Co-working spaces vs my home office – the verdict is in!
Where do you work best? It’s often a question that’s on my mind as I consider the time in my week and the multiple places to work in a role that I could actually do anywhere in the world. A few weeks ago, I joined a group of Learning and Development professionals in a co-working day at the Office Group space near Holborn. They hold a monthly co-working day to connect, share ideas, discuss trends in the field, work on their own stuff, and drink tea and chat like a lot of people who work together do. In my time as an independent coach, one of the things I’ve missed most is a shared physical space to be with other people…what most people would call “an office.”
Even in my previous role, much of my work was done on the phone, or in conference rooms with video calls, but there was still something important for me about the physical space. I love being with people in real life. Well, most people, provided they wash regularly. Sharing a joke, making someone a cup of tea (having someone make me one back!), hearing what other people are “up to” – that’s always been the beauty and allure of an office for me. The irony of coaching is that most of us coaches highly value connection, but it can actually be an isolating role as we’re doing our 1:1 work and lack a team that many people are used to. That’s why I’ve been sure to seek out opportunities to be with others, my different tribes of people who do what I do and with whom I can create that sense of connection.
Up until this event, I hadn’t used an actual co-working space, although I have considered it and do make use of the best local coffee shops when I want to be out and among people. My library also has a fantastic computer room where people can take in laptops and get online, which is where I go when I “need to concentrate” as opposed to putting on another load of laundry or being discouraged by looking out our back door and wondering why our grass won’t grow. Being out of my house, in my time when I’m not on calls and I need to get my head down to do a certain type of work, helps me focus.
The space at the Office Group was fantastic. Entering the building gave me that feeling again of “Ah, yes, I’m here to work.” I arrived at the first floor, and as I entered the reception area, a woman standing by the desk looked at me hopefully. “Are you here for the interview?”, she asked. “Maybe,” I replied. “What’s the job?” We both laughed. I can’t have that sort of joke with anyone as I re-enter my house after dropping the kids off at school in the morning, so I chalked that up as one point to co-working space in the positivity column. Another bonus has to be that I looked professional enough to be a potential interview candidate – again, a bit different to my normal, more comfortable wardrobe for when I’m working at home. Another point, at least on this day, to the co-working space. Some days jeans and easy shoes are just perfect, but the change-up was nice.
The furniture was cool and varied to suit different ways of working – big tables, desks, small meeting rooms, armchairs and sofas for conversations – and I was able to use a phone booth space for the private calls I needed to make. The group of L&Ders were spread out around a big table, musing away on laptops and out loud, discussing what’s next for social learning, praising the added bonus of a massive jar of sweets that kept everyone going energetically. After I made myself a cold cup of peppermint tea, unable to figure out the fancy hot-water tap, a nice woman took me back and explained to me how it worked. More minds for problem-solving: another point for co-working.
Was I as productive as I might have been from home? At first I wasn’t sure. It kind of depends on how I defined “productivity” that day. I did a few practice coaching sessions for my upcoming exam, made some new connections that might be avenues of more information as I consider how to take my work into organisations, was motivated to write a blog post when the guy I sat next to announced he was working on one. I didn’t manage to get any laundry done, but I suppose on par, that’s one more point for the co-working space. Next time I’d spend more time getting to know people better, to recognise that building relationships is a key part of how I define what’s important in work.
At around 4:00 I had to head off into the land of the commuters. Here’s where I have to split a point and give half each to home-working and co-working: having to pack up earlier in order to get home to meet my family commitments felt a little frustrating, like a bit of a waste of time when I could have still been working. On the other hand, the separation is nice, and that chance to unwind from the day allowed me to walk into my house feeling like I was done with work for the day. With home-working, the separation and boundaries are not always so clear, and that can create its own form of stress and the continual feeling of being “on”. That’s why having a specific space, even when I work from home, that’s for “work” has been helpful for me.
Like many things, it’s about finding out what works for you, for you to get your best work done. And also understanding the rhythm of your energy and your time, and when you deserve a chance not to get your head down, but to put your head up and see what’s around you, what’s going on, and who might be interesting people to meet, share with, and learn from.
If you are looking to find a co-working space in London, or as a freelancer, a place to host client meetings, I can definitely recommend the Office Group. And if you’re a UK-based Learning & Development practitioner, link up to this great group of people on Twitter at #LndCoWork. I’ll join them again on June 20th. And this time, I should be able to make a hot cup of tea the first time around, and no longer the newbie, help others as well.