Joining the co-working trend requires some choices. If you are ready to try it, here are some steps to take to find the space that you can call home (or work, if you must).
First spend some time thinking about what you want from your co-work space.
You will probably want a range of facilities and services including a place to work – most basically a desk, chair and internet connection. Depending on your kind of work, you might need a space to host meetings, or a place to make phone calls. You might also want someone to source a courier for you or help you install some software. Thinking beyond these more practical needs, you might be looking for a great experience, opportunities to grow and contribute, or even to find your tribe: a community of like-minded people for company or to stimulate and challenge you.
I’ve been trying to break these elements down, and here is my list of the things you might want to consider when choosing a co-working space. They are broken into three categories: Practicalities, Intangibles, and Costs. I also discuss the practicalities of going out and joining a co-work space at the end.
So here are some of the practical aspects that you should consider…
Location. You will want to find a space that is easy to get to, taking traffic patterns into account. If you are going to get up and go to a co-work space it needs to be almost as convenient as working from home, or the lure of staying in your pyjamas might be too hard to resist. If you freelance because you can’t face the traffic, see if you can walk, cycle or take public transport. If you have a morning or afternoon school-run, look for something along the route.
Workspaces. Most importantly, look at where you will actually work. Is there a choice of furniture and spaces so that you can find one that works for you? Sit down. Are the tables a good height? Is the chair comfy? Are there meeting spaces? Have a good look through all the rooms and consider where you would feel comfortable.
Wi-Fi and power. Who can work without Wi-Fi and access to power? Check for the location of power points. Are there enough? Are they conveniently situated? Sign on and test out the Wi-Fi. Is it easy to get connected? How fast is it?
Light and air. Then consider the ambient elements. Is the space warm or cool enough? Is there a fresh breeze or are the rooms stuffy? What is the lighting like? Is there glare? Will the room be light even on a dark day?
Noise. Wherever you work you have some control over noise levels – just take a good set of headphones along. But do consider the amount of noise you are comfortable with. Do you like to work with a buzz around you or do you need silence to concentrate? Noisy coffee grinder? Traffic? Music?
Refreshments. What refreshments are offered? Do they suit you? What options are there for lunch? Is it near enough to restaurants or take-away options?
Opening hours. Make sure that the opening hours suit your preferred working patterns. Check whether the space is open over weekend and public holidays, if that is something you need.
Additional services. Other things you might want at your workplace are lockers to keep your stuff in. Even if you don’t plan to leave things overnight, it might be convenient to lock up your laptop while you have lunch. Is there a printer?
Parking and transport options. Where will you park your car? Is it safe? You will probably pay extra for off-street parking, so you might want to ask if there are alternatives, like a bus or train route nearby.
Space allocation. Do people have their own working space which they expect to use every day, or is it more relaxed? Will you need to book a space in advance? Will you need to book a meeting room?
After the practicalities, or maybe before, you will want to consider the intangible aspects of your co-working space. Intangibles can have the greater effect on your experience of the place and the extent to which you are relaxed and happy working there.
Some things to consider are…
Décor and design. A co-work space gives you the opportunity to work in a cool or creative environment. Find one you like. Does the décor appeal to you? Do you feel comfortable in the space? Will your clients feel comfortable in this space? Does this space reflect the kind of work you do? Does it match the brand image you are trying to project?
People. One of the benefits of co-working is that you get to meet people. In choosing a co-work space, think about the kind of people you want to meet. Are you looking for a party crowd, or a thoughtful bunch? Who uses this space? Are they the kind of people you want to spend time with?
Networks. Meeting people is partly about good company, but it can also be about networking opportunities. It might benefit your business to meet others who do similar work, or people offering products or services that you could use. Your next client, or supplier, could be sitting at the next table. Also look at what events are on offer. Are these the kinds of events that suit you and the work you do?
Diversity. Think about your need for diversity. Do you want to meet people like you or do you want to rub up against different ideas and ways of thinking? Are you looking for a place to meet people who are like you, so that you can fit in, or do you want to trip over new views?
Opportunities to learn and grow. As a freelancer you are responsible for your career growth. Some spaces offer training sessions and workshops, and if these are targeted to the kind of work you do, it could be a good space to keep learning and growing.
Opportunities to contribute. Being able to contribute to a community can be satisfying. If this is something that matters to you, you might want to consider what opportunities there are to contribute. Is this a place that you can play a part in shaping? Can you run workshops, facilitate interactions or plan events? Ask about the ways in which you can get involved.
Vibe. Then there is the indefinable “vibe” that you get in a place. Is it professional and office-like? Is it cosy and homely? Is it fun and frivolous or more serious? Find a space that suits you and your kind of work.
When thinking about the cost, there are quite a few aspects to consider…
Basic cost of access. Like cellphone packages, evaluating the real costs of membership at a co-work space can be difficult. A good place to start is with the cost of access for a day. Co-work spaces in Johannesburg charge between R100 and R300 for a day.
Structure of packages. Packages vary from monthly access with limits on the number of days to bundles of days that you can use as you please. Look carefully at the conditions and ask if you are unsure. Match your choice to how you will work. Do you want a place to go to every day, or will you work two or three days a week? How much flexibility do you need?
Bundled perks. Packages often come with bundled perks. Have a look through the perks that you value and see which package includes most of those.
Contracts. Some venues offer discounts for taking longer contracts, while others operate from month to month. Decide whether you are ready to commit to long-term use of the venue before opting for a contract. You may want to start with one month until you are sure you have found your place. You may prefer not to be tied to contracts.
Are refreshments included? Is the coffee and tea included in your entrance fee or does it cost extra? If you are paying extra, check that the prices are reasonable. You don’t want to have to pay high prices for the convenience of having coffee at your desk.
The cost of a guest. If you need to bring a guest along or a group of clients for a meeting, will you have to pay extra? That could add up. Read the details on guest pricing.
Cost of other services. Even if you choose a lower-level package with fewer perks, you will usually be able to buy the extra services offered. Check the prices for those. Occasionally paying to have data captured, or some typing done for you, might be a life-saver in a busy week.
Ask for options. If you can’t find a package that works for you, do ask about alternatives. Most co-working spaces are flexible and, as long as you are not expecting everything for free, will try and find a way to accommodate you.
Getting in and getting acquainted
Most co-work spaces will gladly show you around if you just drop in. Call and make an appointment if you want the undivided attention of a host to explain the facilities and options.
Most places will offer you a chance to “try before you buy” in the form of your first day free or discounted. Make use of this. Pick a day when you will go to the space as if you were working there. Take along a project you are busy with and spend a good few hours finding out what it’s like to actually work in the space. You need that long to assess the comfort of the chairs, the ambiance, the Wi-Fi and to get to know some of the people. Do go and grab coffee when others are doing that, so that you can introduce yourself and ask about their experiences.
If the venue has some kind of informal social or meet-and-greet event, go along and use the opportunity to find out what kind of people inhabit the place. Mingle. Ask people what they do, how long they have been using the space and what they like about it. Take a friend if you are shy. At the very least, have fun investigating the different co-work spaces until you find what suits you best.
What do you think? What have I left out? How do you choose?