The popularity of coworking spaces is on the rise, and there are people and companies around the world shifting to open office environments. There’s a lot to like about coworking.
Coworking comes in a lot of flavors, so it’s difficult to make blanket statements about the coworking world as a whole. Even if you don’t care for one coworking space, you might thrive in another, so beware snap judgements.
Like everything else in life, though, the coworking lifestyle isn’t a perfect fit for every company or individual.
Is coworking right for you? Here are some things to think about:
The Pros and Cons of Coworking
Pro: Coworking is cost effective.
Compared to renting a comparable office space or leasing a building, working out of a coworking facility is far more affordable.
In a shared space, you can get only as much space as you need without spending more on technically unnecessary amenities. Since you’re sharing things like printers, kitchens, and conference rooms with other professionals, you share the cost and everyone pays less.
Con: Some spaces charge fees for all the extras.
Most coworking spaces give you lots of extra value with your membership, but there are some that expect you to pay extra for meeting room access, printing, snacks, and all the other little things.
To be fair, if you leased office space, you’d be responsible for all of those expenses anyway. It’s just annoying when you have to pay $0.10 per sheet printing, an hourly rate to meet with your clients in shared spaces, and other nitpicky little things.
As you shop for a membership, ask about what’s included and what’s extra. Lots of spaces include those things at different membership levels.
Pro: Coworking culture encourages creativity.
The culture in coworking spaces tends to be more energetic and creative than cubicle-filled buildings.
As people intersect, new ideas blossom. It’s easy to turn around and bounce ideas off of a neighbor, and inspiration is everywhere.
Con: Coworking culture gets loud.
For those who work best in quiet, solitary environments, the abounding creativity in coworking spaces can get a tad overwhelming.
There are always people talking, laughing, taking phone calls, and moving around. Quiet can be hard to come by unless you pay a little extra to get a private space, and since private spaces are usually limited, there may not even be one available.
Especially in spaces that are pet or child friendly, the environment may be too hectic for a silence-loving introvert.
Pro: World class networking.
The aforementioned intersections that inspire creativity are part of the networking power in coworking spaces. Startups and freelancers work alongside traveling business execs, founders of successful companies, and mentors who are using the building’s event space.
You never know what kind of important connections you’ll make while coworking.
Spaces are designed with connections in mind, offering lots of communal areas where you can chat over coffee, watch a webinar as a group, or play a quick game of ping pong with other coworkers.
Be open to making new friends and meeting new associates, and you’ll find that your network takes you new places.
Con: You might run into obnoxious coworkers.
Since coworking spaces host entrepreneurs and businesses of all types, you’re probably going to occasionally encounter people you don’t particularly want to share space with.
Maybe they’re working towards political goals with which you don’t agree, or you might just have a personality clash.
With so many different types of companies, startups, and freelancers working side-by-side, it’s inevitable that you’re going to eventually bump into someone with whom you’d rather not associate.
To be fair, though, obnoxious coworkers happen in all kinds of offices, not just coworking spaces. It’s actually a little easier to get away from someone you dislike in a coworking space than it is when the offending party is another employee in your company, since coworking offers the flexibility to work just about anywhere.
Pro: You can get premium locations at bargain prices.
Some of the best coworking spaces are situated in the trendiest downtown areas of their city.
Those locations often have the highest rent prices in the city, but by setting up headquarters in a coworking space, your business is based in the best possible location at a crazy great price.
You can set up shop in the most walkable part of town, a central location where your clients and important partners can easily find you, and if your coworking space offers mail services, your business address has the added prestige of being located at the hub of industry in your area.
Con: Some of those premium locations have limited parking.
Whenever you work in a popular downtown area, parking is going to be a bit of a challenge. Even if your coworking space has designated parking spots, there are probably more people in your building than there is parking availability in your lot.
Downtown-centered coworking spaces usually mitigate this by reserving a certain number of parking spaces for visitors (so that you can always give your clients a place to park) and issuing parking passes at certain membership levels or for an extra fee.
Even so, you might end up parking a few blocks away or in a paid garage if you choose a coworking space in the heart of the city.
The parking situation is a tradeoff that lots of coworkers are willing to make. If you’re concerned about parking availability, ask some of the other tenants about their experiences while you’re first touring the space. Parking might not actually be an issue for you, especially if you arrive especially early or late.
Pro: Your formerly home-based business gets a major credibility boost.
If you were an investor considering giving money to a startup, which would impress you more: a meeting at the local Starbucks, or a meeting in a private conference room at a coworking space?
