How to get the most out of a coworking space.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from writer, editor and proofreader Louisa Ellins.
“Dear Frankie and Steve,
As much as I love my office in the box room, I keep hearing that co-working spaces are a great place to meet potential clients, and I sometimes miss the office chat from my employed days.
I’ve decided to dip my toe into co-working spaces after the school summer holiday break, and I’ve found that there’s several different options in my town. I wouldn’t go full time, but it would be nice to have the option of a hot desk to work from sometimes. What tips do you have for making the most of my time there?
Thanks so much!
• • • • •
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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:01:23] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:01:33] – Steve
Hello! Each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, but we start each episode by looking back at the last one, taking your comments. Last time we were chatting about…
[00:01:44] – Frankie
We were talking about when you work nine to three, but your clients work nine to five.
[00:01:47] – Steve
Oh, yeah, boundaries and things like that, wasn’t it? That’s right. Rosie Bakewell, anonymous.
Well, Rosie Bakewell got in touch:
“Thanks, DIFTK! I’ve already tweaked my email signature and now put my out of office on at 3pm. It’s also helped that my fellow freelancer has set me up with an email account at their company name, so I can completely partition that work off and the stuff that comes into my own email account.
Yes, and in answer to your question about the summer holidays. I worked two days a week, told the client team about this plan on a call and reminded them at intervals and added it into my email signature. I was lucky that the project was naturally going to be quiet over the summer and that my colleague didn’t take a holiday, so was always around.”
[00:02:35] – Frankie
Perks of working in a team of two freelancers!
[00:02:37] – Steve
[00:02:38] – Frankie
Yeah, that’s good.
Maia Swift says:
“I have this problem regularly. It definitely helps to be super clear about when you’ll be around. I often send a reminder around about half an hour before I finish in case I’m waiting for feedback or something. Sometimes, if I’m feeling kind, I say something like, ‘I’m going to be away from my desk from 3pm until 7pm, but I’ll pop back then to check if there’s anything urgent’.”
“One other thing that Steve mentioned in the podcast — if you can arrange one regularish day when you’re there for longer hours, it makes everything a lot easier. I now have two day rates with this in mind. One for full days and one for short days. Then you don’t have to flat out refuse a 4pm call. You can say, ‘I’m only available at that time on Tuesdays’ for example.”
[00:03:20] – Steve
Rachel Brown said:
“An additional thing I’ve seen recently that has been useful on top of including your usual working hours in your out of office email signature, is it’s worth adding a line in if you’ve got a holiday or break coming up that falls outside of your normal pattern e.g. ‘Advanced warning of leave! I’ll be away from X date to X date’. It’s really useful for others you work with so they can plan ahead.”
[00:03:44] – Frankie
That’s a really good point, I only ever say I’m on holiday when I’m on holiday.
[00:03:48] – Steve
[00:03:49] – Frankie
By which point, I suppose it’s a bit late!
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:07:28] – Frankie
Episode 86 — our question comes from Louisa Ellins. Hello, Louisa. She is a writer, editor and proofreader at Line 29 Editorial. line29.co.uk
“Dear Frankie and Steve,
As much as I love my office in the box room, I keep hearing that coworking spaces are a great place to meet potential clients and I sometimes miss the office chat from my employed days. I’ve decided to dip my toe into coworking spaces after the school summer holiday break and I found that there’s several different options in my town. I wouldn’t go full-time, but it would be nice to have the option of a hot desk to work from sometimes.
What tips do you have for making the most of my time there?
Thanks so much, Louisa.”
[00:08:08] – Frankie
Well, Steve works from a coworking space. He’s in a coworking space as we speak. Although you don’t really ‘co work’, do you, Steve? Because you got your own, like, private office. It’s not the same.
[00:08:18] – Steve
I have separated myself off from the hoi polloi!
So I used to work from the dining table for quite a few years when I first went self-employed, and I was dying for there to be a coworking space. There wasn’t. And then eventually this opened. The council opened it, and I came along and I started hot desking. And then from hot desking, I moved to a permanent desk. That’s like where you can leave your stuff, but it’s still in an open office. And then from there, I got an office because I do lots of stuff like this podcast and videos and things for audio purposes. Yeah. So that’s why I’m in here. But to be honest, yeah, I think I’d be better off out there in the cowork space, because then you just bump into more people.
And you started out in a cowork space!
[00:09:03] – Frankie
I had a coworking space before I had any clients! That is a true story. You would know the details if you listened to my episode on Steve’s podcast.
[00:09:12] – Steve
Where we talk quite a lot about coworking — check it out at beingfreelance.com
[00:09:15] – Frankie
Yes, I was part of a coworking space for young people, i.e. under 30.
