Anyone who reads my site (I hope there are a few of you out there!) will know I’m a big advocate of co-working. I speak at length here about the benefits of co-working. The facilities, the networking, the camaraderie of virtual colleagues. However, for some people working totally alone, or more importantly, free of charge, is something that suits them. So what are the alternatives to Co-Working?
I’m definitely someone who sits in this camp. Yes, I’ve paid to use co-working facilities from time to time, and it’s been a beneficial experience. But for me, I’m very much non-committal. I like to be able to come and go, as I please, and work around my existing commitments. I’m not someone who’s confident enough that they’ll have a strong need, month on month, to use Co-working facilities. So I just find where I can, on the hoof, and bed down to get some work done. And that’s all part of the fun.
So if you’re thinking of getting out of the house, or don’t have fast, reliable Wifi at home, then there’s never been a better time. There are loads of free, safe and friendly facilities out there where you can pitch up with your laptop, order a drink and get cracking. So here goes…
Alternative to Co-Working
I very much doubt the Great British pub would have been an option for freelance workers in any decade other than this one. In fact, I know that. I went to pubs in the 90s from a young age, and although they were often a hive of glorious debauchery, they were not the place to sit and create your freelance social media editing portfolio.
I vividly remember once, at the age of 15, standing on a pool table after hours, being force fed a pint of lager by a stranger, amid a cloud of thick smoke whilst Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions belted out on the jukebox.
Some say that made me the man I am today. Regardless, it was no place to work. However, Britain is a very different place now. The smoking ban came into place in 2006, and most pubs, even in the most unfashionable of towns now have free, reliable Wifi connections. Of course, there are still ‘old man’ pubs, where you’ll get plenty of dodgy looks, and perhaps it’s best to steer clear of those.
But there are also lots of decent, clean ones, including a Wetherspoons in nearly every town. Wetherspoons is a particular godsend for those in towns with cheap, reliable drinks and free Wifi. The etiquette, as with all pubs, is to order a drink before signing in to the Wifi, and perhaps if you’re going to be there all day order at least one more item later on. But other than that, it’s al yours. Coffee refills are free in Wetherspoons as well, and although it’s not exactly posh, it’s uniform. You’ll generally get a stable internet connection and no bother from anyone.
Yes, it’s true pubs are still a place for drinkers, and you’re not going to have a totally hassle free, slick working environment as you would if you paid for a co-working facility, but it’s a decent free option. There’s very much a ‘coffee culture’ element in pubs these days, meaning sitting with a coffee typing at a laptop isn’t going to leave you stood out like a sore thumb as it might have done throughout 20th Century Britain. Give it a try.
Hotel lobbies and bars are a freelancers dream, but surprisingly one of the less popular alternatives to co-working. You might at first think that’s a peculiar choice, given you’re not staying at the hotel. Won’t they ask what you’re doing, and ask you to leave immediately? Well, no they won’t actually!
Ok, I’m not saying pole up at the Ritz, entire IT setup under your arm, and expect to be left to your own devices. You won’t get past the entrance. But most hotels aren’t the Ritz. In fact, most hotel bars are just, well, bars. Ordinary, public facilities that anyone can use. In fact, they’re quite happy for you to use them, particularly if you’re spending any money at their extortionate prices. I also get the feeling they’re quite happy to have reasonably smart people in their giving the place a bit of life and buzz.
Hotel’s are great as they usually cater for travellers, and business people. The bars tend to have Wifi, powerpoints and even IT and printing facilities. This is a definite benefit, as opposed to pubs. The other benefit is the clientèle. Business people and travellers are far less likely to be drunk and disorderly than your average real ale drinker, so you’ll probably get more peace and quiet in the hotel lobby area.
I’ve recently discovered my local Holiday Inn, and if you’ve got one nearby, they’re highly reccomended for freelancers. Not only do they have all the facilities I mentioned above, but they have an awesome ‘desk’ area, that seems tailor made for business travellers, and comes with individual power sockets and lighting. But you don’t pay a penny to use it! They even have the football on the big screen, which is an added bonus, but does absolutely nothing for my productivity…
As always, it’s obviously custom to order at the bar, particularly if you’re not staying in the hotel. But I’ve enquired with my local Holiday Inn, and they’re totally fine with it. So game on!
Libraries! If you’re old enough, you’ll remember when libraries were actually a staple of pretty much every high street in the UK? You went there not only for books, but to use the internet and IT facilities, particularly back when not everyone had equipment of their own.
It’s fair to say libraries are down on their luck, particularly in recent years. Year after year of cuts to local councils have left many underfunded, merged with others, or closed altogether. If you’re really lucky (sarcasm) you’ll get one of those vans come round once a week lending you used copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, or the Da Vinci Code. Joy.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Some of the bigger cities have retained good facilities, and some like Birmingham’s new Central Library, are world class. And woefully underused.
Libraries are the quintessential public facilities. As well as the obvious catalogue of books, they have desk space, IT and internet facilities, printing and photocopying facilities. You’ve got books all around for research, that you won’t have to check out if they’re for reference only, and you’ve go a super quiet place to concentrate on your work.
The public nature of libraries mean that, sadly, they can be somewhat antisocial environments at times. There might be various people down on their luck using the internet facilities or, such are the awful times we live in, people simply inside the library to get out of the cold.
However, assuming your library isn’t as run down as some have become, it offers =one of the best, free alternatives to co-working that you can find.
Working from Home
Okay, this is the obvious answer, and I’m sure for most freelancers working from home is the first step port of call. But then again, it’s often overlooked in favour of a cooler, instagrammable co-working space. But do you really need it?
Everyone is different. Some people will have elaborate, spacious home offices. Others will have to perch on their living room coffee table, trying to bash out blog posts while family members jostle for their attention.
For me, I’ve got all the facilities I need at home, but it’s all about getting out of the house. Working in public, either in a co-working space or in an alternative to co-working like I’ve been outlining, gives you a destination and a purpose. It’s a change of scenery to arrive at, complete your work, and then leave and go back to your family life.
This separation is invaluable IMO, and provides a welcome distraction to working from home. But for others, working from home is a godsend. You cut down on travel costs, spend more time with your loved ones, and save a fortune on coffee. Particularly at the rate that I drink it.
So it’s up to you! You could choose an all singing, all dancing, co-working space if you’re lucky enough to have good options in your town or city. You could work from home, and make your own space as productive and distraction free as possible. Or you could use one of the alternatives to co-working I’ve outlined above.
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking but ultimately, if it’s got a desk, a chair, Wifi and a power socket you’re good to go!