Photo courtesy of WeWork

True confession: I don’t really have the hang of running two businesses. It’s hard. It’s hard to keep up with the work, and it’s hard to switch gears between the two every day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute. Since I started working on Craft Industry Alliance I’ve been thinking differently about my work, my role at home, and my ability to balance all of it — taking care of my businesses, taking care of my home and family and taking care of myself. I never feel like I’m doing any of it very well and always wish there were just a few more hours in the day.

For the past 12 years I’ve worked in my house. I’m one of those women whose maternity leave stretched out for a really, really long time. I’ve always felt pretty good about working at home — I was able to launch and sell a line of baby clothes, I had a fabric store with five employees (I worked at home while they shipped orders out of a commercial space), I’ve grown a profitable blog and I’ve started a new business with a partner who is 3,000 miles away. My kids (born six years apart) were never in daycare and, for the most part, I think I’ve been present for them and my husband. My house isn’t magazine-ready, but you can’t have it all.

In the past few months, however, I’ve been feeling like things aren’t working. For a few reasons, I’ve been thinking about making a big change.

I miss working with people IRL

Most days I’m alone from 9:00 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon, which is good stretch of time, but sometimes I go to the grocery store or the bank just to talk to someone. I haven’t worked in an office for almost 14 years and I’m kind of nostalgic about it. Is that crazy? I miss stopping by someone’s desk to bounce around ideas. I miss going out to lunch with a crowd. I miss hearing about someone else’s exciting/messed up/depressing weekend. I miss finishing a big project and then celebrating with the team. Don’t get me wrong, I love being part of a vibrant online community, but typing things is so different than collaborating and experiencing things together.

I’m distracted

I work in my kitchen. Well, actually it’s one of those great rooms — kitchen space, office space, couches and a TV. It’s a place where people go to crunch things really loudly, do their homework, play games with terrible sounds and, in our house, to craft — and all of those things apparently require my permission, observation, feedback or help. I love it, but it’s not really conducive to writing a 2,000-word article about business conferences.

Even when I’m home alone, I feel the need to get things done — dishes, cleaning, petting animals, a tiny bit of sewing, folding towels, etc. There are endless things for a procrastinator to do. This kind of work-a-little, do-home-life-a-little method for getting things done used to actually work pretty well for me. But now the work I’m doing is different and my life hasn’t changed to fit it. I’m writing more articles and blog posts, I’m trying to do more social media planning and scheduling and I’m revising my business model for Sew Mama Sew. It’s all work that requires extended periods of focus, which is a lot different than emailing and delegating — the main kind of work I used to do, and the kind of work you can do in between a load of laundry and a call to the orthodontist. My new kind of work isn’t working with my old kind of lifestyle.

Photo courtesy of WeWork

Could a coworking office be the answer?

Coworking offices are popping up in large numbers around the world. WeWork, one of the largest coworking companies, says they are opening seven to eight offices per month. And while some of the spaces are just a floor or section of a high-rise building, there are very large spaces such as WeWork Custom House in Portland, which is a completely remodeled, historic downtown building that can accommodate more than 1,000 people.

WeWork and other coworking companies, such as NedSpace and Central Office, pitch their services as more than just an affordable desk in an office of strangers. They use the term “member” to describe the people who join and “dues” or “fees” rather than “rent” to describe what you pay. I admit I was skeptical that it would translate as more than an office, but I was pleasantly surprised when I toured Custom House.

Pros of a Coworking Office

Opportunities to connect with other people

WeWork is committed to building a community of collaborators and networkers. I toured the Custom House in Portland and arrived about 15 minutes early. I was able to sit in the lobby/reception area at lunchtime and get a feel for what was going on. There is a receptionist who greets people by name and several people who walked in had something to talk to her about. I have no idea what they were saying, but I did get a much warmer vibe than the security/info desk kind of thing in a lot of office buildings — more like a friendly concierge at a five-star resort.

Although the business model can differ from business to business, all coworking companies are committed to building community. WeWork uses a few channels to help its members feel like part of a community, rather than just desk-renters:

  • Social Events: These range from ice cream socials to Q&A sessions with venture capital firms. They literally have something going on in the building every business day and some weekends.
  • An internal, online member network similar to Facebook, but for members only. Although I wasn’t given access, it’s my understanding that you can see the profiles of members in your building, and also the global network of WeWork members.
  • Community managers who help members troubleshoot and connect with one another — think really great and wise office managers. For example, you could ask a community manager for referrals to freelance photographers, and they would connect you with people within your own building or the WeWork community at large.
  • Lots of community space: From common rooms with couches to community kitchens that have fridges stocked with beer, they’re making an effort to create space where people want to hang out and chat.

Beautiful space with lots of amenities in the heart of the city

One of the things I loved about working for a successful software company (in the old days) was the sense of being in the thick of the entrepreneurial world. It’s nice to be where exciting, progressive things are happening. As a sole proprietor, it’s nearly impossible to access that energy from your kitchen, and it’s even harder to get that kind of space on the budget of a startup. Coworking spaces make being part of an entrepreneurial community possible. You might only have a 10-by-5 glass cubby, but it’s in the thick of things with beautiful architecture, access to conference spaces, community rooms, showers, coffee shops, printing facilities, receptionists and other things I don’t have in my great room.

It’s not my house

Enough said.

Photo courtesy of WeWork

Cons of a Coworking Office

It’s not cheap

Membership at the WeWork Custom House location starts at around $270 for shared space. For this price you basically get access to a huge indoor picnic bench with good Wi-Fi. You can’t leave your stuff and you don’t have any privacy, but for $500 and up you can get a glass cube with a key and your logo on the door. It’s nicer than I make it sound, but it isn’t fancy. The good thing is there is no lease. You can try it for a month or two and if it’s not working for you, you can leave.

The commute

I’m in the suburbs. I would have a 30-minute drive or a 45-minute public transportation commute. I really have to think about whether or not the (theoretical) increased productivity makes up for this time. Additionally, I’d have to pay for that transportation and/or parking.

Unproven theory about fewer distractions

I’ll be honest — when I was touring WeWork Portland, there were several dogs in the halls or in the glass offices. Two of them were puppies. In my experience, there is nothing as wonderfully distracting as a puppy. Plus I already mentioned ice cream socials and beer. Not to mention the fact that I might want to step out for a little shoe shopping or food-truck supporting in downtown Portland.

Not a makers space

Although I saw a million laptops at Custom House, I didn’t see any sewing machines. Apparently there are a few coworking/cocreating studios and workshops in some cities, but they are hard to come by. Many big cities have shared artists’ spaces, but there aren’t any global companies filling that need. WeWork claims to be building out some workshop/studio spaces in some cities, but they aren’t widely available.

What’s next?

I’m still thinking about whether coworking is the right option for me. I have appointments with smaller spaces closer to home, but they aren’t cheaper and they don’t have that amazing downtown energy, so I’m not sure it will fill the void. I’ll keep you posted. If you are a member of a coworking office, or are thinking about it, I’d love to start a conversation. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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