When I first started working for myself in the mid-90s, I wasn't sure I'd ever have room in my budget for an office that was anywhere but in a corner of my living room. As time went on, I started recognizing the benefits of shared office space. With it came the potential to network, interesting people to chat with around the coffeepot and the hope that a quirky community could be had.
Back then, sharing office space was something of an anomaly. No one had yet dreamed up WeWork or The Yard. What existed were organic spaces that you'd find out about by word of mouth. I landed first on the top floor of lower Madison Avenue building, in a space run by two entrepreneurial editors who recognized the loneliness that could come from sitting alone all day long filing copy. I spent five years churning out stories there and our loft space even made it into the New York Times in 2000. Referred to as an 'ersatz newsroom,' one of my former co-workers us quoted as saying she was charged '$315 a month for not only a desk with fax, phone and computer lines, but a conference room, café and camaraderie.'
Imagine the promise of an all-inclusive fax, phone and computer line!
And then I got married--just as perk-filled tech spaces had begun to proliferate. My husband and I leased a suite in a co-work Midtown high-rise with amenities like free coffee, business seminars and networking events. We worked two doors down from the legendary shopping site Daily Candy before it was acquired and it was a thrill to watch as more and more employees--and products--packed into the site's office suite.
But are co-working spaces right for you? Here are four questions you need to ask yourself:
1. Do you have anything in common with the people there?
In the early 2000s, tech incubator co-working spaces were full of perks, like Bagel Fridays, but for some reason, I felt like I didn't belong. I'd chat with someone at the, yes, push-button coffee machine (a far cry from the Le Colombe brew served at many co-working spaces these days) and try to connect but, inevitably, I was branded a 'creative.' Sure, I wasn't in app development, but I was reporting stories about inventors, trends and entrepreneurs. Still, those chats always felt like a dead end. So while it's nice to work near other people, if they're not in allied fields, is it worth the money?
2. How many people are renting by the hour?
My co-work story continued with me returning to my home office, having a child and thus even fewer hours to complete the same mighty work load. Just recently, however, I've become office-space restless again. I've found that co-working apps offering 'remainder' seats like Croissant are a decent fix when I experience work-from-home blues.
By offering hour-by-hour desk usage, there are no scary leases to sign and no commitments to be made. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't tour potential work spaces. Believe me, it can be off-putting to be the only person renting a desk by the hour when everyone else is a regular in the space. Try sitting on your pay-by-the-hour stool while everyone's chatting about their weekend and you'll know what I mean.
3. Are you comfortable expressing your workspace idiosyncrasies there?
I'll admit: All those years working in my own space has made me quirky. For example, I like coffee the way I make it, I like working in my bright orange Glerups slippers and I like sunshine and light, fresh air when I need it and incandescent bulbs versus buzzing fluorescents.
If you have think you won't be happy in a co-working space that doesn't have the comforts of home, you're probably right and should revel in the fact that your commute is as long as it takes for you to walk from your bedroom to your home office, wherever it might be in your house.
4. Will you really do downward dog at the co-work yoga hour?
I realize that my timing for becoming ambivalent about these office spaces couldn't be worse. After all, just about every neighborhood in New York City offers gleaming rent-by-the-hour desks promising midday yoga and happy hour cocktail hours attended by young and happy entrepreneurs. But it's also good to be true to yourself. Why work in spaces with perks if you're not going to take advantage of them?
In the end, I might be missing out by skipping early evening micro-brew tastings overlooking a glittery skyline sunset. But, in the end, I'm proud I was an early mover on the co-work trend. I'm happy to watch it explode with (or without) me sipping free coffee and being the belle of the co-working ball.