Written By: Marie Fieldhouse
With co-working spaces becoming increasingly common, what is the attraction and do they all offer the same benefits?
One of the things I enjoy about freelancing, is the flexibility to structure my day on my terms. Working around the school run is important to me, but it’s also useful to be able to do the odd bit of housework when I take a five-minute break. Plus, there are none of the distractions of a busy office.
However, for all the pros, there are also some cons. Being able to fit in the housework is a double-edged sword, the perfect partner to procrastination. But the lack of human interaction during the day is the biggie. Talking back to the radio and asking Alexa for a newsflash really doesn’t cut it.
Co-working offers an antidote to this, providing an opportunity for small business owners to plug the gap between the home office and escaping to a café when you fancy a change.
Since I launched my own business as a copywriter eighteen months ago, it has felt like co-working spaces have been popping into existence all around Devon. I was interested in their growing popularity, but wasn’t sure what to expect from them.
Adventures In Co-Working
I decided it was time to find out, so I ventured to one of my local co-working spaces, The Rabbit Hole in Exeter. This has a quirky, relaxed vibe with music in the background and a variety of seating areas. (I particularly liked one table set in an alcove, surrounded by greenery and the sound of bird song; it was a good spot to make some notes on a new project!)
The day I spent there was quiet and I got a lot done. Apparently, it gets busier throughout the week and there are several little touches to encourage socialising, with table football, a number of breakout areas and even free beer on Fridays.
Egle Marotta, who is Community Manager there, told me that the opportunity to get out of the house and network with fellow business owners is an important draw for many of the people using their facilities.
My morning at Laptop Friday at Café 3Sixty in Bovey Tracey offered something completely different. Louise Jenner, The Dream Job Coach, brought the format with her from Cheltenham, where she had attended and hosted Laptop Friday meetings for nearly ten years.
There is a Facebook group with over 900 members from all current locations, and the Bovey Tracey sessions attract a mixture of freelancers, business owners and those who are in employment, but working from home.
Lisa Harris-Deans, who runs Moor Sewing, is there most weeks: ‘I like the social side and the fact that I also get some business from it. It can be lonely working from home; if I get out and work elsewhere, I am more focused. I love chatting to everyone and finding out what they do and what they have been up to.’
Rachel van Walsum is another regular: ‘I love that we are a group made up of old and new faces each week, all offering something different!’
I certainly found it very welcoming, with the opportunity for conversation, but also plenty of space to find a quiet table if you need to get your head down.
Creating A Community
Combating the isolation of working from home is a key aspect of co-working for many people, whether this is in a more formal office or a mass meet-up at a café.
Stacey Sheppard set up her own co-working space in Totnes, called The Tribe, after her experiences as a freelancer. Despite having always dreamed of working from home, the reality proved to be different.
‘Just because people work for themselves, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to work by themselves. I quickly realised it can be quite lonely. I definitely missed the camaraderie of colleagues,’ she says. ‘Working from coffee shops isn’t always the most productive environment, while taking on permanent office space can often be out of the financial reach of many small businesses, start-ups and freelancers.’
As one of the UK’s top interior design bloggers, she had a vision for a space dedicated to female business owners that was beautiful, homely and cosy. With a broad spectrum of women now using The Tribe, the demand is clearly there. And their feedback cements how important being part of a community and a team can be.
‘Having run my own business from home for almost four years, I was starting to feel fairly isolated and missing the company of colleagues,’ says Emma Bunning, a Celebrity Agent and Publicist at On The Box Talent. ‘Now I’m surrounded by likeminded, creative ladies and I’m 100% more productive in my work. It’s really sparked enthusiasm for why I started my business in the first place.’
Dorothy Burns, Creative Producer at Tender Union, agrees: ‘I hadn’t realised how much I missed being part of an office team, but it has been fantastic to get out of my house and back into a more formal working environment.’
At Unit 7 in Torquay, the diverse mix of businesses makes for a friendly work hub. With a daily game of table football, the vibe is laid-back, but with all the benefits of an office. There are options for hot desking as well as monthly rental, use of the lounge and kitchen, and hire of the boardroom space.
‘It is ideal for people who don’t have space at home, or just want to spend their working day with company in a relaxed office environment,’ says Louise Hart, Interior Designer & Marketing Manager at Fruition.
The Jelly events sit somewhere between co-working and networking. Run by Louise Pallister Turley, they take place at many co-working venues around Exeter and East Devon, with plans to expand into Totnes, Brixham and Paignton.
With a growing number of people becoming self-employed and seeking more flexible ways of working, Louise believes the rise of co-working can be attributed to the fact it combines several elements: networking, collaboration, community and support from others, as well as the chance to work with people around you.
She loves Jelly because the events are relaxed and informal, with a focus on building relationships and helping each other.
‘Often, if somebody is stuck on something, they will come along with the problem, or to bounce an idea around. Most of the time there is somebody there who can help,’ she says.
Having dipped my toe into the world of co-working, it is clear why this has such a broad appeal.
There is a great deal of flexibility, with options ranging from hot desking to monthly leases. At one end of the scale, you have the traditional office set-up, where you can remove yourself from the distractions of home, but still have the buzz of others around you.
Alternatively, there are more informal co-working meet-ups, which provide an opportunity to socialise with like-minded people, while being able to do some work at the same time. With an increasing desire for flexible working options, it seems a trend set to continue.