During most of the past 2 1/2 years, I have started my workday as a work-from-anywhere writer on my couch at about 7:30 a.m. before heading to a coffee shop at 9:30, then returning to work in my home office later in the day. That setup began when I moved from Connecticut to Florida, leaving behind an office I shared with friends.
It was kind of a harsh change. Working on your couch and in coffee shops generally means sitting in positions that lead to damage to your arms, shoulders, and back. In addition, I'd gone to barely speaking most days, from a situation where I had people to greet in the morning, share lunches or coffee breaks with, and play Xbox when we all got burned out.
Of course, there's a fine line between not speaking enough and having to talk too much. Florida has a lot of retired people who think nothing of sitting next to you in a coffee shop and starting to talk even if you're clearly working, or even wearing headphones. That, for me, was the final thing that led me to join a coworking space.
What is shared work like?
My space, Venture X in West Palm Beach, Florida, seems pretty typical. It offers community plans (the ability to come to events and use the shared space once a month), shared desks (the ability to work in any common space during business hours), dedicated desks (24/7 access to a desk), and offices of various sizes. There are shared conference rooms you can book, a communal coffee-and-snacks space, shared printers, and a few other perks.
In my case, I pay for a dedicated desk so I can leave my various chargers and a second monitor there instead of having to carry them around. I also like the 24/7 access, because I live in walking distance from the space and tend to put in a few hours on most Saturdays and Sundays.
Some coworking spaces have a sort of start-up vibe -- sometimes complete with foosball tables and beer fridges. My space has a more professional vibe, where I often look a bit out of place in shorts and either a T-shirt or (at best) a polo shirt.
No matter what the space looks like, the idea is generally to offer both a place to work and some community and networking opportunities. Most spaces -- mine included -- host everything from guest speakers to pizza mixers and cocktail hours.
Does it work?
I'd consider my coworking experience perhaps a two-thirds success. Not slouching in a coffee shop has helped me physically -- sitting in a proper office chair most of the day has cleared up some nagging aches and pains. It's also helped me be more focused at work. Yes, there might be the occasional person who wants to chat, but I'm no longer subject to the random whims of strangers in coffee shops or the other distractions that occur at home or in public.
So far, a few months in, I haven't succeeded in building much of a community. I know a few people by sight to say hello, but I have yet to recapture even a small part of the camaraderie I had with my friends in Connecticut. That may come in time, but the reality is that added productivity and the ability to focus more are helping me earn more than enough extra each month to cover the office cost.