March 2, 2021

Career Couch: Putting a Shared Office to the Test

A. If you’re feeling isolated working from home, you may want to test co-working — a concept described earlier this month in the Workstation column on this page. As you try to put the idea into practice, several options may be available, especially if you live in a major city. So clarify what you hope to achieve through co-working before settling on a space.

Are you looking for a space that caters to people in your industry? One for creative professionals? One that hosts events? You may want a location with a specific identity, like Green Desk in New York, which offers what it calls “environmentally responsible” office space, or the Summit SF in San Francisco, geared to entrepreneurs.

Web sites like, and can help people find appropriate co-working spaces.

When searching, keep in mind what you will need on a daily basis, whether it’s the ability to make private calls or access to a meeting or conference room, says Julie K. Clark, founder of a national online office-sharing directory,, in Seattle.

Because there is limited privacy and some level of noise in these offices, look for a variety of space within the space, she says, with some areas that are quieter and more private than others.

On average, co-workers pay $275 to $375 a month to work in an open environment that usually includes Wi-Fi, and can also include coffee, snacks and office supplies, Ms. Clark says.

Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin, Tex., suggests spending a day working in the space before joining. “Most places will let you try it out before you sign up,” she says. “You want to make sure you fit in with the feel of the space, the mix of people and that you can actually get work done.”

Q. What equipment will you need?

A. You will definitely need your laptop, a cellphone and their chargers. Bring headphones for music and videos. If you need periods when you can’t be disturbed, Ms. Elam suggests, it would be wise to invest in a noise-canceling headset, which will block out ambient noise and signal to others not to interrupt.

And you may need to bring ergonomic accessories you use at home, like a wrist rest for your keyboard or a pillow for your lower back, she says.  

Q. Co-working spaces can be hives of activity and interaction. How could this type of environment help you?

A. Working alone can make you miss having colleagues with whom you share ideas and frustrations. “It’s almost like technology has come too far,” says Andrew Laing, director of strategy at the Manhattan office of DEGW, a strategic business consultancy. “It’s great I can be anywhere and work, but there’s a lot of value to rubbing elbows with others, working alone, but together.”

Co-working spaces let you connect with people who may wind up collaborating on projects or sharing ideas, advice and skills. If you find yourself creatively blocked at times, talking with someone else is often all you need to unblock and get ideas flowing again, says Mark Goulston, a business psychiatrist and executive coach in Los Angeles.

You may expand your career by meeting other independent professionals in your field or in complementary fields, Mr. Laing says, and many spaces offer educational and networking events for professional development.

Q. Though you want to work around other people, it is possible that a co-working arrangement isn’t best for you?

A. Co-working spaces are really communities of workers, so if your personality isn’t open to the idea of sharing— whether of ideas or office supplies — you may well find little value in it, says Antonina Simeti, a consultant at DEGW.

“The ‘co’ in ‘co-working’ is having a community of people with complementary or somewhat similar interests who want to work together and share ideas,” Ms. Simeti says. “If you don’t want to answer the question ‘What are you working on today?’ a co-working space may not be right for you.”

If you work in a more traditional field or one where you see clients regularly — like financial advising or law — you may need a more traditional, private environment, Ms. Clark says. In that case, renting unused space in the offices of a complementary or similar business would probably be a better fit.

If you sometimes see clients, consider how they will adapt to visiting a co-working office. “It could be challenging for you,” Ms. Clark says, “if your clients aren’t comfortable coming into this type of environment.”

A variety of professionals can have success with co-working — Ms. Elam’s facility has marketing, real estate and sales professionals working there, as well as a lawyer and a pastor.

“In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you do,” Ms. Elam says. “It’s more about what you need.”


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