I love the concept of a coworking space. Even though I've worked from home for a number of years, I sometimes find myself missing things like human interaction, yummy snacks, plants, and unique or super-creative spaces that make it easier to get through the 9 to 5 day.
The problem? Coworking is kind of like Airbnb: There's a lot to pick from, and it can feel a little overwhelming to get started. The last thing you want to do is plunk down a hundred (or a few hundred) bucks a month for a desk in a spot with amenities and working conditions that aren't much better than what your have at home.
Hunting down the right coworking spot
While you've probably heard of WeWork, one of the larger coworking companies that's pretty well-known for having a variety of unique locations around the world, you might not be as familiar with the smaller coworking companies around your specific location (or any places you're travelling to). Before you can even begin to consider what coworking spaces might make the most sense for your needs (or aesthetic preferences), you have to know what's out there.
We've previously covered tools like Coworker, which make it easy to search for different working spaces around the world based on your particular service needs and location preferences. It's good, but it doesn't capture everything. Breather and Regus are also decent tools worth checking out, but these search engines still make me feel like I'm not seeing everything since, you know, a big company like WeWork doesn't show up on them.
Just to make sure you're getting a sense of everything that's out there, consider just doing a simple Google Maps search for "coworking," and filter by rating to ensure you're only looking at the best of the best, not some random sketchy coffee shop that got pulled into the results. It's a crude way to go about finding your next coworking spot, but you want to make sure you aren't missing any obvious gems.
What does your new temporary workplace need to have?
While the coworking search engines and listing sites can help you filter down to places that only have the amenities you want, even deciding what should appear on your list of must-haves can be daunting. If you haven't spent time in a coworking space before, how do you even know what you'll need?
Some attributes and amenities worth considering include:
- Speedy Internet: while not every coworking space can have a fibre line, you're definitely going to want to be able to handle everything from emails to video uploads for a team presentation without feeling like your space's Internet service is stuttering. And you don't just need a fat pipe: Consider the wireless capabilities of the space as well. Does it have speedy wireless-ac and plenty of access points? Ethernet hookups?
- 24/7 building access: While it sucks to have to work after work, sometimes you have to spend your fun weeknights dealing with edits and collaborating with teams halfway around the world. It's going to be sad if you can't hang out in your beautiful (and expensive) coworking space once the clock hits five — even if you're the only one burning the midnight oil.
- Snacks: When you're shelling out north of $250 each month for a desk, you better get a free apple or two, dammit. Unlimited access to a pony keg is even more refreshing on a hot summer day of working, if that's your thing, but no need to get greedy.
- Location: Is it easy to get to your place by public transit? Bike? Walking? Though you might be able to binge on free apples and chips all day long, is the coworking space located within walking distance of other yummy food places? Are they food places you wouldn't mind eating at, say, all the time? Can you UberEats (or food delivery service of your choice) to wherever it is you'll be working? Is there ample parking if you feel like driving in to work?
- Privacy: If you have to sketch out some designs on a whiteboard, take a phone call, or have a quick collab session with others visiting your workspace (or working next to you), are there spaces available where you can do that? Are they easy to book?
- Community and events: You don't have to be best friends with your fellow coworkers, but a coworking space is a great place to pick up some extra work, make connections that could lead to better opportunities, and do that whole networking thing that I have yet to master in my mid-30s. Also, check to see if a coworking space offers any kind of community events, be they little seminars, after-work meetups, guest speakers — that sort of thing. Enrich thyself; you're paying for it, after all.
- Fees: Suppose you want to ship or receive a package because it's easier (or more secure) to do so with at your coworking space than your sketchy apartment. Does that cost extra? If you need some storage space, a place to put your bike, or want a coffee from a coworking space's fancy little coffee bar, will you be tacking on fees to your already expensive monthly rate? What if you need catering for a meeting? Some slightly more complicated A/V setup for a presentation?
- Where you work: What kind of work locations does a particular coworking space offer? Are you stuck at one long table, sharing a surge protector's worth of power with eight other people? Can you have your own semi-private, dedicated desk? A private office? YOUR OWN FLOOR?
- A kitchen: If you're big on making your own lunches, having a kitchen is a must-have — even though you'll probably have to establish dominance by killing the person who keeps drinking your clearly labelled orange juice. And if you hate the smell of everyone else's stinky lunches, maybe finding a coworking space that doesn't offer a kitchen is better for you.
How do you ensure that the coworking place you're about to pay a good amount of money for is absolutely perfect? Look for coworking locations that give you some kind of option to try out the space before you plunk down for a pricier pass or monthly membership. Maybe you can use the space for a day, for free, or even buy a discounted day pass. Definitely try to get a comprehensive tour of the spot, ideally during a regular workday (so you can get a sense of working there might really be like). Pull out your laptop and test the connection. Attend an event or a community meet-up. Eat an apple.
How to have a great first day when coworking
Once you've decided on your coworking location and are ready to start, you still have a little planning to do. Now that you're going to be working out of a shared space that isn't your home, you'll want to make sure you're fully equipped for everything you'll have to deal with throughout the day:
- Buy a backpack: OK, you don't have to buy a backpack, but make sure you have something great that you can use to transport your laptop and other devices to and from your new coworking spot. More importantly, make sure your bag contains all the essentials you'll need: power adapters (that use your extra-long charging power cord, if applicable); any dongles you might need to connect external storage, displays, or Ethernet cables to your laptop; your favourite water bottle; pictures of your pets (unless your coworking space allows them to hang out); charging cables for your devices; your favourite pair of noise-cancelling headphones; et cetera.
- Consider beefing up your Wi-Fi: You might want to invest in an external wifi adaptor if your laptop's wireless capabilities are less powerful than what your coworking space offers. If your new workplace has speedy AC1750 access points (3x3 wireless-ac), but your laptop only supports N400 (2x2 wireless-n), you might want pick up a stronger external adaptor, annoying as they might be to use sometimes, so you aren't waiting forever for your work files to transfer (or your 4K YouTube streams while you're taking a break).
- Use VPN: If your company doesn't have a VPN you can use, or you're working for good ol' you, consider plunking down for a great one. While we doubt your coworking space is sniffing your wireless connection and trying to pilfer your passwords and data, you have no reason to assume that your coworking space is any safer than your local coffee shop.
- Lock down your laptop: Chain your laptop to your desk. No, really. And once you've done that, make sure you're using a secure method to log into your laptop — like using your fingerprint or your face — rather than just typing in your easy-to-guess "cat123" password. Consider setting up an app that takes webcam pictures whenever someone attempts to log into your laptop. Enable any kind of "my laptop went missing and I can use another device to lock it down, wipe it, or track it" features your operating system comes with, or install an app that allows you to do that. Be friendly at your new coworking space, but trust no one.
- Play in the cloud: You're probably already used to working from the cloud if you've been handling your job remotely and are now just moving over to a coworking space. If not, it's time to start storing your files on Google this, Dropbox that, or wherever else you prefer. It can be a little jarring to go from a good ol' .docx to an online document (or worse, spreadsheet), but you'll get used to it.
- Set up the right apps before you need them: If you need to dial into video or audio conferences, make sure you've downloaded whatever app it is your company uses in advance of your first meeting (Zoom, Lifesize, Google Hangouts, WebEx, et cetera). If your company uses Slack, download Slack — and customise it as much as your workplace allows. Make different accounts for your work and personal lives, if you're using one laptop for both. Install a remote app on your desktop computer at home, if applicable, in case you need to access something on it from your new coworking space. Install the GeForce Now beta in case you want to do a little gaming on your less-powerful work laptop during your lunch break...