, in practice, for a coworker? What is the day-to-day experience of the people who spend their working days building start-ups or working on projects in coworking spaces?
To bring you real insight directly from the life of a coworker, we’ve spoken to a range of entrepreneurs who are currently growing businesses in coworking spaces.
Full of honesty and advice, their answers should help you decide whether or not coworking is right for you, and if it is, how you should go about finding a space.
JP Lockwood, co-founder of Deskmate, has been running pop-up shops in many of London’s major coworking spaces. He says coworking is better for collaboration than traditional offices:
“I think shared workspace is great for collaboration, exploration and convivence.
Claire Ayles, co-founder of Eleven Hundred Agency, is based in a coworking space in Islington. She says working near other businesses can serve as “a welcome distraction” from your own bubble:
“If you’re not used to it, coworking does take a little bit of getting used to.
“We’re surrounded by people who all have very different working days and motivations – we brush shoulders with (and overhear conversations from!) life coaches, event organisers, web designers, recruitment firms, property developers, photographers, personal trainers and retailers.
“But I like hearing what other people are up to – it helps me remember that there’s life outside tech PR, and it can be a welcome distraction.”
Sophie Phillipson, founder of HelloGrads, has a desk in a coworking space in London. She says working alongside other motivated people can be beneficial:
“The idea that coworking can make you feel less alone and more a part of a community in your start-up journey is a good sentiment, but the reality is you can still feel isolated.
“Sure, it helps to have people to talk to about struggles and wins, but they don’t understand in the same way a colleague might.
“On the flipside, it’s good for the mind to separate work and home, and to be working alongside productive and motivated people – even if you’re not quite sure what they’re up to.”
Ben Chatfield is CEO and co-founder at Tempo, which is currently based in a coworking space. He says sharing a workspace with others can limit your company culture if you have a large team:
“Coworking is a bit of a double-edged sword.
“It can be a great way to network with other start-ups and share ideas, but it’s also hard to create your own culture, and can feel like you’re working in someone else’s office.
“It’s been very helpful not having to worry about management of the office and utilities, but we’re almost 25 people now, and beginning to crave our own space where we can stamp our identity.”
To meet and initiate collaboration with fellow coworkers, Lockwood advises being as proactive as possible:
Lockwood says the “open-minded approach” of certain coworking providers has helped his pop-up shops gain visibility and sales:
“WeWork has been particularly accommodating to our business, allowing us (amongst others) to regularly participate in events with its members, showcasing different products and ways of working.
“WeWork, Work.Life and Labs have all enabled us to increase our visibility and sales month-on-month from our launch in 2017.
“Their open-minded approach to us hosting standing desk pop-up shops was great for us to get out there and meet our customers.”
Ayles says her team worked to find a coworking space that would be “invested” in their success:
“We looked at quite a few coworking spaces before plumping for BDCWorks. Its space was smaller – and its service felt more personal – than those offered by the bigger, better known brands.
“Those big providers are breathtakingly slick – and their facilities look fantastic – but we were worried we’d feel like just another tenant in a building of hundreds – if not thousands – of others.
“The team at BDCWorks felt invested in our company and our success. Ten months down the line, that’s still very much the case.”
Ayles’s answer is a resounding yes. She says coworking is cheaper and more flexible than other workspace options:
“Coworking has been perfect for us as we’ve kicked off our business.
“As we’ve hired people to join our team, we just pay for another desk, another phone and another locker. It’s simple, scalable, and is pretty much risk-free.”
Phillipson says the confidence boost that comes with coworking has made paying for her desk worthwhile:
“For me, the psychological benefits have made the desk I rent more than worth the money. I often go through cycles of feeling great about what I’m doing and then doubting myself and losing all my confidence.
Lockwood adds that the type of contract you enter into will have an impact on your costs:
“It can be quite overwhelming for young businesses, and the cost is always something to think about.
“The short-term lets are great, but they can be more pricey than fixed cost yearly contracts.”
Phillipson says that a good cultural fit is just as important as a financial one:
“My advice is to do as much research as possible to make sure you’re getting a good deal, and visit lots of places to check what’s a good cultural fit for you. Most places will offer you a free trial day.
Lockwood agrees that prospective coworkers should find a coworking space that suits their size:
“I think that businesses should be aware of the cost of the spaces and choose which one suits them better.
“If you are a small local start-up, perhaps a smaller coworking space with a tighter community (Uncommon in Islington, for instance) would be fantastic, rather than the larger spaces which can be quite daunting.”
Ayles says future coworkers should aim to get as realistic a view of a space as possible before committing to it:
“My advice to others would be to look around a few facilities, as they vary considerably.
“Talk to other tenants too, not just the hand-picked ones the landlord introduces you to. They’ll tell you what it’s really like.”