Working for yourself as an independent consultant offers many benefits, from choosing your own clients and work hours to deciding your company's goals and direction. Leaving the traditional office environment, however, is not without its challenges. Among the many choices an independent consultant is faced with there is a rather basic, but extremely important one: where will you work? Many choose to work out of their homes for the benefits of a comfortable environment with very little additional overhead, but this option often has drawbacks of its own. Where will you meet with clients? How will you handle the isolation - or distractions - of a home office? For an increasing number of independent consultants, the solution lies in a movement gaining steam around the world: coworking spaces.
In a coworking environment, groups of entrepreneurs, freelancers, independent consultants, and even salaried employees work in a shared office space or digital platform. For a monthly membership fee, they have access to a desk space, meeting rooms, and other amenities typically found in an office. Unlike other shared office environments including executive suites, coworking spaces offer an open environment that encourages social interaction and collaboration. The social nature and open exchange of ideas and insights in coworking spaces is what makes them a unique, and, to many independent consultants, attractive work environment.
The coworking environment is particularly popular in the creative and media industries, but workers in industries from law to real estate are also calling coworking facilities home. With its origins in the San Francisco tech start-up community, coworking has been increasing in popularity, with a forecast report stating that we'll see over 10,000 coworking spaces open by the end of 2016. The workspaces vary, from converted warehouses or restaurant spaces to floors of office buildings, or even a space in someone's home. There are large online communities dedicated to coworking and coworking spaces, and a plethora of companies that help maintain and support them.
The potential benefits of coworking are numerous. From a financial standpoint, monthly memberships at coworking facilities are often no more than a few hundred dollars; far cheaper than the cost of rent and utilities at a private office. The fee also includes use of communal facilities, giving workers access to amenities such as printers and fax machines without having to purchase the equipment for their home office. Coworking also offers ongoing community events, from special skills workshops and motivational speaker series to pickup basketball and wine tasting.
There are also logistical benefits to a co-working space. Many facilities have meeting rooms that can be reserved for conferences or meeting with clients. They also provide a business mailing address for those who wish to keep their personal and professional correspondence separate.
However, many find that the biggest benefit of coworking is the social aspect. Many independent consultants and virtual workers name social isolation as the biggest drawback of working from home. A coworking environment gives them the opportunity to simply get out of the house for a while, while providing more amenities than working at places like coffee shops.
Beyond that, the environment is more than simply social: it's collaborative. Coworking facilities allow workers to share ideas and project leads, brainstorm with each other, and simply spend time working with like-minded individuals. To quote Steve King of Emergent Research: "While independent workers are initially drawn to coworking for the facilities, it's the meaningful business network they find that causes independents to continue as members."
While coworking may not be the ideal working environment for everyone, it's presenting itself as a viable option for more and more independent consultants who find working from home too isolating, desire the amenities of an office environment without the price tag that can come with it, and prefer working in a stimulating, work-productive, social environment.
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