How could I have missed the Office Nomads LEGO Battle Track Challenge? I could have constructed a sleek electric monorail and sipped a Rainier beer while my stylish yet cleverly engineered LEGO car glided along the track and knocked the stuffing out of its competitors. Oh, what might have been.
Let me back up. Last year, I joined a coworking space in Seattle called Office Nomads, where I work about once a week. I love my home office, with its view of the Cascade Mountains and a daily commute that can be measured in feet. I’m not about to give that up.
But I realized that sustainability for me requires periodic face time with people who aren’t my partner or the mail carrier. (Stephen Ornes (bio) has some great tips on how to combat the loneliness of science writing in Chapter 12 of The Science Writers’ Handbook.)
I’ve read about the perils of social isolation in some serious and not so serious publications. And like fellow SciLancer Kendall Powell (bio), I’ve tried working at a local coffee shop. But as might be expected from a sign on the shop’s display case that once read, “Please don’t bang on the glass. It scares the cupcakes,” writing deadlines and shrieking toddlers on a sugar high don’t mix well.
For me, going to a coworking space roughly once a week has been the perfect compromise. For a monthly fee that I can count as a business expense and theoretically recoup with an extra two hours of productive work, I get a desk that’s not piled high with work detritus in a room full of non-screaming peers. I have unlimited access to a reliable WiFi signal, a printer – and most importantly, coffee. If I was motivated enough to bike, I could use the free indoor storage racks and showers. And if my puppy was even remotely well behaved, I might consider taking her with me to join the regular pack of generally placid dogs.
I never have to reserve a spot, meaning that I can use my allotment of five coworking days per month whenever it makes sense for me. Full-time residents keep the same desk while the rest of us look for an open one, marked by a flag, after we check in for the day (finding room hasn’t been an issue in the recently expanded two-story space). It may not work for everyone, but forcing myself to shower, dress reasonably well, and leave home for an office space that requires a financial commitment has done wonders for my personal sanity and professional development. I found my web designer through the coworking message board and used one of the conference rooms for our regular meetings. I participated in a branding exercise that helped me hone my “elevator pitch” to new acquaintances.
The space hosts get-togethers on an almost daily basis, including free brown bag lunch talks on small business insurance, financial planning, health insurance and other topics of prime importance to sole proprietors. And yes, there are plenty of happy hours and fun events like field trips and the LEGO Battle Track Challenge that I sadly missed. “It was definitely well received,” says Office Nomads co-owner Susan Evans Dorsch.
Not every space has the same vibe, but freelancers have never had more options. According to the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance, for example, at least 17 coworking sites have opened in or near the city, part of a global trend that Evans Dorsch says is going through “explosive growth.”
The online coworking magazine, Deskmag, estimates that an average of 4.5 new spaces are popping up around the world every workday, adding to the roughly 2,500 already in existence on six continents. On the Coworking Wiki, an impressively thorough compendium of information, you can use one of the directories to search for a site near you.
Even freelancers who live in rural areas can participate in an occasional work gathering at a moveable location, whether in a café or someone’s living room. It’s called a “jelly,” and is something of a precursor to a permanent coworking space. A Worldwide Jelly Week celebrates all those gelling coworkers.
There’s a lot to be said for spaces that promote community among individual professionals. Beer and LEGO battles always help.
Next time, coworkers. Next time.
Image credits: Office Nomads