If you’re not aware of coworking, makerspaces, hackerspaces, etc. – these are collaborative coops that provide you space to work in an environment where other people are also working in a creative and independent way. The coop part of it gets you a chair, deskspace or table space, wifi internet, lights, electricity, a bathroom, and often free coffee, in exchange for a monthly fee. For about $40/mo, expect 3hrs/day access during business hours (average pricing depends on your metropolitan area). For $150/mo, expect all-day access. For $250/mo expect 24/7 access, a locked office, and an assigned desk. These places usually host lots of groups and startup events, and are gathering places for entrepreneurs and independent workers. Some even offer a ‘travel passport’ so you can use spaces in their network when travelling. That certainly beats the Dennys.
Access usually includes use of conference rooms, training rooms, and meeting rooms on a sign-up basis, and there are often other amenities, like big screen monitors and a special connection for broadcasting available. Some makerspaces focus on the artist movement side of independent working, some on the industrial side and can even include machines involved in prototyping design ideas. Others tend to be hubs for software developers – often called hackerspaces (if you still think a hacker is someone who breaks the law, you’re out of touch). And yet others are packed with design people and various web 2.0 company operators.
I have an excellent home office, but I also need a place off-site where I can write creatively, apart from the distractions of multiple businesses and the demands of home life. Coffee shops are often uncomfortable with loud thumping music or emphatic ideological discussions that get in even around headphones, or there are lots of flies, bone-crushing seating that can make working painful, dim lighting, amplified musical acts, or other problems. Ordinary diners often don’t have reliable internet, or they’re just too hospital-sterile and brightly lit, with not enough other people around engaged in creation and innovation. So I rent my 3hrs/day of time from a collaborative coop and get what I like about coffee shops (coffee and other creative people around) but with more of an emphasis on work and productivity. I get what I like from a corporate office (high dollar office chairs, professional workspace, solid connectivity, and a pro environment) – but without the sort of ever-present feeling of corporate hegemony, needless restrictions, or accountability to an HR department. It’s a place of self-direction and independence.
Think of it like this: Why would any startup or independent professional go to the expense and hassle or taken on the responsibility of leasing a whole building, setting up utilities, maintaining security, etc. when, through a coop, you can get all that for a much more reasonable fee, without the obligation, but also be in the company of other people who are what you want to be, doing the things you want to do? We’ve learned that innovation is social – it’s about momentum and collaboration and likemindedness. Even technies are part of this ‘artists movement within work itself’, if you’ll permit me to borrow an expression from a friend – Steve Pruneau at Free Agent Source. We’ve figured out that a lot of us, perhaps most of us, work best when the hassles are removed, all the right stuff is taken care of, and the opportunity exists to collaborate and socialize with others going similar directions (or even radically different ones). I mostly keep to myself, but having the other people around, working, does a lot to keep me engaged with my own work. Some small companies like it so well, that they just go ahead and set up shop in coworking spaces indefinitely.
If you’re interested in collaborative workspaces or other types of shared arrangements, check out coworkingregistry.org and sharedbusinessspace.com as well as hackerspaces.org and coworking.com and makerspace.com – Also, kudos to my own current coworking coop at okccoco.com – they’ve got a great facility in a perfect location, and they’re steps from a great coffee shop too.