Why shared office space is not a solution for me as a freelancer

Since going starting to work for myself back in March, I’ve always thought once business starts to build properly that I will end up in one of the super-trendy looking co-working spaces in Manchester, or maybe even closer to home. Office space has changed dramatically over the last few years, taking individual’s needs into consideration beyond just the basic requirements of a desk/chair/kettle/toilet. Beer Fridays, latte machines, table tennis tables and the ability to bring your own pet in whilst your work are now commonplace. And this way of working is now incredibly popular, evidenced by the sheer number of co-working spaces that now exist in the city centre.

So last week, I decided to try one.

I hated it.

Coffee chemex lifestyle

I’ll caveat this from the off, I might have just gone to the wrong place on the wrong day, and I may not have approached working in the space in the right way, but as an ‘extroverted introvert’ getting myself there was a bit of a battle in of itself.

My welcome was very friendly and I installed myself at a hotdesk with a view of the outside world. This may have been a mistake straight away, and maybe I should have seated myself looking into the office. But I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so it seemed like the safe option. I did chose a seat next to another friendly looking co-worker…. unfortunately this nameless man didn’t even look over in my direction once over the course of the day. This was a trend that continued. Aside from a rushed ‘hi’ in the kitchen, that was the end of my conversational output for the day (except for my sandwich order, but that was elsewhere so doesn’t count).

Despite the nice surroundings, the central location, the free fruit/coffee/cereal, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so isolated whilst at work.

I’m used to working in my office slash playroom without speaking to another human all day (except my family), but I certainly feel better doing than during my experience last week. Being in a city centre, surrounded by thousands of people should bring on a sense of connection, but it only amplified my feelings of isolation and in turn anxiety. Walking around town at lunch made things worse, I felt completely alone. I’m usually fine with this, and am happy walking round a National Park all day without any contact, but being in (and working in) the city is a totally different prospect that I can’t quite explain.

k District Heather

Everyone who sought connection in the shared workspace already had it and had already built up their little peer group. Some clearly worked as part of small teams, but other individuals happily bounced from working with their headphones in to chatting with those they had previously connected with. The remainder just kept their headphones on all day, pretending nobody else in the office existed. Maybe this is part of it, maybe as a ‘new face’ it is a bit harder and I would become a little more integrated as time passed, however it very much felt like first day at a new school where everyone knew each other but me. I didn’t really expect this at all, but it just made me feel a bit sad.

The benefits I would hope to gain from this type of working long term would be: increased productivity, a sense of community at work, meeting potential clients that also used the space, and the ability to separate home from work a bit more than I do currently.

I was definitely more productive than at home before lunch, and suffered less from distraction, but it took me an hour to get there (and an hour back). I lose a little time each day to distraction (a smiling baby has the ability to pull me out of any work state), but nowhere near two hours worth. This productivity hugely dwindled after lunch due to how I was feeling, and I actually left early. I do believe that the sense of community and ability to meet potential clients would build over time, but I didn’t necessarily get that vibe from the space I worked from. Cost wise I think all in it would set me back a fair bit of money too, especially when I consider transport costs (£3500 a year for around half the working days – I’ve got to film stuff sometimes. This doesn’t take into account the premium priced sandwiches either).

I will try other spaces in future, but for the time being I think I’m happier at home. My expenses are lower, I’m comfortable with what I can get done, I’ve got all my equipment there (including a better computer which is key to editing), and I don’t get the rising sense of anxiety like I did last week. Oh, my coffee is better too!

Next time though, I’ll maybe try and look into who is currently using the space. It clearly works for most people, my my general dislike of office spaces probably weighs down on my experience that bit too much. A space full of creatives would probably be a better fit for me. I’ll do a bit more research, but I think a space with a shared studio would be hugely beneficial. If this doesn’t exist in Manchester, then that’s potentially a great free business idea for someone 🙂