Trouble focusing? Sick of the home office? Need a chance of scenery? Upflex Cofounder and CPO Ginger Dhaliwal offers some words of wisdom on picking a workspace that works for you.
Geographic flexibility is one of the most coveted perks of working for oneself. While debates roil between companies and their employees about the impending “return to the office,” the freelancer’s “office” is wherever you rest your laptop. But the events of the past year and a half have made it hard to take full advantage of freelancers’ freedom to work anywhere: Self-employed workers’ go-to coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and other favorite home-office alternatives are in pandemic disarray (or out of commission altogether). And even on a good, pre-COVID day, finding good, productivity-enabling workspace as a freelancer wasn’t always easy.
Perhaps you’re one of the two million Americans who switched from salaried work to freelance during the pandemic, and you’re acclimating to not having an amenity-rich office space where you could print things for free and get facetime with peers whenever you wanted. Or maybe you’re the freelance old guard, feeling cooped up and longing for the old days when you could head anywhere in town with your laptop and sit and work for hours. In either case, it may be a great time to consider coworking space.
The good news is, there have never been more options when it comes to on-demand flexible workspace: Right now, many have stringent sanitation and social distancing measures in place, and lots of room to spare. But shifting from working for “free” (albeit in your bedroom or at your kitchen table) to paying for workspace (which might land you the standing desk, natural light and kombucha on tap you’ve always wanted), how do you find the best fit?
Here are some of the factors to consider as you seek out an away-from-home workspace that works for you.
Location, location, location
Consider where your office away from home will be situated and how that factors into the rest of your life. Do you want a space near home for an optimally convenient commute? Or a space near your after-work activities like bars, restaurants, or the gym? If you can’t settle on one location, consider choosing an option that won’t ask you to settle. There are platforms out there — Upflex among them — that let you choose from a network of coworking spaces around the world, and book a desk depending on your needs, your location, or just your mood.
Plus, many coworking companies have multiple locations, and will allow access to each. The Yard, for instance, has a dozen locations scattered around Manhattan and Brooklyn, plus one in Philadelphia and one in Washington D.C. WeWork does the same. Workers can sample WeWork or The Yard locations with day passes from workspace aggregation platforms (here’s a free day pass if you want to try it out), but if they choose to go all in, members each select a “home” location, but have the option of accessing the others depending on space availability.
Work mingling or perfect solitude?
An office-free lifestyle often means a coworker-free lifestyle — that can mean workdays devoid of social interaction, in-person collaborating, and water cooler banter. Maybe all those things were cutting down on your productivity and you’re fine without them, in which case you may just want a quiet, distraction-free space to work. There are plenty of spaces that offer exactly that.
But if you thrive more in a communal work environment and are prone to the loneliness of freelance life, you may want to look into coworking options that foster community, not just productivity. Coworking spaces like Luminary (marketed for women but open to “male allies”) boast a collaborative environment with events, workshops, and happy hours where members can connect.
What amenities would make your day?
Coworking spaces tend to offer little perks that make the workday more enjoyable, so take a look at each space’s offerings and make sure it’s checking all your boxes. Some platforms give you the option of filtering your results by amenities offered, from A/V equipment to private phone booths for guaranteed privacy and quiet during calls.
Do you absolutely need convenient access to coffee in-house? Seek out “Free Coffee & Tea,” and consider options like Blender Workspace, which offers complimentary coffee, tea and infused water served by the space’s hospitality staff.
Other things to consider include 24/7 access, printers, free parking or bike racks, and on-site pet policies, if you can’t stand the thought of parting with your pandemic puppy, support peacock or otherwise during the workday.
You’ll also want to consider the physical space you’ll be inhabiting as you work, so check out photos of each space and consider what will be going on around your desk. A survey of North American employees from HR advisory firm Future Workplace found that of all the office perks, “access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of the workplace environment,” even ranking above amenities like onsite cafeterias and gyms.
The survey also found that a lack of natural light impacts workers’ mood and energy level: “47% of employees admit they feel tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office, and 43% report feeling gloomy because of the lack of light.”
If that sounds like you, fortunately there are plenty of bright options. Look for spaces, like Serendipity Labs in New York City or Mindspace in Berlin, that feature tall windows that let in tons of natural light and views of the outdoors.
Safe and spacious
Lastly, as the pandemic drags on, the same health-related factors that have kept freelancers from indulging in the long coffee shop work marathons of the pre-COVID era may also discourage people from wanting to try a public workspace. But many spaces have upped their sanitation and safety games in the past year, committing to rigorous cleaning and incident reporting protocols, providing PPE and enabling (and requiring) social distancing. When we saw what a priority these measures were for Upflex’s users, we added a Safe Spaces seal to space operators in our worldwide network that have pledged to institute these changes and follow CDC guidelines on their properties, so workers could easily search for just the spaces where they knew they’d find like-minded management and coworkers.
On top of social distancing layouts, many coworking spaces have also seen attendance drop offs, or more spread-out attendance, as asynchronous work and flexible schedules become more widespread. That means there’s never been more elbow room.
Change can be inspiring, so if you think you’d benefit from switching things up and trying a new workspace, this is a surprisingly great time to try them out.