Work from home, or go back to the office? This is not an either/or question!
The gradual end of lockdown presents us with new choices to consider, which offer new possibilities just when we’re most hungry for them. Having been denied choices about so many things for a long time, it’s important to embrace the options before us, and think hard about the future we want, for our lives and our work.
Here at Healthy Happy Homeworking we’re obviously big advocates for working from home – but just as firmly, we recognize that this isn’t ideal for everyone. Many people find it hard to get motivated when sat alone at home, finding that they prefer the presence of colleagues to switch into ‘work mode’. Others struggle with the social isolation, the lack of other humans to talk to and feel part of a community.
Then there are those who have made WFH work during lockdown, but really don’t have the physical accommodation and space to do it long term – and short of moving house, are endlessly compromising their boundaries and personal lives to somehow fit work in.
For all these people, it’s important to appreciate that there are alternatives, however, to returning to the rush hour commute to your city centre office. Your local high street café or bar will be glad to see you, and welcome you to plug in your laptop and enjoy a coffee, while you work alongside the buzz of other humans coming and going, feeling part of your local community once again.
And if you prefer a more businesslike environment, you still don’t have to go back to commuting. Check out your local coworking space instead.
Coworking spaces weren’t invented by the latest wave of tech startups. One of the first was at C-Base, a hackerspace created by 17 computer engineers in Berlin in 1995, where the term “coworking” was coined by Bernard DeKoven (though he meant it more about the way we work, rather than the space itself). In 2002, two Austrian entrepreneurs set up an “entrepreneurial center” in Vienna, and in 2005 Brad Neuberg opened a dedicated coworking centre in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Prior to the pandemic lockdowns the coworking scene globally was established and thriving, hosting a blend of itinerant digital nomads alongside local businesses who wanted a collaborative space to work together, freelancers who rented a desk on a permanent or ad hoc basis, and home-based workers who needed occasional use of meeting rooms or special facilities. Whether seeking stimulating conversation, business networking, a change of scene, or better coffee, coworking spaces around the world were the perfect third space for all sorts of creative and technical workers.
During the crisis, many suffered, just like all local high street businesses. But now the coworking movement is enjoying a long overdue renaissance – welcoming back old friends, as well as a wave of newly-liberated remote workers, desperate to get out of their homes while still enjoying the flexibility and independence that remote work has offered them.
And others are opening for the first time, like Espacio GoCo in my local community – a brand new coworking space in the suburbs of Spain’s third city of Valencia.
I spoke with its co-founder Teresa Sanchis Darocas, about why they chose this moment to launch the new business – offering comfortable and elegant air-conditioned workspace, along with meeting rooms and hospitality facilities, and business services like postal addressing.
“Freelancers and remote workers are multiplying,” she explained. “Our parents had no choice but to move to the cities, rent a small flat and work for a boss for the rest of their lives. In this new world, Youtubers emigrate to Andorra to pay less tax and work remotely from wherever they want and I believe, to some extent, we are all free to do the same.”
As employees, in addition to freelancers, start to unlock the flexible lifestyle, everyone can enjoy the benefits of living and working wherever they choose – connecting with others and putting down roots in their local communities.
“Living and working in places like La Eliana, within a 20-min drive from Valencia, where you can enjoy a better lifestyle and where you can park your car, is increasingly appealing,” she continued. “GoCo offers freelancers and remote workers the opportunity to connect with each other, grow their network, feel part of a community and work in a professional environment, which can help stimulate their focus and commitment with their project.”
So it’s important to remember that the future of work can be flexible, without giving up space in your home, or working away from the input of others. At GoCo and places like it there are colleagues coming together to build something new, or other solopreneurs to chat to or spark ideas off. And a sense of being part of a new wave, a new way of working, that offers a genuine alternative to going back to the old paradigms – for businesses as well as those who work in them.
The pandemic lockdowns have given us all a chance to reflect on what we really want.
Had many of us blindly accepted a lifestyle and work situation that wasn’t what we would have chosen?
“Because we are always rushing around stressing with deadlines, it can be hard to take the time to stop and ask yourself certain questions. If Covid-19 has brought us any good, I believe it has been the luxury to stop and reflect about our lives, our jobs, our partners… So many people have taken this time to reinvent themselves, open their minds to new opportunity and pursue dreams that truly fulfill them,” Darocas explained.
“As for businesses, they have had the opportunity to stop and think too.
“Many have realized that paying rent in the most expensive location of the city is not the intelligent use of their money as it used to be. Also, they have learnt the painful way that having high staff costs is risky, and now they are much more keen on outsourcing part of the job to a freelance worker with whom they can communicate online.”
So those businesses, and the people who work in them, could be anywhere – provided there’s reliable broadband, and ergonomic workstation, and the right atmosphere for productive working.
If you are anywhere near Valencia, do go and check out GoCo, who have exciting plans for international business networking events, and hospitality facilities to connect the workspace to the local community right on the high street.
This summer is a great time to get out of the house, revive your local retail outlets, and spend time in your local community. Take a look at what other third space coworking solutions are springing up in your neighbourhood. Even if you’re a confirmed WFH addict like me, you might find new ideas and connections and inspiration, right on your doorstep.