In June 2016, three months after I went freelance full-time as a journalist and content marketer, I made the best decision I could’ve made at the time: I joined a coworking space in downtown Toronto.
When I became a full-time freelance that year, I knew I had to choose: stay at home all day and night, or join a work-sharing space in order to avoid the cabin fever of typing away my home office 24/7.
I didn’t toss and turn about this decision too much. Soon after I toured the Centre for Social Innovation, I knew this was the right space for me: its three floors of available desks gave me ample room to find a seat if a certain area got more packed than another, and the community atmosphere gave me the impression the space would fuel my productivity.
What was also encouraging is the 24-hour access I could enjoy at CSI, 7 days a week. That meant getting away from my home on a Saturday, even, when there were fewer folks milling about the floors in case I needed quiet time to conduct an interview or focus on writing a feature article for my clients.
My first day there confirmed I made the right decision. At 10 a.m., I took a seat at an empty desk, opened my laptop, and began to work on researching an article for BBC News. It was only an hour into my work when a bespectacled older man announced to the floor that free coffee was available, and after snagging a cup of coffee, he and I began to chat. I learned more about his entrepreneurial leanings and what motivated him to join CSI.
“This is more than a work-sharing space,” he said. “But a place to be inspired. Even if you’re not a huge extrovert.”
Being able to focus on my journalism and creative work had been my main goal to join CSI, but I found a corollary benefit echoing what that fellow told me: I was surrounded by environmentalists building startups, organic chefs conjuring up their own businesses focusing on oddities such as “beer bread,” filmmakers going independent for the first time. And I met at least six other freelance writers who dabbled in my subject areas, fostering new relationships born out of similar passions and backgrounds.
Another positive nuance of joining this space was how I could gain some valuable exercise walking to and from CSI, around 40 minutes each way. One thing I missed about my full-time career prior to becoming a freelancer was the walk from my place to the subway stop, and the stroll from the destination stop to my office. If I worked solely at home, the most walking I’d do is to grab a snack of pita and hummus from the fridge.
Around two years into joining CSI, I also found another positive: their Lunch n’ Learn seminar series were on the prowl for speakers on their topics of expertise, so I suggested to lead a talk on how to be a non-fiction writer. They liked the idea, and soon I was addressing around 80 people over an online seminar to discuss everything I’ve learned about pitching editors, securing lucrative gigs, editing first drafts, and much more. It opened the door to new connections and relationships that I’ve kept to this day.
What dawned on me after spending time at CSI is how coworking spaces has made me a better more efficient worker. That old creaky building holds less alluring distractions (my bed, Netflix, the aforementioned fridge) to pull me away from an assignment. I appreciate that separation of church and state; I’ll let my home be my refuge of rest and entertainment, and my coworking space become the centre for all things journalistic. So far, it’s been a frictionless journey.
I’m not the only one to favour this workplace model: According to a 2020 survey, the majority of participants said they were more productive at a coworking space than when working from home (89.1%) and able to concentrate better (71.9%).
That said, coworking spaces may not be right for every freelancer. The creature comforts of home can be difficult to ignore, and hard-working writers may want to ease their mental workload by having a quick nap, say, or watching the news for a few minutes. Also, costs can be prohibitive, as these spaces begin as low as $120 CAN a month and can reach up to $400.
But if those obstacles can be hurdled, freelancers can dip in and out of a space designed to replicate the workplace setting albeit with less cubicles and more flexibility. And as remote work flourishes in the 2020s, I’d expect coworking spaces to become the de facto hub for freelancers seeking their home away from home.