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A coworking membership is one of the best investments you can make in your freelance career. On top of a professional working space, you get a full social calendar, a lot of networking opportunities, and the chance to swap ideas with likeminded people. But none of these benefits come without trying. Don’t assume you can just show up, sit down at your desk, and wait for the party to come to you. Coworking takes a bit more effort than that. So what’s the difference between sharing an office with strangers and actually joining a community? How do you make the transition? Deskmag reached out to coworking spaces around the world in search of some good advice.
By Tim Gregg - Friday, 01 March 2013

Who better to ask for tips than the people who run coworking spaces? Deskmag got in touch with the managers of 12 coworking spaces in Germany, Britain and the United States. We asked a simple question: what’s the one tip you would offer to new coworkers, in order to help them get the most out of their coworking membership? The answers fell into three relatively broad categories: organize events yourself, choose a suitable space, and make a habit out of meeting new people.

Tip #1: Make Something Happen

Coworking is all about DIY. Don’t just sit there and wait for an interesting event to comw to you – start one yourself. If you’ve got an idea, be proactive and make it happen. “The first step to becoming a part of the community is to get involved with something, or start something new,” said Jenny Poons from CO+HOOTS. “The first step is to just start … anywhere!”

Forget the top-down hierarchy of your old workplace, where if you wanted to do anything, permission was always needed from the boss. The coworking space belongs to everyone. Whether you’ve been there five days or five years, you’ve got the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. “Remember, it's your space,” said Chelsea from Office Nomads. “If there's a resource or arrangement you need, don't be afraid to create it – or better yet, collaborate with others to make it happen!”

Your project doesn’t even necessarily have to be work-related. If you can’t think of a business-themed event, you can always take the shortcut and put on a good old-fashioned booze session. Monica from Caroline Collective suggests hosting a weekly happy hour at the bar or cafe in your coworking space. “It's a great time for people to meet each other and catch up on their projects from the workweek."

Tip #2: Choose the Right Space

Coworking can mean anything from shared corporate offices to underground hackerspaces. Your experience will vary a lot, depending on the kind of space you choose. Nick runs The Lexington Office, a low-key space in central London. “Make sure you choose the right space,” he explained. “Some are thriving hubs of activity, with hundreds of hotdesking members. Others, like ours, are small and quiet spaces in unusual period buildings." 

If you prefer to work in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, a big hectic space probably won’t be ideal. “When you start coworking, think carefully about how you work and what kind of environment would suit you best,” stated Melanie Bamford from The Werks. “Don't choose a coworking space just because it’s near your house, or because it’s cheaper than others. Think how you would like to work and what makes you more productive.”

Writers are especially sensitive to their coworking environment. For example, developers and designers enjoy a bit of background noise, but copywriters and journalists often need zen-like ambience to get anything done. “My suggestion [for writers] would be stay away from the wifi,” says Lila from Paragraph. “I get more writing done if I spend time without being tied into a flow of electronic distraction.”

There’s no point in spending money to work somewhere that makes you uncomfortable. Coworking is an investment in your freelance career, so it’s worth shopping around. Luckily, most coworking spaces will let you come in for a free test day before you commit to a membership.

▶ Next Page: Come out of your shell

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