Home office? Studio? Coworking? Cafe? With the dawning of the digital era and the evolution of the gig economy, freelance workspace options are growing like daisies through concrete. The stale, corporate office space may soon be a thing of the past for many. Here are some tips on getting the best out of your workspace.
I’ve used many different spaces for work and this is the one I always come back to. The home office is reliable and affordable. Even if you switch up and join a coworking space or get a workspace as part of a project you take on, it’s great to always have this as a fall-back. Pros and cons vary depending on your home. It can be a quiet refuge from the world or it can be a (less quiet, but) flexible option if you juggle childcare with work as many do. A few tips on making the most of it.
Separate it from your living space. This doesn’t necessarily mean a separate room (though it helps), one of my first home office spaces was one tiny corner of a bedsit. But allocate a space for work and keep work paraphernalia in that area. You need to be able to switch off from work in your downtime, create a routine to make this happen – pack away for the day and turn off work-related notifications on email and social media. Don’t become a workaholic just because you enjoy your job, I’ve been there, it still sucks!
Make the space yours. Gone is the stale corporate office space with a picture of a breaching whale accompanied by a motivational quote. Take advantage of your freedom and put together a space which is interesting and inspiring to you personally. Think about things like lighting and airflow in choosing your workspace. Think about layout in terms of organisation. Think about stuff on the walls that is genuinely inspirational to you as a person. If you do meet clients in your home office, it’s also worth considering how it represents you and your business in a positive way.
Create a system of organisation that suits you. You may be super-tidy or you may be a hapless hoarder of chaos and random scraps of paper that may someday be useful. If you know you’re the latter, it’s worth putting some thought into the layout of your workspace in the beginning that will make it easy to maintain through busy periods. Somewhere to leave yourself reminders of urgent stuff, plenty of drawers to shove different things in.
Have a breakout area. That first point I made? While it’s essential to have a good routine and designated workspace to stop work taking over your life, it’s also worth having a level of flexibility on where you work. Some people love working in the garden when the sun is out. I like to sit in a cosy armchair rather than an office chair sometimes.
Have proper breaks. This goes for every space you use. Don’t get in the habit of working through lunch. Take your eyes away from the screen for a while and preferably get some light exercise. Remember that old cliche ‘work smarter, not harder’. You will be more alert, happier and on your game if you take proper breaks. This will make your more efficient, so don’t use that old excuse of ‘I don’t have time for breaks’.
Cafés can be a great option to get a change of scenery, treat yourself to a fancy coffee or help out if you have internet issues at home. In the past, hogging a table with your laptop and nursing one drink for much of the day was a little frowned upon. But increasingly cafés are seeing the appeal of tailoring space to nomadic freelancers, supplying high-speed wifi and the holy grail of power sockets. All the same, it’s best to follow a few guidelines to avoid the frowns and make the best of your time.
Pick your café well. Larger cafés mean better seating options and are less likely to have to turn other customers away if you’re taking up a spot all day. Be aware that for small independents, every table counts. Do make sure you support small independents, though! You’re part of the small biz community, Starbucks doesn’t need your money. There are also cafés specifically designed as workspaces, such as the membership-based Antenna in Nottingham.
Avoid peak times. Even small independent cafés will be happy to have you during quiet times. Avoid the lunch rush if you can (12.30 – 2pm midweek) and probably avoid Saturdays and school holidays altogether. It’ll more than likely be too noisy for work.
Sharing is caring. Be open to sharing a table with someone else who is quietly working, it’s one step off coworking and you never know, you might meet a great contact.
Be prepared. Charge your laptop in case there’s a socket shortage, consider getting a backup pay-as-you-go wifi dongle as they’re always a good call in case you have wifi troubles.
Move around. Why not move between a couple of different cafés during the day? A change of scenery can help you reboot for the next phase of work and help you take a break.
Coworking & Shared Studios
Being a freelancer can be a little lonesome at times, so it’s no surprise that coworking has taken off as a concept. There are variations on what these shared spaces offer, some places offer coworking sessions (e.g. working coffee mornings) or hot desking, rather than permanent space and it’s probably wise to try these out before committing regular money to something. The idea with a more permanent coworking space is an open place office where different creative businesses mix and mingle in the same room, while still having their own set space. Taking on an office or studio can mean lengthy contracts and unnecessary overheads if your cashflow goes through a rough patch, coworking is a great in-between option while you’re still establishing a steady cashflow and building up a base of loyal clients.
Network while you work. Get to know other people and businesses working in the space on a relaxed informal basis. This is the main advantage of coworking so make the most of it. They may even recommend you to their own clients.
Community. Even freelancers need the support of a community to be successful. It’s great to have other people on hand to give titbits of advice, motivate you when you’re feeling a bit apathetic and make you a cuppa if you’re having a bad day. Be friendly and supportive to others and you will find you get a return on this. You may find there are people you don’t get on with, just like in any workplace. ‘Respond, don’t react’ is a good method to remember when dealing with anyone difficult (client, co-worker or colleague). Take a deep breath and rise above it. Stay out of drama, it’s not what good business is about.
Facilities. Coworking spaces tend to offer additional facilities, you would otherwise have to invest in yourself or source elsewhere such as conference/meeting rooms, photocopiers and in some cases cafes or in-house print studios (such as Dizzy Ink at Cobden Place in Nottingham). Make sure you make the most of any extras you’re offered.
For more on the cultural background and advantages of coworking, there’s a great article here on Creative Pool.
My final advice for choosing your workspace is to mix it up. The nature of freelance entrepreneurs means we like variety. I find sometimes I need a quiet isolated hole to hide away in and get work done, other times I crave the company of other people to remind me what it’s all about. Stay moving, stay inspired and take advantage of your freedom.
Kirsty Fox – Writer & social entrepreneur