Where to work? home office, coffee shop, or coworking space?

Kyle’s note: I like to experiment with different working spaces. I find that coffee shops usually work best for me, but I know many people love coworking spaces or working from home. This post explores the advantages and disadvantages of each. Over to Dan:

Starting a new business can be challenging, and if you’re going from a traditional career to freelancing, a startup or other non-traditional forms of employment, you may have questions about the best way to work. While no single work environment is perfect for everyone, 3 of the most common options for small businesses, solopreneurs and startups are the home office, the “coffice” (coffee shop office) and coworking spaces.

A comparison test to see the possibilities offered by working from home, coffee shops or coworking space” – CLICK TO TWEET

In this post, I did a comparison test to see the possibilities offered by each of these working environments.

Why not rent office space?

Renting office space has several advantages over a home office. It allows your clients to meet you in person at a place other than your home, as well as providing a useful business address for your new company.

Unfortunately, office space rental can be pricey. For example, a small office (500-600 square feet) in Chicago can average about $30 per square foot per year, for a monthly bill of $1,250 – $1,500. On top of those costs, you may need to pay additional costs for utilities, building maintenance, furniture, equipment, mail service or other expenses. And while that small office space might be ideal for a solopreneur, it might be too small for meetings or collaborative small teams.

Using Chicago as an example, a coworking space can be rented on a daily or monthly basis for under $500 a month. Using a coffee shop costs you the price of coffee, and working from home may not cost you anything extra. For a cash-strapped startup or a solopreneur just hanging out their shingle, the cost of renting and furnishing a traditional office space may be excessive and unnecessary.

Working from home

1

Working from home is often the first choice of the budding solopreneur. It has the advantage of being the cheapest option when starting a business, and many solopreneurs prefer the home office even as their careers progress because it’s easier to customize their workspace.

Ann Jordan-Mills, a writer and editor from Alberta, Canada, says,

“I work exclusively in my home, where I have a spare bedroom set up as my study. I have a stand-up, sit-down desk (Varidesk) that sits on top of my regular desk. I also have a treadmill desk in my developed basement. My view is tall poplar trees that I watch through the seasons (no leaves yet), and my company, to date, is a couple of squirrels that romp in the trees.”

The Varidesk Pro 48
For many creative professionals, working from home allows them to build an atmosphere that’s inspiring. Working from the comfort of your home allows you to dress comfortably and feel at ease with your environment. Many creative solopreneurs enjoy the relative silence and peace that comes from working at home, but not all professionals work best in complete silence. A recent study by Ravi Mehta of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that a moderate level of noise can actually benefit people who are working on creative tasks. Home office workers can simulate this level of noise through tools like Coffitivity, which help you to experience a moderate amount of background noise.

Coffitivity tool

Some people need a little music or masking noise to help them focus. Classical music may be able to help with creative or abstract thinking, and ambient music can sometimes help with relaxation and focus. Other options for masking sound or background music can be found at this resource.

For some home-based solopreneurs, home can be distracting. Pets, children and the normal routines of daily life (like repair professionals or deliveries) can be extremely disconcerting to some at-home workers. Being able to find uninterrupted time to focus on your work might require you to leave home.

Finally, for some people who may be accustomed to traditional offices, they may find it more inspiring to leave their home. The home may be intended as a place of respite and relaxation, and it can be difficult to relax and unwind when you just put in a full day of work in your bedroom.

Notable home office workers

Pat Flynn's Office

  • Pat Flynn, creator of Smart Passive Income
  • J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of Careerealism Media
  • Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, started some of his earliest business ventures in his own home or the homes of his friends.

The “coffice”

Moondrop Coffee

Working in a coffee shop or similar environment gives you a chance to get out of the house, to surround yourself with that mild ambient noise, and to interact with other people. The coffee shop can be a good place to meet with clients or colleagues, especially if the atmosphere is conducive to casual work. Coffee shops in some cities are designed with casual workers or freelancers in mind, whereas in other areas, shop owners may actively shun the casual worker.

Wesley Verhoeve of Family Records had a period where his fledgling company was between offices and working from local coffee shops. He reports, “The experience of working out of coffee shops was so positive that even after we moved into our new home, I made sure to get in a few ‘coffee shop days’ each month.”

An academic paper written by Neeti Gupta says, “Several Wi-Fi users reported that they preferred to work in coffee-shops rather than alone at home, or in their dorm or office cubicle. They said that at home they were subject to distractions, such as TV, pets and guests.” For some entrepreneurs and even more traditional employees, the cafe can be less distracting than the home or office.