As a cash-strapped startup, you can make a lot of progress working from home. Eventually, though, there will come a point when your startup needs to leave the nest and learn to fly. For a startup to grow up, it eventually needs to start investing in itself.
Moving into a coworking space is a relatively minor expense with a major impact.
Even though your business can technically survive without ‘official’ office space, the fact that you’re willing to invest in a professional setting makes your company seem more credible to your customers, partners, and potential investors.
For a lot of people, a company that’s based out of a garage or kitchen seems hardly more than a hobby. Moving to a coworking space makes it real.
Con: Meeting space is shared and might fill up at peak times.
You get the opportunity to use professional spaces for all of your important meetings…but so does everybody else in your building.
Depending on how many residents share your space, what kind of businesses they operate, and how many private meeting rooms are available, you might run into some competition for private spaces.
It’s also important to note that not all coworking spaces allocate their private spaces in the same way. Some charge you a fee for use of private areas, some include unlimited conference and meeting room access to all members, and some organize access by membership level.
In spaces where meeting rooms are more difficult to come by, you’ll usually be able to hold semi-discreet meetings in shared spaces, and taking steps like scheduling ahead or holding meetings outside of the most popular times will help alleviate some of the problem.
Pro: Coworking increases productivity.
For this reason, some major companies opt to house their staff in coworking spaces rather than a central office, while freelancers and solo entrepreneurs cowork to keep their productivity levels high.
Part of the productivity boost comes from accountability. It’s sort of like having a gym buddy – there’s someone who’s going to notice if you don’t show up and get to work.
The work environment in coworking spaces also influences productivity levels by creating an overall culture of getting shiz done. Lots of spaces offer perks like mentorship, workshops, and access to organizational and operational tools that help tenants work efficiently.
Tenants can cancel their membership at any time, so spaces work hard to make their facility a great place to work.
Con: There are plenty of distractions.
Taking frequent breaks actually increases productivity – 52 minutes of work to 17 minutes of break seems to be a common high-productivity ratio.
Here’s the thing:
With ping pong, rock climbing walls, social activities, neighborhood attractions, and myriad other options for break time, it’s easy to go from taking frequent breaks from work for recreation to taking occasional breaks from recreation for work.
Some people have trouble focusing at the best of times. If you’re the type that already has difficulty staying on-task, coworking might be especially challenging for you.
Pro: Coworking is flexible.
With most coworking memberships, you can work any time of day you want.
Want to break your shift into shorter sprints with long breaks between? Fine.
Need to take a long lunch and come back late in the day to finish all your work tasks? Sure thing.
However you want to work, coworking adapts to your needs. If you’re employed by a company that bases itself in a coworking space, you’ll probably have to follow their schedule of choice, but the space itself offers nearly unlimited flexibility.
Come in late at night for a conference call with clients in China, or start your day at 5 AM so that you can finish everything early enough to pick your kid up from school.
Whenever and however you want to work, your space will accommodate you.
Con: Your coworking space is constantly changing.
In a coworking space, there are always new faces. Desks get rearranged to suit team growth, monthly events come and go, and perks are offered or discontinued as demand fluctuates.
Some people love the ever-changing atmosphere. Others find it unsettling.
Those who prefer a stable, consistent environment might have trouble adjusting to coworking culture because the environment is shaped by the wide variety of people who come and go from month to month.
Pro: Most coworking spaces come with an array of perks.
Each space is unique. There are dog-friendly spaces, spaces with free yoga classes and juice bars, and business-focused spaces with a more traditional office feel.
Almost every space offers some kind of free bonuses with your membership, whether it’s arcade games, discounts to local restaurants and bars, on-site happy hours on Friday nights, or free coffee and snacks.
Perks vary depending on your local culture and your coworking space’s primary focus.
There are unofficial perks, too – you might share your office with a marketing company that offers discounts to their fellow tenants, for example, or a nearby massage therapy school may drop by from time to time to give discounted 30 minute massages.
The possibilities are nearly endless!
Con: Some of the perks aren’t so perky.
The idea of working in a space with a climbing wall and weekly pottery classes sounds pretty cool…but are you actually going to use those things?
Some spaces charge a premium and offer loads of bonuses with that membership. That’s fine if you’re going to utilize all that extra stuff, but if you’re just looking for a desk and maybe some coffee, it’s all just expensive noise.
If you’re shopping for a coworking space, ask about the perks and find one that offers extras you know you’ll actually use.
Be careful about paying more for the space with all the cool bonus stuff, because odds are good you’ll just work and go home every day without using those bonuses.
Have you worked in a coworking space? How did you like it?