Is a co-working space right for me?

We caught up with Tide member, Lu Li, CEO & Founder of Blooming Founders and author of ‘Dear Female Founder’ to understand what co-working spaces can offer, how to make the most of them and how to make sure you don’t overpay! 

Co-working spaces are all the rage in London at the moment, but are they appropriate for all people who work for themselves or a small company? Are they beneficial for people working alone as well as in a team? 

Yes, I would say they can be beneficial for a diverse range of businesses and working practices. 

Before deciding to use one it’s worth considering all the pros and cons – the key benefit of a co-working space is that you can interact with other humans. 

Many freelancers, or people just starting their businesses, spend a lot of time alone, and this can have serious effects on mental health and productivity. If you struggle with feeling isolated then spending even just one day per week in a space with others can be beneficial for your personal wellbeing and for your business.

For businesses with small teams interacting face to face is very important. In my experience, companies that have all remote working policies tend to spend a huge amount on company retreats to try to create a sense of being a team. Having regular time working together as a team can prove to be cost effective, and helps promote cohesiveness, harmony and greater productivity.

However, the need for interaction with others isn’t necessary for everyone and many people work very well on their own. For those people, a co-working space can have a detrimental impact, and they shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on something!

It’s really about understanding how you and your team work best.

At which stage in their business should you consider spending money on a workspace?

There are two key occasions – number one, when you can afford it, i.e. when you’re making money or when you have raised money.

And number two, when it’s helpful for your business. It could be that you need somewhere to hold meetings with clients or when you begin to hire a team and having them work from your home may be a little strange! Having a workspace helps in bringing an air of professionalism.

My experience is that women can suffer from imposter syndrome more than men, and if you’re always conducting your business from your kitchen table or home office, it can be difficult to view yourself as a serious entrepreneur, running a real business. Having a workspace to go to regularly can help people to see their business in a different light. It’s also great to be around other people running businesses – conversations by the coffee machine can be game-changing.

Can workspaces be a waste of money if you can work perfectly well at home?

For people who can work effectively at home, they should by all means continue – it’s a brilliant way to save money when starting out. 

However, the hope for the majority of business owners is that at some point they will grow to a size where an outside location to work from is needed.

Serviced co-working spaces have become a popular option in recent years as they save you the hassle of finding the right office space, negotiating terms, working out all additional operational costs that may be hidden at first glance, furnishing etc. As well as the upfront expense of this, you should also consider the expense in terms of the time spent on this – time not spent on building your business. 

Many people who join co-working spaces do however find themselves overpaying or not getting value for their money. If you can work from home a number of days a week and want to spend a few days in a workspace then look for one that is suitably flexible.

There are plenty of shared workspaces within London but they’re much more scarce outside of the city –  what are the options for people operating in locations without these spaces?

This is a challenge – the economics don’t really work for shared workspaces outside of large cities, so it’s likely that they will remain few and far between in these areas.

My advice would be to look for local business groups to join. In many areas there are groups of people locally who tend to work from home and will meet up in a cafe or library to work together for the day. These groups can really help to get people out of the house and interacting with others, as well as learning from other people’s businesses.

If this doesn’t exist in your local area you could consider setting one up.

Freelancers and small business owners often don’t work to a set pattern, can they end up wasting money on a workspace they don’t use?

Yes, definitely. Full-time memberships can be very costly and mean you can waste money. Flexible memberships are starting to become more mainstream, meaning you can sign up for one or two days a week. You can often just book meeting rooms or hotdesks on an ad hoc basis – although this can be an expensive route to take if you’re doing it regularly.

And finally, what should a small business owner expect to get out of working in a shared workspace?

Different people want different things from a co-working space and therefore have different expectations.

For some people they purely want the office infrastructure – those people should expect a clean, professional environment, meeting rooms with sufficient availability, a desk, a fast internet connection, tea and coffee.

For others, being around other people is crucial – 70% of women who start a new business are solo founders and they want to be part of a community. These people should expect a vibrant community of business owners, opportunities to network with each other and events to help expand their knowledge and experiences. 

I have also discovered a subsection of workspace users who work for large companies with their own offices, but find themselves being constantly distracted by colleagues. These people expect a place to come to for some peace and quiet!

Other things you can expect from paying for a co-working space are reasonable opening times (some offer 24hr opening) and an address to register your business from. Many people would prefer not to use their home address for their company, or feel having a city centre address adds gravitas to their business. 

Blooming Founders was founded in 2015 and is a brand and product ecosystem that helps early stage female entrepreneurs and diverse teams succeed. They do this by helping people to expand their network, providing practical business education, facilitating access to investors, offering a flexible workspace and much more.

Sarah Penney

Sarah Penney

PR and Communications Manager