How to find a coworking space that feels like a second home
When you’re forced to clock in at a stuffy office every day, the idea of working from home can sound too good to be true.
Understandable, then, that many new freelancers spend the first few months of self-employment alternating between working from their bed, sofa and kitchen table.
No more squeaky swivel chairs, headache-inducing fluorescent lights or sweaty morning commutes! Going freelance means you can spend all day in your PJs, fuelled by tea from your favourite mug and the comforting background babble of daytime TV. Right?
Well, not quite. While the first few months of working from home can seem idyllic, it won’t be long before you miss the company of humans and a proper desk to work from.
Sure, you can get around the midweek loneliness with lunchtime meet-ups and freelance-friendly café visits. But these are only temporary solutions for a bigger problem: the unavoidable gut feeling that in order to give this self-employment thing a proper crack, you’ll need a permanent productive place to base yourself from.
And that’s what coworking spaces are for! These dedicated hubs for freelancers, entrepreneurs and remote workers provide an affordable alternative to working from home.
Joining a coworking space allows you to spend your working days in a productive environment, sharing your office hours with likeminded people who may end up becoming friends, collaborators or even colleagues.
But how do you choose the right coworking space for you? There are quite a few of them around, and you don’t want to end up joining one that gives you the same ‘I don’t wanna be here!’ feeling as your old office.
If you’re not sure where to start, keep reading: I’m about to help you to find a coworking space that not only improves your productivity and grows your professional network, but that feels like a genuine home-away-from-home whenever you spend the day there.
My coworking story
When I joined Rabble Studio in Cardiff just after it opened in June 2016, I wasn’t sure how beneficial coworking would be for my freelance copywriting business. I’d spent a year working from home, and fancied switching things up by spending a few days a week in a communal space with other freelancers.
I’d heard others raving about how transformative coworking had been for their businesses, so figured I’d give it a try. But how good could it be, really? Surely I was just working on the same projects in a different space, albeit with the added cost of a rented desk. I arrived on my first day with laptop and business cards at the ready, unsure of what to expect.
My first month at Rabble was one of my most productive periods as a freelancer. I was amazed at how much easier it was to focus on my work in a dedicated space, with sturdy hand-built desks and a spacious, naturally-lit studio to get stuff done in.
Getting to know other freelancers gave me me the motivation to achieve more with my business. I’d spent a year taking on a random assortment of projects – some rewarding and well-paid, others less so. Seeing other creative freelancers consistently creating awesome work with well-suited clients gave me the wake-up call I needed. I've since made a conscious decision to be more confident in my business and strive to attract the projects I really want, instead of accepting anything and everything that comes my way.
I won’t pretend that new opportunities came flooding in as soon as I joined a coworking space. That’d be unrealistic. But being a Rabble studio member and a part of its wider creative community has gradually expanded my professional network, to the point where I frequently bump into collaborators, friends and coworkers around Cardiff. Regular creative events held in the studio mean that I’m always meeting new people, getting inspired by their stories and occasionally being commissioned to write copy for them.
Probably the biggest benefit to joining a coworking space has been the effect it’s had on my overall wellbeing. Before joining Rabble, I regularly spent entire days holed up in my flat, communicating with clients via email but rarely socialising in the real world.
Forcing myself to get out and see people at the studio has made me a more confident, inquisitive and happy human. I get to spend my working days in the company of friendly and interesting individuals, with talents I respect and opinions I trust. It’s made my work better, and it’s made me better.
If my old way of working sounds familiar and you’re ready for a change, here are five actionable tips on how to find a coworking space where you feel comfortable and inspired to produce your best work.
Seek out creative communities online
There are lots of creative communities online, many with an active presence on social media. Joining one could be a great way to find out about the creative coworking spaces in your area.
I originally found out about Rabble Studio through a startup group that I’m a member of on Facebook, and have since learned about similar hubs around the UK simply by following people on Twitter and Instagram. Use these platforms to start conversations with members of coworking spaces. Most will be happy to give you some insights and advice into why they choose to work in a particular place.
Talk to other freelancers and entrepreneurs
If you’ve got creative friends who freelance or run their own businesses, there’s a good chance that some of them will have tried coworking.
Ask about their experiences, and find out whether there’s a local coworking space they’d recommend. Whether their opinions are good or bad, hearing them will help you to understand what to look for when finding a coworking space of your own.
Visit lots of coworking spaces
While the internet is useful for initial research, nothing beats seeing a coworking space IRL, meeting its members and learning about the ethos behind it. Drop whoever’s in charge an email and arrange a visit. If they’re a decent person, they’ll be happy to show you around and tell you the story behind their space.
It’s worth booking in to see several coworking spaces – two studios that look practically identical online could have completely different vibes, so spend some time exploring your options before committing to your work home.
Ask for a free trial
Found a coworking space that seems like the perfect fit for your business? Awesome! Before you pay for your first month of membership, politely ask whether it would be possible to spend a day working from the space before you officially sign up.
Many coworking spaces have flexible desk space for this purpose, and will gladly let you spend a day with them if it’ll convince you to join their community. If a freebie isn’t available, you can always offer to pay for your desk for the day – if you discover a deal breaker that wasn’t apparent during your initial visit, it’ll be money well spent.
Create your own coworking space
This one’s for the more ambitious among you, but hear me out… if a suitable coworking space doesn’t exist in your area, you might want to consider starting your own.
Rabble Studio founder Dan Spain knew that the creative coworking space he was looking for didn’t exist in Cardiff, so he decided to open one. Visiting the likes of Duke Studios in Leeds and Friends Work Here in New York inspired him to create a space specifically targeted at creative freelancers and entrepreneurs in Cardiff – people like him, who were fed up with working from home and wanted to collaborate on cool projects with likeminded people.
“The space reflects its values,” Dan told me in an interview for Funded By Fun. “We use furniture from Opendesk, as they promote sharing and collaboration. We also have artwork from studio members and local independent illustrators adorning the walls. We want to support the local creative community as much as we can!”
It’s an ambitious undertaking for sure, but if you’ve got the passion and drive to create a coworking space for your local entrepreneurial community, it could be an idea worth exploring. Test the waters by holding a coworking meet-up in a local café. If it proves popular, opening your own coworking space might not be such a crazy dream to have.