Coworking: An Introduction

There’s nothing like being able to work from home. I've been doing it full-time for years. I  don't really miss working in a traditional office. I don't miss commuting, office gossip, constant interruptions, passive-aggressive office politics and, of course, pantyhose.

I enjoy the freedom I have to work on my own schedule and in my pajamas, if I want to. I like being able to work during my most  productive times and stop when I need to. If wake up at 3 in the morning with an idea, it's great to be able get it down right away. I like being able to mix up my projects and work on them when I am able to give them my best focus and effort. I am more productive and motivated when  I'm able to follow my creativity's ebbs and flows.

You can't always get your work done from home though. It's easy to get pulled by unfinished personal projects, interrupted by personal phone calls and knocks on the door, and tempted by lots of  cool ways to procrastinate.  Home isn't always just where we live either. Our most vulnerable moments are revealed at home. It’s where we worry that we aren’t doing the right things for our kids, and where we stare in the mirror and call ourselves ugly. It is where we open ourselves up the most and that isn't always conducive to getting work done.

I also find that working from home instead of in an office setting can be isolating. Working from home often means not having someone right there with me to validate decisions or keep me and my business pointed in the right direction. I have to keep going, doing things while finding the confidence to know I'm on the right path. I am not within earshot of people with whom I can brainstorm, collaborate, vent or  laugh with firsthand when I'd like to.

Or there are those times when I want other people around when I'm working but I don't necessarily want to talk to them either and that's when Barnes & Noble, Starbucks or Panera Bread can come in handy. No one bothers you much while you work and you can "be' around other people. Still, there are times I'd like to connect and collaborate with other creative people face to face, and working from home doesn't give me that interaction.

So after reading about coworking on various sites and blogs every so often, I'm interested in finding other creative, independent workers, freelancer, workshifters and telcommuters like myself. After a revelation of a potential opportunity and a gentle prod from Sue, I got the hint and hit the Internet, digging for some information.

Wikipedia defines coworking as " work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization. Typically it is attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation. Coworking is the social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values, and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space."

A simpler, more straightforward definition comes from Alex Hillman, co-founder of Indy Hall in Philly and moderator of the Coworking Google Group and the Coworking Wiki. Alex says coworking is  "…creating better places to work, coworking spaces are built around the idea of community-building and sustainability. Coworking spaces agree to uphold the values set forth by those who developed the concept in the first place: collaboration, community, sustainability, openness, and accessibility."

In researching actual coworking spaces in my local area, I found one but it doesn't look like my cup of tea so I went on searching to see what other, larger cities have in the way of co-working space. In general coworking spaces across the United States provide:

  • Inexpensive, quality workspace
  • Spacious desks or tables
  • High-speed internet access, both wifi and ethernet
  • Conference/Phone/Quiet rooms
  • A kitchen or kitchenette
  • Unlimited network printing and faxing
  • Couches and lounging area
  • The requisite coffee/espresso/tea machine and water cooler
  • Often dog-friendly
  • Offer options for virtual office services and private desks with membership.
  • Available to everyone from web designers, writers, artists, consultants, students, telecommuters and anyone else who has portable work.

And of course, creative, friendly and talented people to share the space with you.

There is also a fairly new group around called Jelly which takes place in over a hundred cities where people come together (in a person's home, a coffee shop, or an office) to work for the day. Chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of are all provided.  All you need to bring is yourself and a  laptop (or whatever you use to get your work done) and a friendly disposition. There's even a Jelly Wiki that offers suggestions on organizing your own Jelly event. Current Jellies take place around the globe, from to random cities across the United States to Australia, Africa, and Israel to Mexico, China, Canada and the Philippines.

Until now coworking hasn’t actually been an option for me, anyway, so I didn’t have to make a real choice about it. But digging up all the coworking information uncovered a Jelly group for the Richmond, VA area and a Google group devoted to that end and decisions to be made.

For ongoing information about the co-working trend as well as a list of co-working spaces, check out the Coworking Community Blog and keep an eyeball on Creative Wonk as I explore coworking and setting up a local, regular coworking space.

Are there any independent workers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or start-ups in the RVA area out there who want to collaborate and develop a creative, inclusive, open coworking community? Leave a comment or toss me an e-mail and I'll get back to you!