Cufflinked Magazine has a great article by Tom Meitner on his experience with coworking and what he learned.
As many of you know, I’m a freelance copywriter.
My work day consists of me sitting at a computer, doing research, writing copy, and emailing my clients. And because I have clients across the country – from New York to Baltimore to Austin – I work from a central hub where I can serve all of these clients equally.
And by “central hub”, I mean my basement.
Once centered in the spare bedroom of our townhouse, my office was bumped to the basement to make room for the new addition to my family.
I honestly don’t mind working in the basement. There’s a decent amount of light that comes in (though I still have to turn on a lamp), and we’re happy to make use of the finished space down there. Plus, I can spread out a little more than when I was upstairs in the bedroom.
But as the weeks wore on, I realized I did need another place to go, even if it’s just once a week. Being stuck down in the basement all week long does something to your head, and I found myself becoming less and less productive.
I tried going to Starbucks to work – which was a fine choice. However, many people at Starbucks are not there to work. This lesson was hammered home to me on the day I forgot to bring my headphones, when a suburban mom brought in a dozen teenage girls for her daughter’s 14th birthday.
Oh, the humanity.
Being stuck down in the basement all week long does something to your head, and I found myself becoming less and less productive.
While I do want to continue going to Starbucks on occasion to work, I was on the hunt for office space.
The problem is, I live in Germantown, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee and a fair distance from downtown. There’s not much in the way of easy-access office space in the area.
Plus, I didn’t want a full-time office. Office space can get expensive and it would be way overkill for my needs. I’d have to go in every day to justify the high cost, and I’d be responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the place.
Besides, I love working from home. It’s a great perk, and I didn’t want to lose that.
After a hefty dose of Googling over several months, I discovered the Hudson Business Lounge in the Third Ward section of downtown Milwaukee (about a 35-minute drive). I scheduled a visit and spent a day there last week – and I fell in love.
The Hudson is a “coworking space”. Coworking spaces are designed for the startups and small business professionals who, like me, don’t want to pay for an office space. There is a wide open area with various types of workstations, from desks to couches to tables and so forth. Private offices can be rented by the hour, along with conference rooms, if needed. Attached to The Hudson is a cafe and bar.
Even better, I found The Hudson to be affordable (monthly fees start at $58/month), and I was not locked into any kind of a commitment. If I decide that it’s too expensive or not working out for me, I can just cancel my membership.
Coworking spaces are designed for the startups and small business professionals who, like me, don’t want to pay for an office space.
The added bonus, however, was the atmosphere. I was a little apprehensive about working in an open atmosphere with other people, since I like to work in silence. But the funny thing is: on the day of my visit, the place was loaded with people, but there was a quiet buzz of work going on.
Then it dawned on me: unlike Starbucks or any other public space, everyone is paying to be here. They’re here to work because that’s why they joined. So when they get here, they get down to business.
As soon as I had my budget figured out, I emailed in my application – and I’m writing from The Hudson right now.
Working here has taught me a few things, like:
- A change of scenery is crucial for your brain. It’s amazing how quickly your brain unlocks when you get some different surroundings – even temporarily. Once I brought my Chromebook to the mechanic and worked in the waiting room, and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. So working here has been a dream for me productively speaking. Plus, there are enough different types of work areas that I can mix it up from time to time to keep things fresh.
- You can’t be a hermit. There have been times where I realize I’ve worked from home for 3 days and haven’t seen a single soul outside the house. Getting out in public is important to keep your perspectives clear. A coworking space is great for networking, but also just for a little human interaction here and there.
We all need sunshine. There is a staunch lack of sunshine in my basement, besides the little light that comes through the window. Even just driving to the office exposes me to more sunshine than I would normally get, staving off that whole turning-into-a-vampire thing.
- Routines are important for productivity. Many people think that working from home just means rolling out of bed and sitting at your desk in your pajamas. And don’t get me wrong: if I oversleep, work is exactly like that. But just the act of showering, shaving, eating breakfast, and driving to an office prepares your brain for the day’s work. It’s easier to hit the ground running when you have set up your day. I make an effort to set up my day at home as well, but there’s still a “ramping up” period that I don’t need when I work in the office.
- You have options, whether you think so or not. Maybe they’re not that obvious, but there are very few situations where you have zero options. There’s always a choice. I had quite a specific wish list that I wanted in an office space – a wish list that often isn’t found in Milwaukee. But with a little legwork, I was able to uncover this gem of an area, and if you’re lost, maybe a little legwork would do you some good.
- The nature of work is changing. According to the guy who gave me a tour of the space, The Hudson has over 300 members. If you think about it, that’s quite a bit. Hundreds of people in Milwaukee – not known for its progressive stance on business and entrepreneurship – are using this shared office space because they need flexible working areas. There is a very strong freelance economy these days, because (I believe) we live in an era where jobs just aren’t handed out anymore. If you want to make a living, you might have to go out and create a job. Coworking spaces like these are going to help more people do that professionally and affordably.
- Real change comes from getting out of your comfort zone. One could argue that just being a freelancer is way out of the comfort zone. But to me, who’s been freelancing from home for 7 years, deciding to make a small commitment to working outside of the house was a big shift. Often, when you are looking to get unstuck, you have to take a leap of faith to get to that next level.
- Experiment, experiment, experiment. When it comes to productivity, I’m all about trying new things. Whether it’s organizing my day a little differently, waking up at a different time, having something different in the background, timing myself in a new way, or trying a new space, there are plenty of variables to experiment with if you are looking to make some changes. You never know unless you try.