From Office to Home Alone to Coworking: Have We Come Full Circle?

Home working versus coworking

Between the years 2006 and 2016, home-workers increased by a quarter of a million, reaching 1.5 million in total. By 2020, half of the UK workforce will work remotely. Not only can we thank better IT infrastructure, but also the trend towards corporate wellness, with flexi-time cropping up time and again in employee benefits packages.

Things have come a long way since the age of Dolly Parton – we’re not so much pouring ourselves a cup of ambition as we are enjoying a nightcap while scrolling through emails. Technology is keeping us connected to the office, which likely explains the upward trend towards getting away from it.

The benefits of working from home

Of course, working from home is not limited to office workers. Entrepreneurs, freelancers, contractors and “gig economy” workers have risen from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017, making a home office the obvious choice to save costs. So is it all it’s cracked up to be?

“The discipline I developed when working remotely has made it easy for me to transition effectively to pursuing a portfolio of freelance and unpaid work,” says Helena Smalman-Smith, a content manager and author of Rowing Story, a history of women’s international rowing. “The best things about it are not spending time or money on a commute or getting distracted by office chit-chat. There’s also no danger of catching the office sniffles, and don’t get me started on those endless birthday cakes!”

For others, getting away from the 9-5 appeals. “If I need to go for a run in the middle of the day, that’s no problem. If I need to catch up on sleep, no one calls me out for being late,” says US-based content strategist Dann Albright. For yours truly, it’s all about the pyjamas and power ballads.

Working from home: a fast-track to loneliness?

Of course, there is a downside to working and living in the same environment. “The worst thing about working from home is being away from your colleagues,” says Jessica Pardoe, a digital PR and outreach executive. “We overcome this with conference calls and screen shares, but in the end, working in the office gives you that face-to-face communication that you just can’t get otherwise.”

But what about social isolation? For those whose professional connections to the outside world lie predominantly with clients, home working can be a lonely pursuit. Recent research by Epson revealed that 46 per cent of self-employed freelancers found working from home “isolating”. Worse still, a shocking 25 per cent of freelancers admitted to frequent bouts of depression.

Coworking: the best of both worlds?

So how exactly can we combine personal freedom and social interaction? Enter the coworking space, a term coined by software engineer Brad Neuberg, who started the movement in 2005 when he invited people to “come together in community, sitting at tables or relaxing on couches as we work”. In 2005, there were three coworking spaces around the world. Today, that figure is closer to 15,000.

What is a coworking space?

While there’s no single definition for a coworking space, Neuberg sums it up. “Even though each of us is doing separate work, perhaps programming or writing a novel, we can feel each other’s presence, run ideas by the community, or take breaks together at the water cooler.” Various search engine results will describe coworking spaces as “an area to share creative ideas” or “combining the benefits of café culture, members’ clubs and serviced offices”.

In August 2018, I personally had the joy of experiencing York’s Hiscox Building which, alongside an abundance of meeting rooms and desks to tempt local professionals, is also home to an imposing decommissioned rocket standing proudly in the atrium. In addition to this, my client Waseem Abbasi, founder of HUB Inspired, waxes lyrical about the benefits of collaborative working. “I initially founded HUB with the aim of combating the isolation that can often be felt when working alone from home or in cafés. Many complain about a lack of inspiration or sense of belonging.”

Weighing up the pros and cons

Indeed, a little extra activity can spell the difference between productivity and crashing out, says tech blogger Simon Barker. “Just having the background noise and other people around can sometimes be necessary to get back into the work mindset, at least in my case.”

But while creative inspiration and perks like free coffee might seem inspiring, freelancers and start-ups should be cautious when it comes to cost. Depending on the location, coworking spaces in the UK can vary from as little as £50 per month to £2,000, so it is wise to tally up the costs of increased utility bills against using an external space.

Which option will work best for me?

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a remote working space. For some, like Claire Johnson, founder of C4U, having a collaborative working space ensured greater flexibility, while for freelance web developer David Hudson, it provided the opportunity to network with new professionals. However, a fixed monthly cost is daunting, particularly for start-ups or freelancers.

Productive working is influenced by many factors, for example, learning styles. There are studies which suggest that working with others with the same skills may enhance your own learning, which we can reasonably extrapolate will boost productivity. Conversely, as we have seen from the abovementioned examples, distractions are more common outside the home.

Perhaps the most intriguing findings from these studies are the effects on mental health. While 24/7 connectivity might influence burnout culture, loneliness is equally as damaging. You might not have to invest in a coworking space to avoid loneliness, but if you are working from home, I would advise regularly conversing with clients and colleagues, or even just using social media to keep the mind active and focused on the task in hand.

It’s fascinating to consider that what might have steered us away from the office in the first place – distractions from others – might just be what brought us full circle to coworking spaces. We are social creatures after all, so perhaps a little chit-chat every now and then isn’t so bad.

Top tips for successful remote working

Helena Smalman-Smith shares her tips from 10 years’ remote working:

  • Create a dedicated space with an adequate desk area, one large or two smaller screens, appropriate stationery and correct lighting. “At work” means “at work” wherever it is.
  • Have a routine: start at an appropriate time and allow yourself breaks.
  • Keep personal calls and emails to an absolute minimum during the working day.
working from home
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
17th October 2018