[00:09:21] – Steve
Those were the days. Long gone.
[00:09:24] – Frankie
We were given free coworking space at a charity who supported creative young people, basically. And we would work in-kind for the charity in exchange. I moved into there about six weeks after I went freelance, when I basically had no work. And the vast majority of my work ended up coming from being in that coworking space!
[00:09:43] – Steve
Yes, you see, and that is the crux of Louise’s question, isn’t it? So there is obviously a cost to working in a shared office space, and I think that’s worth bearing in mind, because keeping your overheads low is good. But, yeah, there is also the sociability aspect of it.
I became quite antisocial when I worked at home. Also, it can make you a bit more productive because you think, “Right! I’m here, I’m focused, I’m going to work on this”, rather than go and fold some clothes or open the fridge.
[00:10:19] – Frankie
What I realised very quickly — and probably the same for you — Louisa, to be fair, was that all of the other businesses in my coworking space would benefit from graphic design, which is what I offered. So all of those people would benefit from the pillars of marketing, you know… design, copywriting, websites, that kind of thing.
I was only one of two, maybe three designers in that space out of 30 small businesses. And so I did some work for some people, and then in a space like that — word travels fast. And I was working for a lot of the people in there.
I always bang on about the power of coworking because I still now, ten years later, get people in my inbox referred to me by people I met through that coworking space. So even if you don’t get work directly with those people, you’re immediately building a network for yourself by just being in a room with other businesses you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
[00:11:10] – Steve
“What tips do you have for making the most of my time here”, says Louisa.
In my head, a lot of what I’ve done here is really more about just being sociable.
[00:11:19] – Frankie
Hang out by the kettle! That is the number one tip.
If somebody’s going to make a cup of tea, be like, “Ooh, yeah, that’s a good idea! More biscuits. More biscuits”. Because we had a little, like — I’m sure you have it there — but there was like a social space designed for that. And yes, if people were getting up to have a cup of tea and a chat. I would get up to have a chat.
[00:11:36] – Steve
I think it is possible to go into a space and be quite shy, to feel like people already know each other and stuff like that. But shut that off and don’t be afraid to go and chat to people. And when new people join, remember how it felt for you and to say, “Hey, how you doing?”
[00:11:53] – Frankie
Definitely. That’s a good tip! Welcome the newbies, because if you don’t, someone else will, and they’ll form that connection. They will always remember you for being the person that welcomed them. Yes, there is real power in that, which sounds really, like, cynical, but you know what I mean.
[00:12:10] – Steve
Most cowork spaces have people on reception who run them, facilitate them. There’s usually somebody or a couple of people in charge so it’s worth knowing them as well, because they know who everybody is. They might be like, “Oh, you need a copywriter. Oh, you need a designer. Oh, you should chat to blah”. Here, there’s definitely somebody who fits that bill. They know what everyone does.
[00:12:33] – Frankie
That’s literally what I do in the Doing It For The Kids community, in a digital sense. People come in, I know what they do, people ask for help and I can connect them. Yeah, make connections between people.
Most coworking spaces I’ve been in have a social calendar of some kind. There will be Christmas drinks. They might do a monthly talk or a monthly hangout of some kind. If you can be there, go to those things. If you can be there, even better — talk at one of those things! Offer to be a speaker or share some knowledge or some expertise about what it is that you do.
[00:13:06] – Steve
I have missed a lot of the socials here, because if they have one “after work” in quotation marks on a Friday, then I’m already at home with the kids.
[00:13:14] – Frankie
But you’re paying to be part of a thing. And in my experience, the people that run all of the coworking spaces I’ve been in are so open to ideas. And so if you know that a session at 10:00 a.m, for example, like a coffee morning rather than drinks after work is something that you would like to do — more than likely there are other people there who benefit from that as well. So you could suggest, like, “Could we do a social thing on a Wednesday at ten once a month?”
[00:13:39] – Steve
Sometimes I would even, like, get over that barrier and say, “Hey, do you fancy going and getting a coffee or lunch?” A small group for lunch, or sometimes one-on-one having lunch.
[00:13:50] – Frankie
But I’m aware that, well… two things.
One is, as a freelance parent, if you were going to pay for a coworking space, you may also be paying for childcare. Like, this is potentially quite an expensive, high stakes investment. And I can see how some people in reaction to that might just be like — get to the coworking space, do the work, leave. Like, I don’t want to mess around because I’m paying so much for this time.
