Coworking Makes the Dream Work…ing

I want you to close your eyes for a moment.

Wait, open them back up, and read the rest of these directions, and then close them if you need to

[stupid text-based communication, ruining my narrative, am I right?!]

Okay, instead imagine…with your eyes completely open…that you are still self-employed, but are able to surround yourself with people that make you laugh or just break the monotony of the day with a little light discussion.

Maybe it’s just being in the same room as others so that making lunch plans become less of an “eating a sad bowl of cereal, alone in your home office as your pet tries to sneak a taste” and more of an adventure to a local eatery with people that you don’t even remotely hate.

Imagine also that you get all of the advantages of self-employment and yet you’re still able to interact with others in what seems like a near-traditional office setting, except everyone actually *wants* to be there each day.

How about the concept of people collaborating on their own projects toward success, without any of the normal corporate greed or backstabbing to get a promotion?

Seems like some kind of professional utopia, huh? Well, sit back and let Ol’ Man Yenzer spin you a quick tale.

For many of us that count ourselves amongst the alternatively-employed, the coffee-shop warriors, mercenary professionals, or the home-based freelancers, we find ourselves in quite a conflict of ideals. On one hand, we want autonomy and freedom that working anywhere gives us, but on the other we also strangely long for the more structured interpersonal benefits of working alongside others in a common area.

I remember working from home, and my productivity effectively ended every day at promptly 3pm, when my teenage daughter walked through the door and immediately needed to decompress about how “Sara” wronged her or “Ms. Straumbaugh” didn’t understand how to teach her class (Names were changed to protect the innocent).  This meant that I was losing a few hours at the end of each day that could have resulted in possible business or completed goals while clients were still scheduled in their offices. It also meant that I was working into the wee hours because “I was at home and could”. On top of all this were the focus issues that I met regularly while being surrounded by all manner of distractions and to-do’s that needed to be completed around the house.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the dream setting that I imagined when I went into business for myself and started up that coveted “Home Office” environment.

Seeing the issue, I, like many others, tried working from a local café that offered free-Wi-Fi for paying customers; meaning I drank at least $5-$10 worth of tea each day and found my focus issues instead shifted to always greeting people that were walking in with a quick glance and pleasantry (I grew up in the Oklahoma, and you just *have* to be cordial to strangers, it’s in our blood). This resulted in even more distractions and less work being done…and that was before I started to get to know people that walked in and summarily wound up in conversations. In the end, I was spending around $100-$200 a month to work out of the tea shop with little to show for it, other than a booth with a permanent imprint of my butt, perhaps.

I also rarely bumped into other business owners or potential clients, as the café was out in the suburbs. So by avoiding regular bouts with cross-town traffic, I was also unknowingly avoiding tons of potential business.

Things started to change last year when I began eyeballing a local coworking space that was opening downtown; it was also the first time I had been introduced to the concept of shared workspaces that were not a library or a Starbucks. I initially had trepidations for the paid membership model, worrying that I would not get my money’s worth and wondering if people would even be in this place from day to day.

On top of all that, I was unsure if my own business model as a personnel consultant would be conducive to a community that was comprised of mostly tech entrepreneurs.

After spending a few days in the space, thanks to a new client that wanted me close by as we started working together, I joined during a normally slow time of year that had seen uncharacteristically high membership numbers. I immediately noticed that the community was as warm and welcoming as the free, free coffee.

I am told that coworking spaces differ from location to location on what area they focus upon, be it networking, business building, or community, but I feel fortunate that I was able to find a space that made my transition a simple one. Your mileage may vary, but each one has its own voice, and you would be surprised how easily you can integrate into the atmosphere of others when you used to work in traditional settings. It’s like getting back into the groove, but realizing you can help make a space exactly how you always wished your companies would be.

As I look back at the last few months, I am happy to have found a coworking community that has assisted in my own growth and am happy to say that my choice to get out of the house to work has resulted in three times as much new business coming to me as I had previously known. I had even been a member of a local chamber of commerce for two years prior and saw more results in a week of coworking than any 6 months of after-hours networking events and mixers.

The caveat is that you actually have to show up. I have seen new members sign up, come in a day a week and then cancel their membership because they didn’t see the value. It’s always odd seeing those people with headphones on in a coffee shop when they complained that they couldn’t get enough networking done in a coworking space.

This has all been due to the fact that I made like Burr and got myself “in the room where it happens”, being accepted as a source of specific knowledge and having a willingness to help those that need it.

If you are in any kind of a situation such as my own, where the home office or local cafés just aren’t cutting it, then I would sincerely suggest you find a coworking space in your vicinity. Hopefully, the one you choose also has an event center or hosts regular meetups where you can be introduced to all manner of professionals that can enrich you and your business.

Pro-Tip: Treat your first week in a new space just like your first week at work, meet everyone you can and start building friendships, these people are all here to succeed and seeing their friends do so is just as gratifying. Once you are a staple in the space and people realize not only what you offer but also how cool you are then qualified referral business will be a nice perk to your membership.

If you consider yourself alternatively-employed, a coffee-shop warrior, a mercenary professional, or a home-based freelancer – I encourage you to come by StarSpace 46 for a tour. There you’ll find people to bounce ideas with, collaborate with, or even just have an enjoyable lunch with. 

Jeff is a life-long nerd and career-long personnel manager that has morphed a pet-peeve of his into a business. Instead of people asking him for free advice and then not using it, they pay him for it and get their act together. You can also find him podcasting or even doing a spot of comedy here and there on the internet. Just look for "Yenzer" and it's usually him.

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