A few months ago, the company I was working for decided to expand out of our cramped, smelly, rundown office in a quiet, but vibrant, north Seattle suburb, and moved its operations to a chic, upscale office space along Seattle’s downtown Waterfront.
While the new office brought about much needed space (I no longer sit crammed with 20 other people in a space roughly as large as my living room) and some nice perks (a nightly cleaning crew and floor-to-ceiling windows), it also doubled my commute time, introduced me to carpooling, and cost me about $80/month out-of-pocket for parking.
For months before the move-in I dreaded leaving behind our hip little neighborhood with its abundant restaurants, boutiques, and cheap bars. I also fretted about losing my free parking space and my 15-minute commute. I began to seriously consider proposing a work-from-home arrangement, just to avoid the hassle of becoming a downtown commuter. But even if I were able to get my boss to buy-off on telecommuting, I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up the camaraderie of an office.
Could I really trade water-cooler gossip, Friday afternoon happy hour, and company-sponsored lunches for quality time with my computer and two cats?
Right around this time I happened to stumble upon a feature about a new trend in office spaces called “Coworking.” Coworking refers to the relatively new practice of single workers or even very small companies with only a handful of employees renting shared office space with other individuals in similar situations.
Instead of enduring the isolation of a home office or guiltily sipping lattes while draining free Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop, freelancers or other telecommuters can rent inexpensive office space by the month (and sometimes the day) with full access not only to a range of office supplies and services, but also a community of other people just like themselves.
What I love about the coworking philosophy is that it (intentionally or not) values community. Businesses can offer a lot more than just productivity and profits. Good companies engage their employees as people and form a positive community for its workers.
The advent of telecommuting has provided benefit to both employees and employers alike, but even though computers and the Internet allow us to work anytime, from anywhere they cannot replicate the personal bonds formed with co-workers and clients or the sense of community and meaning derived from a sharing a physical space with other people.
I never did get my boss to agree to telecommuting, but I am still very excited about the whole coworking idea. I think it is a great way to maintain the freedom and flexibility of working from home, while still maintaining the comforts and companionship of an office environment. I would love to work for myself one day and when I do, I hope that there will be a coworking space out there for me.