What is it really like to be a coworker? Entrepreneurs tell all

Collaboration, flexibility and free coffees… everyone is aware of the benefits of coworking.

But what is coworking actually like, in practice, for a coworker? What is the day-to-day experience of the people who spend their working days building start-ups or working on projects in coworking spaces?

To bring you real insight directly from the life of a coworker, we’ve spoken to a range of entrepreneurs who are currently growing businesses in coworking spaces.

Full of honesty and advice, their answers should help you decide whether or not coworking is right for you, and if it is, how you should go about finding a space.

Learn more about what coworking is, why it’s popular, and how much it tends to cost with our guide.

In this article, we ask our coworkers:

Here’s what they said…

What is sharing a workspace with other businesses like?

JP Lockwood, co-founder of Deskmate, has been running pop-up shops in many of London’s major coworking spaces. He says coworking is better for collaboration than traditional offices:

“I think shared workspace is great for collaboration, exploration and convivence.

“We’ve found you tend to communicate with other businesses more than you would do in traditional offices. The atmosphere is always lively, and the free coffees aren’t bad either!”

Claire Ayles, co-founder of Eleven Hundred Agency, is based in a coworking space in Islington. She says working near other businesses can serve as “a welcome distraction” from your own bubble:

“If you’re not used to it, coworking does take a little bit of getting used to.

“We’re surrounded by people who all have very different working days and motivations – we brush shoulders with (and overhear conversations from!) life coaches, event organisers, web designers, recruitment firms, property developers, photographers, personal trainers and retailers.

“If you’re the kind of person who likes to work in silence, you may want to invest in some earplugs, or at least some noise-cancelling headphones.

“But I like hearing what other people are up to – it helps me remember that there’s life outside tech PR, and it can be a welcome distraction.”

Sophie Phillipson, founder of HelloGrads, has a desk in a coworking space in London. She says working alongside other motivated people can be beneficial:

“The idea that coworking can make you feel less alone and more a part of a community in your start-up journey is a good sentiment, but the reality is you can still feel isolated.

“Sure, it helps to have people to talk to about struggles and wins, but they don’t understand in the same way a colleague might.

“On the flipside, it’s good for the mind to separate work and home, and to be working alongside productive and motivated people – even if you’re not quite sure what they’re up to.”

Ben Chatfield is CEO and co-founder at Tempo, which is currently based in a coworking space. He says sharing a workspace with others can limit your company culture if you have a large team:

“Coworking is a bit of a double-edged sword.

“It can be a great way to network with other start-ups and share ideas, but it’s also hard to create your own culture, and can feel like you’re working in someone else’s office.

“It’s been very helpful not having to worry about management of the office and utilities, but we’re almost 25 people now, and beginning to crave our own space where we can stamp our identity.”

How do you go about collaborating with other start-ups?

To meet and initiate collaboration with fellow coworkers, Lockwood advises being as proactive as possible:

“Use the communal areas, go to the events, and pass your business cards round as much as humanly possible – it’s really helped us to grow!”

Startups tip:

If coworking sounds like it could be the right fit for your business, the next step is to find a coworking space that suits your specific needs.

Every coworking space is different – in everything from its size and price range to its vibe and what it offers – but as a starting point, you can browse some of the best in the UK in our comprehensive list.

Also, by filling in the questionnaire at the top of this page, you can receive tailored quotes from the coworking spaces that are likely to suit your business.

Has your coworking space provider helped you to progress?

Lockwood says the “open-minded approach” of certain coworking providers has helped his pop-up shops gain visibility and sales:

“WeWork has been particularly accommodating to our business, allowing us (amongst others) to regularly participate in events with its members, showcasing different products and ways of working.

“A coworking space’s approach to work is more ‘can do’ than traditional office spaces – it’s a win-win for us.

“WeWork, Work.Life and Labs have all enabled us to increase our visibility and sales month-on-month from our launch in 2017.

“Their open-minded approach to us hosting standing desk pop-up shops was great for us to get out there and meet our customers.”

Ayles says her team worked to find a coworking space that would be “invested” in their success:

“We looked at quite a few coworking spaces before plumping for BDCWorks. Its space was smaller – and its service felt more personal – than those offered by the bigger, better known brands.

“Those big providers are breathtakingly slick – and their facilities look fantastic – but we were worried we’d feel like just another tenant in a building of hundreds – if not thousands – of others.

“The team at BDCWorks felt invested in our company and our success. Ten months down the line, that’s still very much the case.”

Has coworking been worth the cost?

Ayles’s answer is a resounding yes. She says coworking is cheaper and more flexible than other workspace options:

“Coworking has been perfect for us as we’ve kicked off our business.

“We don’t have expensive rents or long leases to worry about. We have access to an office environment, and an address in a part of London that we could never have otherwise afforded.

“As we’ve hired people to join our team, we just pay for another desk, another phone and another locker. It’s simple, scalable, and is pretty much risk-free.”

Phillipson says the confidence boost that comes with coworking has made paying for her desk worthwhile:

“For me, the psychological benefits have made the desk I rent more than worth the money. I often go through cycles of feeling great about what I’m doing and then doubting myself and losing all my confidence.

“Being around other people who are also creating new businesses is a constant reminder that it can be done.”

Lockwood adds that the type of contract you enter into will have an impact on your costs:

“It can be quite overwhelming for young businesses, and the cost is always something to think about.

“The short-term lets are great, but they can be more pricey than fixed cost yearly contracts.”

What should future coworkers know before choosing a coworking space?

Phillipson says that a good cultural fit is just as important as a financial one:

“My advice is to do as much research as possible to make sure you’re getting a good deal, and visit lots of places to check what’s a good cultural fit for you. Most places will offer you a free trial day.

“For me, the most important things were a palpable sense of community, a dedicated desk of my own – rather than hot-desking – and a location not too far from home, so I would actually want to go.”

Lockwood agrees that prospective coworkers should find a coworking space that suits their size:

“I think that businesses should be aware of the cost of the spaces and choose which one suits them better.

“If you are a small local start-up, perhaps a smaller coworking space with a tighter community (Uncommon in Islington, for instance) would be fantastic, rather than the larger spaces which can be quite daunting.”

Ayles says future coworkers should aim to get as realistic a view of a space as possible before committing to it:

“My advice to others would be to look around a few facilities, as they vary considerably.

“If the space doesn’t offer it as standard, ask for a trial day so you can get a better sense of what it’s like to work there.

“Talk to other tenants too, not just the hand-picked ones the landlord introduces you to. They’ll tell you what it’s really like.”

Ready to choose a coworking space for your start-up? Try filling in the form at the top of this page to receive personalised quotes from coworking spaces that are local to you and can provide what your business needs.

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