So I think it’d be easy to say, no, I won’t hang out by the kettle. No, I won’t do that event. Because you want to be super efficient and productive. But in my experience, that stuff really pays off in the end. Yes, you’ve lost that time in the short term, but building relationships with people, building a name for yourself will pay off. Ten years later, that’s still paying off for me, even though I left there seven years ago!
Also worth saying that not all coworking spaces are created equal. The concept itself is amazing and can be absolutely incredible, but it does depend massively on the culture and the people in that space. If you go in and it’s not working for you, that’s probably not your fault, it’s just not the right fit.
[00:15:01] – Steve
Louisa says, “there’s several different options in my town…”
[00:15:04] – Frankie
Go visit them. Approach it like secondary school open days — go have a look around, ask the teachers some questions.
[00:15:10] – Steve
You can usually get a free trial. You can certainly start with hot desking so that you’re just dropping in and getting a feel of the place — because the people are crucial.
[00:15:21] – Frankie
I do think it’s quite obvious quite quickly if it’s not right for you. Don’t be afraid to change, don’t be afraid to switch. If one doesn’t work and there are other options — which is brilliant! — try another one.
[00:15:32] – Steve
Also, if you’re talking about how to make the most of your time there, I think having, you know, like… Walking in and having a very defined purpose of work for that day. So you sit down and you know what you’re going to do because you’re paying to be there. You want to make the most of your to-do list.
[00:15:50] – Frankie
I also think it can be quite easy, particularly in the winter, to come up with excuses not to go. And once you don’t go once — I found this, I don’t know about you — you can suddenly go a couple of weeks having not gone in at all, even though you’re paying for it.
[00:16:07] – Steve
It’s like the gym.
[00:16:08] – Frankie
Yeah, exactly. One way to combat that is to leave something there that you need to do your job. So, like, one of the places I was at, my computer was literally there. So to do any serious design work, I had to go there to do it. I’m not saying it needs to be that extreme, but if there’s something like a notebook or something that’s always at that coworking space, it just drives you to get over there. As I say, I find that particularly difficult over the winter months when it’s like dark and whatnot.
[00:16:40] – Steve
Although this year you could be using the heating!
[00:16:43] – Frankie
There are many layers of boundary setting in a coworking space. You’re setting a boundary with your family by leaving the house and being in the coworking space, but that doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with other people and boundaries in the coworking space.
Not all coworking spaces are quiet, for example, or at least not all parts of them are, or they’re definitely not at certain times of day or days of the week. I always say that the one thing you should invest in as a freelance parent at home is noise canceling headphones and I would argue those would be just as crucial in a coworking space. Not only because it literally blocks out any noise around you, but it’s also a signal to your coworkers that you’re not really available to chat right now.
[00:17:23] – Steve
Headphones are a winner.
[00:17:24] – Frankie
Just put a sign on the back of your shirt that says, “I’m in deep work until eleven”.
And I guess all that goes both ways with the sociable thing. It’s good to be sociable, but don’t force yourself on other people when they’re clearly trying to work!
[00:17:40] – Steve
Yeah, that’s why the kettle, the water cooler moment type space is great.
[00:17:46] – Frankie
There was always one guy in my first place who would get up, start boiling the kettle, and then he’d go around and go, “Anybody want tea?” That was always a signal to people. If somebody wanted to get up to have a chat, they would then go, “Yeah, I’ll come with you”. And then suddenly 20 people are having a beer at 11am!!
Again, the parallels between being in a community online continue in that obviously the more visible you are, the more sociable you are, people are going to refer you. But also getting to know other people’s businesses and referring them to people is useful too — it’s like you become a little community of people that help each other out.
[00:18:25] – Steve
When you have met people and got to know them, get on LinkedIn and find them there as well. You know, you’ve now cemented that connection.
Our cowork space — and I imagine this is quite common — also has a newsletter. I mean, some of them have Slack groups and things. In fact, this place has a Slack group, but I refuse to join anything on Slack, which, to be honest, is a bit of an error!
Yeah, they have a newsletter and obviously that will have things to do with the space, but it also highlights businesses and things as well. Worth remembering that if you’ve got something to shout about.
[00:19:04] – Frankie
And some spaces, at least one that I was in, had a sort of member directory type thing? And similarly on the newsletter thing, often the coworking space will have marketing materials that are sent outside of actual members where they need testimonials or good news about people who are part of the space. So that can get your name out if they do a member profile. Put yourself forward for that.
Do you know what? The best thing you can do? OH MY DAYS. Week two, I think it was, after I joined. Somebody came in and they’d baked a cake. They baked a massive cake and they brought it in and stood in the social hub bit and it was the best thing she could have done. Yeah, everybody came over, she chatted with them all and she was instantly known.