At this moment, I’m sitting from the Downtown Crossing WeWork location in my city of Boston. Though I recently joined and made myself a home base, for the past 18 months, I’ve been touring through the world, stopping at countless co-working spaces to fire off emails and file away deadlines.
In an effort to build my career while also seeing the many wonders of our vast planet, I adopted a digital nomad lifestyle that took me from Europe and Asia to South America and Africa. Though there are many parts of an on-the-go existence that make it challenging to remain focused — a communal destination for work helps tremendously.
But much like travelers will adore one city and feel ‘meh’ about another, not all co-working spaces have the same amenities or perks. Or, ya know, foster an environment for concentration.
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As more of the American workforce becomes contract and Millennials shape their careers to fit their life — and not the other way around — these time of spaces will only become more popular. If you’re flirting with taking the entrepreneurial route or you’re joining a start-up that operates out of a shared area, take a page out of these digital nomad’s playbooks on what to look out for. You don’t want to end up locked into a monthly fee — and not enjoy where you’re going every day.
Here, the most important qualities of a co-working space:
Look for options
While Emily Mitnick’s employer, Stylus, is based out of New York City, Mitnick logs hours from Mexico City. Being remote allows flexibility but it also ups the stakes, as you have to work double-time to stay connected to colleagues and clients by taking plenty of meetings. For Mitnick, having options for bookable rooms and a wide variety of places to take a call from is essential.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself taking a call tucked away in a corner of these fancy spaces because there weren’t enough private phone booths — or none at all,” she continues. “Modern open floor plans and beer taps are great for building community, but these spaces need to also be equally private to cater to our individual work rhythms.”
Think about tech support
Even though freelancers and entrepreneurs are fully in control of their schedules — they also adopt all of the responsibilities that used to be spread across teams.
Suddenly, you’re not only a marketing lead — but accounts payable. And the social media manager. And so on. For writer Elizabeth Blasi, tech support takes one thing off of her ever-growing plate. As she reminds, in a traditional office, you’ll have on-site employees who will handle internet outages or other troubleshooting issues.
If you work from home, you don’t always have the luxury of calling up someone. At some co-working spaces, you do! The only feature to look out for, of course, is language. If you don’t speak Spanish or German or Chinese and you’re living in these countries, it’s tough to explain what’s going on.
“In Split, Croatia, my computer screen shut down and there was no one able to help — which isn’t ideal for a digital nomad. It wasn’t until I moved to a co-working space in Prague, Czech Republic that the staff was able to help me figure out the next steps to fix my computer,” she explains. “Companies like WeWork offer onsite tech support as it relates to internet and printing, and will most likely be able to assist in other complications as well.”
Research group events
Though when I traveled I had a large group of people with me — that isn’t always the case for freelancers. Many branch out into the vast unknown all by them-bad-selves and tackle their industry with ambition.
But even if there is undoubtedly a liberating feeling of being your own boss, it can also be lonely. It’s something freelance marketer, Melanie Long, experienced first hand after re-building roots after a long stint of nomadic life. Like me, she was always around people when she country hopped, and now she works independently out of a co-working space.
Building a community of like-minded entrepreneurs is important — not only to grow your network but to have people to talk about the ebbs and flows with. When you consider becoming a member, ask about what activations, happy hours and events they host to meet others.
Don’t forget to look outside
If you’ve ever gone house-shopping (or ahem, binge-watched “Fixer Upper”), you know how much value is found in homes with natural light. Not only does sunshine boost your mood — but it can help you feel motivated and inspired, too.
Budget-friendly co-working spaces may be located on a lower floor — or even a basement! — but the founder of DevelopHER Designs, Jessica Tatham, urges freelancers to think about how they’ll feel.
“The ability to look outside is a necessity for me. Being stuck in a dark, windowless room doesn’t do good for any professional,” Tathum says. “Always look for co-working spaces that have large windows, or even better, outdoor areas!”
Read the fine print
As I was shopping for which co-working space to join in Boston, I discovered the vast differences between various companies. Though ultimately I landed on WeWork — I spent many days at different spots around the city. A learning lesson for me was the importance of fine print.
What do I mean? Some shared offices would include printing or the ability to book rooms, while some did not. Others had free coffee — but most charged. A handful had a functioning kitchen — and one didn’t even have a microwave. Because I wanted a co-working space that would allow me to stay productive and allow me to make a schedule (that included heating up my lunch) — I knew I had to get the best bang for my buck.
Just like when you’re thinking of saying ‘yes’ to a job or taking on a new client, getting through the nitty-gritty details is essential.
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