Working Remotely, But Not in Your PJs: Communal Workspaces

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The image of someone working from home, or the more official sounding “ working remotely ,” conjures images of an employee schlepping from bed to the couch, still wearing PJs and laptop in tow. While that situation might be reality for some telecommuters and sounds pretty good to others, the real truth is that those who work remotely need and often crave structure to their day. For some, this can be accomplished by setting up a home office. For others, however, a home office may not be the best solution. That’s where communal, or shared, workspaces come in.

Shared workspaces are popping up in urban centers all over the world and beginning to make a showing in mid-size cities as well. These communal work centers range from bare-bones cubes away from home to full-on social experiments with plenty of perks thrown in. Some offer levels of membership depending on what you need.

A basic membership might only include entry to the space and access to a communal workspace, with memberships also available for those who need a dedicated workspace, conference space, and even an office where they can shut the door when needed. Some are offering dozens of perks to lure independent workers their way. For example, aside from an optimal location in trendy Soho with stellar views of New York City, Fueled Collective offers free ice cream, ping pong tables, a popcorn machine, a free snack bar, a coffee bar and several other swag-tastic perks.

Who would want to get out of those cozy PJs and into a shared workspace? Plenty of people, as it turns out, including these folks:

The collaborator

Some communal workspaces strive to offer a holistic approach to working independently. According to its website, Chicago’s Panzanzee is a “social impact incubator, co-working space and continuous community.” For telecommuters and independent workers who wish to be part of a community, communal workspaces offer the opportunity to network and collaborate.

John Arenas, the CEO of co-working space Serendipity Labs, explained, “Co-working is really great for those looking to collaborate. For example, our ideation studios are a great place for teams to meet, brainstorm and work through new ideas. Our work lounges and lab cafe is great for events and casual meet ups. They are ideal because they offer great networking opportunities and serendipitous encounters with other members.”

Camilo A. Ferro, President and founder of Better Bag, agrees. His company works out of Panzanzee. “When I launched the business it was very important to be surrounded by like minded individuals who understood that social collaboration is crucial to success today,” he said. “Through the space we have built both personal and working relationships. It has been very fruitful to be surrounded by entrepreneurs and their teams working to change the world.”

The traveler

Freelance travel writer Lauren Juliff, who calls herself a digital nomad, travels full-time while working and seeks out communal working spaces wherever her travels take her. “As a permanent traveler, my ‘office’ changes every few weeks. Sometimes I’ll be staying in a tiny guesthouse without a desk, leading to me working in bed, or sometimes it will be a private room in a hostel where I have to try and concentrate in a noisy common room,” said Lauren. “For me, then, co-working spaces allow me to work at a desk to reduce health problems created by lying down all day with my laptop on my stomach, help me to concentrate by providing me with a quiet room, guarantee I’ll have good Wi-Fi and usually have free water and coffee, which is always good.”

Professional environment seeker

Chicago Blog Week organizer Dante Hamilton, who works out of OfficePort Chicago, appreciates the fact that there are none of the distracting elements that are present in the home work environment (pets, kids, housework, etc.) that can impact productivity. He also believes a co-working environment forces him to focus and get work done, much like a traditional work environment. An added bonus is the camaraderie that’s absent from a home environment. “At home, you are often isolated except for the delivery of mail and packages or neighbors unless you venture out for coffee. Most co-working spaces offer coffee and more so you can engage and connect with others while grabbing tea, heating up your microwave lunch or catching news on the cable TV in the common area. This is much better than being at home.”

Sounds like work-topia, but as with any great concept, there are a few important points to keep in mind.

Juliff has really only found one drawback to co-working environments so far. The price — particularly in certain parts of the world in relation to cost of living. “In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a co-working space charged a $100 monthly rate, while a month’s rent was only $300. Here in Mexico, where I am now, they charge a $188 monthly rate, whereas my rent here is $600 a month ($300 when split with my boyfriend).” As Hamilton pointed out, it’s also important to be able to bring in enough income to be able to afford the workspace rent.

Hamilton also emphasized that the individualistic nature of co-working still means that, even with the collaboration component, you’re ultimately responsible for some things you make take for granted working in a traditional environment. “Depending on the setup of the space, there is no one coming around to ask if you need help with marketing, fundraising or making your business a success or project happen. Most co-working spaces are not business incubators. So you need to be prepared to succeed on your own.” While this may be true, the upshot is that, in a communal workspace, you may meet others using the space that can help you with these things, or can put you in touch with those who can.

Wondering if a communal workspace could work for you? Tour several to see where you’ll work the best and be the most comfortable. For some people, communal workspaces are merely a place to get some work done. For others, they are a place to gather and be part of a dynamic, energizing community. The best spaces offer a bit of both.

Kristin Marino works remotely as a writer and editor from Nevada. She contributes to several websites, including Schools.com .

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