The most obvious way to share an office space is to invite someone to share the one you already have at home, if that is a separate room that serves no other purpose than as an office. You could even make this into a way to make some money, of course, depending on the relationship you have with the other person. If you supply a space and a level of infrastructure that is most certainly a way to move forward.
I would assume that many self-employed people have gone down that road and have realised early on that providing this kind of shared office space and infrastructure is a business model in itself. And thus an idea was born that has, by now, bloomed into a situation where there are shared workspaces for rent at small rates all over the place, provided you live in a city or town of a certain size.
These spaces come in different levels of separation from your fellow ‘tenants’: sometimes you’ll rent a room for yourself and the shared part is limited to things like coffee area and the availability of meeting rooms, and sometimes you rent a floating space in a large room available to other entrepreneurs, allowing you to work alongside different people each day, and making connections with people you otherwise would not have met. And then there are a number of other options somewhere in between, where you have a fixed spot in the large room, or where you share with a subgroup, or where you rent a space that can be taken up in various locations around the area or the country. Whatever setup you can imagine, there is a chance someone has already made it a reality.
Apart from the single occupation office – which for me does not quite match the idea of a ‘shared office space’ – most of those setups have similar challenges that need to be taken into account when you decide to go down that route.
One of the biggest challenges can be the opposing needs to communicate and close yourself off. Most of us need both, but aligning with other people’s needs for calm or communication can be difficult: others might just be in a quiet phase when you are in communication mode, and vice versa. Yes: there are coffee corners and communication spaces, but you might find that the one person you want to talk to is never around at the same moment. If you have to make an appointment with them (or they with you) each time you want to have an exchange, the point of the shared office space has been missed, really.
Another challenge is the level of noise emanating from others. Indeed, shared managed spaces are often aware of this and allow for the separation of those who work quietly from those who are on the phone all day long. But even if you find yourself on the phone all day, being surrounded by others who do the same can become a nuisance as it can become too much of a distraction. The truth of the matter is: you might actually be better off working on your own! For you own sake, and the best interests of those around you.
When it comes to collaboration with other people and cross-pollination of businesses, a shared office is the best thing since sliced bread, though. There are very few places where you can meet people running completely different, but compatible businesses in a low-key environment, without the frantic pressures of a networking event. No time limits, easy reconnection after interruption, random connections,… you name it, it’s possible. I’ve seen collaboration develop out of nowhere just because two (or more) people were running their businesses sitting at a desk across from each other. And to me that is the main rationale to have a shared office: finding and exploring synergies with other entrepreneurs; the infrastructure element is a nice side-effect, but the main beef is really the unpretentious networking and the ‘on and off collaboration’ on smaller projects developing out of a random conversation at the water cooler.
Shared office spaces can be much more challenging if you are running a business that relies heavily on paperwork: shared spaces (except the ‘one person to an office’ model) much rely on flexibility and mobility, and having a large amount of paperwork isn’t really suitable for the model. While there may be options to store things in a dedicated cupboards or lockable shelves, having those folders locked away across the room and having to move them to and from the workspace every day is the best model around.
I have heard of people mixing shared spaces for the non-paper stuff with a home office for the more paper-based part of their business, thereby making the best of the advantages of either model. For some that may be the solution, but it begs the question if you really need a shared office in the first place. What is the balance between the cost of the shared space and the added advantage you get from it?
This being said, sharing office space can be useful for collaboration of semi-independent agents working on similar projects. One could imagine two people working a common project in the shared space, while going their own way on their main business from a home office. Separation for the sake of efficiency can be a good enough reason to do this. If anything, modern models of doing office work have developed quite a bit over the last couple of decades, and most of them heavily rely on communication tools like high-speed internet access and the use of smartphones. This brings us dangerously near the idea of digital nomads and running a business from anywhere really.
The important point here is that there is a much wider spectrum of administrative and productive work than many of us can even imagine: from office based, nine-to-five, sedentary, single occupation office cubicles to people running their business from the train, on their way from their previous customer to their next temporary home in another country. It may be a good idea to look at your needs and requirements and weigh them against the options and opportunities that are out there. And then align the two to meet your best interests.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.