Related: 12 remote workers reveal how to be happy, effective and valuable

Unfortunately, not every coffee shop is geared toward productivity. Some shops have the wrong ambiance; they may be populated with loud patrons or a very distracting environment. Other coffee shops use blatant or more covert methods to try to steer the “coffice” workers away. As Gupta states, “Many [coffee shops] have removed all power outlets in public areas; have considered or actively are cutting Wi-Fi access during peak hours; and, often, have also laid down rules controlling access to facilities such as the restrooms.”

If you’re looking for a caffeinated workspace in a new city, or if you need a new coffee shop home after your old one started restricting remote workers, you can check out the reviews on a site like Yelp or look for new ideas on a dedicated site like WorkFrom.

Workfrom tool

For a shop owner in a busy area, people who camp out all day with laptops may not be good for business. Many people use the coffee shop not as a primary business location but as a secondary option when they need a break from their home office or coworking space. If you’re going to work in a coffee shop, it helps to remember a few key points of coffee shop etiquette:

  • Buy something, usually at least once every 1-2 hours. Tip well with each purchase if you want the baristas to look the other way while you camp out for a little bit.
  • Don’t spread out. Even if the coffee shop isn’t busy, spreading out is often viewed as rude.
  • If you need to take a phone call, step outside. Other people are likely trying to work, and your phone conversation could be distracting to them.
  • Try to go to the coffee shop during off-peak hours.

While coffee shops are the standard “third place,” other places can make good work settings, too. Public libraries have the advantage of being free and quiet, and they often have comfortable seating and plenty of desks. Some restaurants offer Wi-Fi and allow you to hang out and work.

Notable coffee shop workers

Coworking space

Parisoma

Coworking spaces are a relatively new arrangement, but they can be an excellent choice for a freelancer or a startup. In a coworking space, you share an office with other people. You may be able to get a private office or a designated desk, or you may rent only a shared desk in an open office area. Many coworking spaces offer amenities like mailbox service, locker rental, coffee or beer, and lounge areas to help you enjoy your time in the “office.”

Some coworking spaces provide meetings, training sessions, social events and other fun activities. Some have a community manager who can help you find other professionals to collaborate with. Many coworking spaces offer meeting rooms, and some spaces come equipped with technical equipment or creative equipment.

Coworking communities may be general, open to everybody who has a business. Others are planned to admit a good mixture of professionals; for example, a few software startups, a handful of graphic designers, 1 or 2 copywriters, etc. Many coworking spaces are designed solely for people in a particular industry, with Internet marketing, tech, and creative industries boasting collaborative coworking spaces.

In most cases, coworking spaces provide you with a relatively quiet place to work that’s free from the distractions of the coffee shop. But unlike working from home, a coworking space gives you the opportunity to mingle with your office-mates and enjoy the “office” environment. For many people, this type of atmosphere increases productivity and makes work more enjoyable.

Sion Owens, the creator of Pitch Circus, explained, “There are 2 main reasons I knew I wanted to join a coworking space. Firstly, I can’t stand staying home all day. I’m much happier when I’m out and about interacting with people. Secondly, a key part of starting a business is having a support system. Being around other entrepreneurs is very motivating, and I love exchanging ideas with them.”

In the coworking world, there are several different settings that all describe themselves as “coworking.” Larger companies like Regus offer a form of shared office space, often on more flexible terms. While some of their arrangements appear more like coworking, they usually offer flexible office space geared more toward larger companies needing overflow space. These types of corporate spaces usually don’t offer the connection, collaboration, training and activities that are offered by other coworking spaces.

On the other end of the spectrum is a type of space usually called an incubator or an accelerator. These spaces offer extensive training and collaboration, and often work to help startups find mentors, grow their business and become successful. Many incubators are managed by colleges, universities, or local governments or non-profits. Many United States and international business incubators can be found through the National Business Incubation Association, and Canadian business incubators can be found through the Canadian Association of Business Incubation.

National Business Incubation Association

In the middle of the road, most coworking spaces tend to foster collaboration but don’t focus exclusively on incubation or acceleration. Business incubators are usually competitive and often provide access to startup funding, so they’re an ideal option for a startup, but they don’t offer much for the solopreneur.

Notable coworking space users

Which one is the best for you?

While each space has its own unique atmosphere, they are much calmer than a corporate office. Some people will continue working from the comfort of their home, while others will prefer the occasional hustle and bustle of crowded cafes for brainstorming. Some will enjoy the sense of being with like-minded people in a coworking space.

For most people, however, switching between these spaces will keep things interesting. After all, workshifting is about freedom and exploring all the possibilities.

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About

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.

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