Five years ago I had a great home office. Really great. It had tons of natural light, whiteboards, exposed brick, sturdy wooden tables I built myself, a wall of design books and magazines, half-used sketchbooks, and all the paper I could ever want. I miss it sometimes. Yet no matter how well-afforded my home office, I was still capable of spending an entire day in that room completely uninspired. Something, it seemed, was missing.
I came into my own as a freelance designer in a city full of vibrant coffee shops. I believe this was no accident. Getting started, coffee shops afforded me a change of scenery from my home office. There was good caffeine, (mostly) good music, and the lull of other people chatting, working, flirting, laughing. As a contrast to my quiet home office, the coffee shop afforded me a vibrancy that my stereo and cat just couldn’t provide. There’s a social aspect to creative work that even an introvert like me couldn’t deny.
Getting out of the house
There’s quite a bit of information out there about the benefits of getting out of the house now and then. Though working in isolation can lead to bursts of productivity and laser-focus, it quickly tires the mind in other ways. It’s great to be around people; distraction can actually be healthy for our creative process, plus we’re drawing an important distinction between our home life and our work life. When I started freelancing, I found myself working a strange patchwork of hours from early morning to well past bedtime. There were no boundaries between my work time and my personal time, so it was nearly impossible to compartmentalize work stress and enjoy a quiet evening with friends. While I was sitting in the living room watching a movie, my office was literally steps away. On the other hand, when I was at a coffee shop, I knew I was in work mode. This distinction is very important.
With coffee shops, the social element can cut both ways. People get rowdy. Espresso machines hiss and glasses clink. Guys with long hair play acoustic guitars. You’re in a social space, after all, not a workspace. As a work-from-home freelancer, coffee shops provide a much-needed break from silence and too much alone time, but they’re not an everyday solution. They become kind of tiring in their own way — not to mention expensive. Spend most of the day in a coffee shop and you’ll find yourself nickel-and-diming your way out of profitability as a freelancer. Those muffins can really start to eat into your bottom line.
There’s also a dreaded stigma that comes from coffee shops. Starting out, my little clients were happy to meet over coffee for kickoff meetings, design critiques, and training sessions. Once you start dealing with larger clients, teams of people, and higher expectations, however, patience for the public space can run thin. I remember working from a coffee shop once and taking an important video conference only to be interrupted by laughter halfway through. “Is there a painting of a nude woman behind you?” Indeed there was. The coffee shop was having an art show, and I hadn’t paid enough attention to my surroundings; I thought the client would judge me if they realized I was in my kitchen, but in going out for coffee I looked even worse.
Coworking: The best of both worlds
Coworking can prove a fantastic solution to the working-from-home problem. You get all the benefits of the coffee shop: a creative atmosphere, social contact, good coffee (a key attribute when choosing a space). There’s also the infrastructure component: doing business from a coworking space can legitimize your work by providing you with a great place to teleconference, a physical address, and real conference rooms for in-person meetings. From a psychological standpoint, it’s also a win-win. For me, when I go to my space, I’m going to work, so it helps define that malleable line between work and personal time.
These spaces also come in a variety of flavors, from corporate and sanitary to ultra-hip, and every imaginable permeation in-between. I’ve found coworking spaces geared toward entrepreneurs, spaces for cooks, photographers, and on and on. Look around and find a coworking space that’s the right fit for you and your business, a place worthy of the work you love to do. Find a place that inspires you – but most importantly, make sure they have good coffee.