Everything you need to know about coworking spaces
Whether you're a freelancer who struggles to work from home or the owner of an SME looking for an alternative to the corporate office environment, shared workspaces can offer a great solution. But what are they really like to work in? We spoke to coworking space regulars Carrie Swift, MD and lead trainer of Love Public Speaking, and Ian McKenzie, MD of DailyBread to find out.
What are coworking spaces?
In a nutshell, they're shared workspaces for professionals. They're often used as an alternative to working from home, as they provide an office-like environment that some people find easier or more stimulating to work in.
Coworking spaces typically include Wi-Fi, desks, breakout areas and meeting rooms, printing, faxing and scanning facilities, and communal kitchens.
How do they work?
Most shared workspaces are run on a membership basis, so you can rent a desk for a year, a month or even by the hour, but that's not the only option. Carrie chose to take a hosting role at her coworking space, which she saw advertised on their website, instead of paying for membership straight away.
"I worked half a day a week in exchange for 32 hours of workspace. The host role required me to sit on reception, manage members and do other ad hoc jobs – basically make people feel welcome and try to connect members with each other, so they got the most out of the space. It was a great way to get to know people there, but I moved onto a normal, paid-for membership in the end as it wasn't financially viable for me to keep giving up my time for the space."
Ian also took a unique route into his coworking space. "A friend of mine runs an entrepreneurial programme where you get access to 12 months of shared workspace and can attend different workshops on things like accountancy and PR. I applied and was successful. When it expires I'll probably move onto a paid membership, as it's a great environment to be in."
How do you get a spot in a coworking space?
This varies depending on where you go, but generally there will be some form of application process. You'll usually have to fill out a form online and then, depending on the shared workspace, there might be other steps for you to take. For example, Carrie was invited to an induction meeting, "which was a bit like a two-way interview. It's their policy to check those coming in are a good fit culturally, which I think is really important."
What are the pros of coworking spaces?
A stimulating environment
For Ian, it's all about the environment. As he explains, "I've worked in large corporate offices in the past, then when we started this business, I initially split my time between working from coffee shops and at home. Shared workspaces give you the best of both worlds – you have people around you to bounce ideas off, but you have peace and quiet to focus when you need to."
Ian also loves having access to a gym, a kitchen and a café, all under one roof. "It's perfect if you need to stay all day. Plus, there's a sense of community, great meeting rooms and decent Wi-Fi."
A supportive community
The community feel is what Carrie loves about coworking spaces. As she explains, "it quickly becomes lonely working at home every day when you start your own business. Here, I can meet other entrepreneurs – it's almost like having colleagues. It's great for networking too – I've been sat next to someone on a call and been able to suggest a collaboration based on what I've overheard they're doing – all because we happened to be in the same space at the same time. I've also found clients this way."
Networking is an important aspect of why SME owners and freelancers use shared workspaces. One coworking space Carrie worked at took this a step further by introducing a formalised skill-swap programme. "There was a ‘skills bank', so I could earn credit by giving someone a certain amount of hours or work, then redeem the credit at the ‘bank' for a skill I needed, like three hours of an accountant's time, for example. It was great for start-ups with tight budgets."
Flexibility is another pro. Ian's current shared workspace has more than one location. "I can use different spaces depending on where I am that day. It's a great way to make sure you don't waste time travelling. I'm usually at my coworking space three days a week, then work from home the rest of the time."
And the cons?
For Carrie, it's about the money. "Pricing can be prohibitive depending on where you go. Plus, some memberships don't include access to meeting rooms or private spaces, or they ask you to pay more for them. It's also hard to get to know people when you first arrive. If the space doesn't do enough to help integrate people, they'll leave. Community and culture is really important."
What if you have employees or a small team?
Ian and his co-founder use a shared workspace, but also have a team to think about. He says "we have a breakout area with lots of space and hot desks. It's probably a little annoying for those working around us when we're all there, but we try to be considerate! To get around this, we've just started paying for two hours of meeting room space per week."
"In terms of the everyday, the whole team don't need to be in the coworking space. They're mostly creatives, so they come in every once in a while, working from home the rest of the time. When they do come in, we just need to make sure we're set up to make the most of that time."
What can you do to safeguard your business if you use a coworking space?
Culture and environment aside, there are practical considerations when it comes to using shared workspaces. While most will have some form of insurance themselves, it won't necessarily cover those working in it. So, if you decide to use a coworking space, it's important to find out exactly what you're covered for.
At Direct Line, we can cover you whether you work at home, in an office, at your clients' premises or at a coworking space, and we can insure these different places of work on one policy.
You can learn more about our small business insurance here.
Find the right coworking space for your business
Ready to find the right coworking space for you and your business? Emma Jones, founder of business community Enterprise Nation, has some advice: "As a company, we've always been a fan of working in flexible offices; both for ourselves and the small businesses we serve and represent. To find an accredited space provider, check out the BCA website."
Make sure your business is covered. Find out more about our small business insurance.