One of the biggest challenges of working at home can be the isolation. This is especially tough for those who have transitioned from a traditional office environment, complete with water cooler and hallway chat-ups to the home office where you only company might be your pets.
I feel it when my younger daughter is in school (my oldest is on her own now). I am a person who appreciates (and needs) some alone time, but there are times when I need a change of environment. That’s when I’ll pack up the laptop and head into town in search of a wi-fi hot spot. Starbucks is my usual choice, I can usually find a comfy chair and outlet. But, what if I need to do more than just write a blog post or update a website? What if I need to print something or meet with a couple of people to collaborate. Starbucks might not be the best environment for that with limited seating and people yelling out “Grande Caramel Macchiato for Susan?”.
And I’m not the only one dealing with these issues. According to a recent article on office sharing by Jane Hodges for the Wall Street Journal:
As of November 2009, there were nine million self-employed workers in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Meanwhile, the volume of workers telecommuting at least once a month for employers grew 17% between 2006 and 2008, to 33.7 million workers, according to WorldatWork, a human-resources research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Enter “shared office spaces”. These are offices that can be rented on an hourly or even a yearly membership basis. They range from private offices to rolling workstations that can be moved to suit your needs.
Jane and her colleagues decided to test out four shared office facilities in four cities, Office Nomads in Seattle; Souk in Portland, Ore.; The Coop in Chicago; and New Work City in Manhattan. This is what they found…
The Coop, located in Chicago’s West Loop area, was the smallest space we tested, with desk-top spaces pushed up against one another without dividers.
We visited twice during the week—on a Wednesday and Thursday—and appreciated that a few workers—an accountant and a consultant—greeted us. Working in a formal office motivated us more to work and we appreciated the comfy black leather chairs and good lighting. But the lack of barriers between desks meant we could see coworkers’ computer screens, and vice versa.
New Work City
Manhattan’s New Work City, on the edge of SoHo, was on the compact side. The space had a 20-worker capacity and didn’t take reservations when we called, but the owner said a reservation systems is in the works. After check-in, we snagged one of the few remaining spots. We appreciated that our work space was spacious and that coworkers seemed industrious. Some of the office denizens appeared familiar with one another and a bulletin board posted community news, but we didn’t feel pressured to socialize.
Seattle’s Office Nomads, located in youthful and artistic Capitol Hill, can accommodate several dozen workers with its mix of closed-door offices, open desks and lounge areas. Office Nomads didn’t require a reservation and won’t charge for the first visit. Office Nomads was well-lit, with abundant plugs and desk options.
Coworkers—as well as the site’s founders—introduced themselves and offered help. Office Nomads appeared to place an emphasis on creating a community for its members; there was a “State of the Nomads” monthly meeting at midday. A bulletin board listed in-house social options as well as visiting speakers slated to appear, and also featured quirky photos and fun facts about members.
We made a reservation to use Souk, on the edge of Portland’s Pearl District and Chinatown, for a Thursday. We were surprised at how quiet the space was, with less than 15 workers inhabiting a space sufficient for several dozen more. The friendly office manager checked us in, gave us a tour, and even made us an Americano coffee from the office cappuccino maker.
Souk offered the widest variety of work-space configurations. Full-time members could use enclosed offices, but less-frequent coworkers could choose from rolling desks in a large open room, a communal work table, or first-come/first-serve semi-private rooms with walls and sliding doors. We liked that rolling desks in the open room could be moved at coworkers’ discretion—toward a wall for privacy, near a partner for collaboration. The open room also offered lightweight partitions for makeshift privacy. We chose a semi-private room. Noise was minimal, but we overheard some consultants and nonprofit sector types talking about work projects. Abstract art adorned the brick walls and furnishings included Herman Miller chairs and modern desks.
As the traditional workplace continues to shift and evolve, I think we’re going to find more and more creative definitions of the work space.