After almost a decade of working from home and (mostly) loving it, at some point in 2012 something really changed for me. Fairly suddenly, I started feeling more trapped than liberated in my home office, and feeling like it was hard to carve out uninterrupted work time amid the myriad of household chores that needed to get done every day. In addition, my life situation is very different now than it was when I started my freelance business in 2002: my husband works outside the house, my daughter is closer to middle school than to infancy, and many of my freelancing mom friends in the neighborhood now work full time or pursue other interests like school and sports that keep them tied up during the day. So I decided to investigate the possibility of moving my office outside our house.
The quest started with a few visits to established co-working offices in Boulder, of which there are several. Stumbling block: many of them save on office rent by locating themselves in windowless basements, which is an absolute deal breaker for me (I didn’t move to a city with 300 sunny days a year to work in a basement!). In addition, there’s nothing to make you realize that you’re not 22 any more like visiting an office that’s mostly populated by tech startups. I think I’m reasonably young at heart for a 41 year old, but some of the established co-working offices reminded me of my college apartment on a bad Monday morning, complete with empty vodka bottles in the kitchen sink (actual example from one office!).
So then, I approached the all-women freelancers’ group that I’m in, to see if we could potentially put together a group of people and rent our own office together. This seemed like a great idea (cool people, we could configure the space however we wanted and one of the potential offices is about a 3 minute walk from my house). But we learned that commercial leases are tricky: most landlords want at least an 18-month lease with the first 3 months paid in advance, the office would be completely unfurnished, and the extra expenses such as liability insurance, Internet and even tea and coffee would add up. In addition, we would have to either form a corporation to sign the lease, or one person would be responsible for the entire rent amount.
Another option (if you live in Colorado) was PivotDesk, a local service that matches small companies and freelancers with office space. I would definitely give PivotDesk another try if I’m looking for office space in the future, but this time around I couldn’t find just the right match between what I wanted and what was on offer. However, in the course of tooling around downtown Boulder looking at offices, a couple of freelance friends and I found a “hidden” co-working office in a truly stunning historic building. Populated by real grownups with real established businesses, this office is a haven for freelancers who want to get stuff done in a beautiful setting without too many distractions (“…like a really, really nice library…” was the description of a friend who went to see the office with me).
I’ve been in the new office for about a week and so far I really, really, really love it. It’s about a 20 minute bike ride from my house, which gets me outside and gives me some mental space to transition from home to work and vice versa. In addition, let me tell you some things that a co-working office has: people to talk to, things to look at other than the walls of your house, different spaces to hang out in when you get sick of sitting at your desk. And let me tell you some things that a co-working office does not have: your dirty dishes, your washing machine and your cat hair-covered rugs. But all joking aside, I find that even these 5 days have really changed the way I think about work and home. I can walk in the door of my house in the afternoon and think “What do I want to do for the rest of the day?” I can avoid letting work expand to fill the available time, and instead confine work to the time I’m at the office. Instead of checking e-mail for the first time at 6:45 AM and for the last time at 11:15 PM and feeling like I basically worked for 16 hours with some extended breaks, I feel like I actually have work time and home time. Maybe this has more to do with my habits than with anything more substantive, but I do feel like this has been a fantastic change. Mostly, I want to encourage other freelancers to explore the co-working option if you want to, rather than feeling like you should be more grateful for the opportunity to work from home. If it’s not working for you, change it!
Logistical notes: The co-working office that I’m in costs US $350 per month for my own permanent desk, wired and wireless Internet access, access to multiple conference rooms and unlimited coffee and tea (priorities!). And the office managers do the dishes! The desks also have locking storage cabinets so that I can leave my laptop there if I want to. So far I’ve been toting my laptop back and forth, but I’m considering leaving it there at least some of the time, since all of my files are synced online.