Want to know how co-working spaces work? What is a co-working space, and what is it like to work at one? Join us as we cover the key questions around this exciting and fast-growing way of working.
What is a co-working space?
A co-working space is an office shared by freelancers, micro companies and remote workers. The people using the space are known as co-workers.
Each co-worker pays a fee to use the co-working office. This is usually done on a monthly subscription basis, but some spaces offer pay-as-you go co-working too.
Most co-workers will not have a seat or space of their own within the office. Instead, they will sit at an available space on a communal desk whenever they use the office. This system is known as hotdesking.
All sorts of professionals use coworking spaces, including graphic designers, web developers, copywriters, energy systems designers, translators, illustrators, animators, digital marketers, photographers, ecommerce managers, artists, app developers – you name it. Any desk-based worker who does not need to be physically near their colleagues or clients day-to-day could fit the bill.
What do co-workers get from a co-working space?
The three fundamental things co-workers get for their co-working space fees are:
• The guarantee of a desk to work at
Most good co-working spaces offer additional facilities and benefits, such as:
• Use of a kitchen
• Free hot drinks (especially tea)
• Free or discounted use of meeting rooms
• Use of outdoor areas and event spaces
• Professional facilities such as monitors and printers
• Participation in “socials” and other events
• Discounted café/bar
Some of the most important advantages freelancers or micro business get out of using a co-working space are difficult to define or measure. Co-workers frequently report benefits such as improved productivity, better personal wellbeing and networking opportunities.
How much do co-working spaces cost to use?
A co-working space’s pricing will usually reflect its location and facilities – often in that order.
In 2018, a MoneySupermarket survey uncovered the average co-working cost-per-desk in a selection of the UK’s biggest cities:
City – Average co-working cost per desk
London – £613
Newcastle – £223
Glasgow – £238
Liverpool – £247
Northampton – £251
Birmingham – £252
Cardiff – £256
Milton Keynes – £260
Leeds – £264
Bristol – £266
Manchester – £271
Belfast – £282
Oxford – £295
Edinburgh – £300
Aberdeen – £405
Unsurprisingly, regional variation is significant, with the average co-working space in London charging more than twice as much (£613) as co-working offices in most other cities included in the survey.
If these prices sound off-putting to you, the good news is that excellent co-working spaces are available in much of the UK for far lower rates than these. Two UK co-working spaces named among the best in Europe by Nomad Capital offer comprehensive co-working packages for little over £100. Have a look at their websites to see what this can get you:
As you shop around, you’ll notice that most co-working spaces offer a range of pricing tiers to accommodate different co-workers’ needs. You might be able to pay a higher rate for a permanent space at your own desk – or a yet-higher rate to rent a studio space suitable for a micro business. Alternatively, you may be able to pay a cut price to gain limited access to the space.
If you’re looking for a workspace on the lowest budget, we advise looking into independent libraries in your area. The number of subscription libraries in the UK is low, but if you live in a town or city, you’ll have a decent chance of finding one nearby. The Independent Libraries Association website is a good place to start looking.
Independent libraries tend to cost far less to join than most co-working spaces, but some offer comparable services. You won’t get all the perks of a co-working space, but your membership should cover basic facilities such as WiFi and a desk to work at – plus access to the library’s collection.
If you’re weighing up whether it makes financial sense to use a co-working space, it is worth considering the savings a co-working space can bring vs. working from home. Besides the benefits and services listed in the previous section of this article, you can also save money on things like heating and electricity bills.
How are co-working spaces organised?
Most co-working spaces have one or more members of staff who act as the main point of contact for co-workers. This person will likely have a job title such as community manager, membership manager or community associate.
Community managers at co-working spaces are responsible for giving co-workers service updates, responding to problems and organising community events. They also feed back from co-workers to the co-working space ownership.
The communication channels used for these exchanges will vary between co-working spaces. We’ve encountered co-working offices using Slack, Facebook groups and specialist software such as Cobot to post notices and enable interaction between co-workers.
Many co-working spaces use a good, old-fashioned notice board to tell members about upcoming events.
How co-working spaces can help small businesses punch above their weight
Having an office can help small businesses make a good impression on their clients and partners. It’s all about getting across that the business is a professional, properly resourced organisation.
Co-working spaces can do several things to help businesses come across well:
• Business address: co-workers can pay to use the co-working office as their business address. The co-worker’s business can be officially registered at the address, and it may be able to have its mail sent there.
• Meeting space: some co-working offices give co-workers free or discounted access to a meeting space with facilities such as presentation screens and refreshments. This is a great facility to use for client meetings.
• Agency membership: it is quite common for co-working spaces to operate collectively as an agency. Co-workers may get commissioned to do work for clients of the agency.
These are all great steps towards helping a sole trader or small business come across as professional. We recommend taking the following measures too:
• Set up a business telephone number: coworking spaces do not usually offer co-workers a business telephone service, as the hotdesking system used by most coworking spaces would make this impractical. We advise setting up a business telephone number to make calls through to your mobile, as this will create a more professional impression than using your mobile number.
• Make or commission a website: with easy-to-use, template-based web design services like Wix.com and Squarespace available at affordable rates, there’s no excuse for small businesses and freelance professionals not to have their own site. Some of you may require more complex website functionalities, such as online shopping, booking systems and so on. If that’s the case, we advise commissioning a bespoke website design from a developer.
Co-working space terms and conditions to watch out for
Before you sign on the dotted line with a co-working office, check the fine detail of their policies. This might include:
• Fair use terms: roughly how many days/hours per week are co-workers expected to use the office?
• Opening hours: at what times can co-workers use the space? Are there restrictions?
• Access: will the co-worker receive a key/card/fob/code to access the premises?
Make sure you’re happy that the terms will suit the way you work.
What’s the process for signing up to a co-working space?
If you’re interested in joining a co-working space, we advise visiting its website to find out the contact email or phone number for enquiries.
Once you’ve been in touch, the space’s management will likely offer you a tour of the facilities and/or a trial day. This will give you a feel for the culture and quality of the co-working space, and whether or not it’s a good fit for you.
Some popular co-working spaces with a full quota of members have waiting lists for new workers. Bear this in mind and act fast if you’re keen to get started at a space.