At first glance, coworking spaces sound simple and uncontroversial. they are essentially offices designed for remote workers, equipped with desks, wi-fi, receptionists, and sometimes even free refreshments. remote workers from a variety of industries can rent these spaces by the day, week, or month. basically, it tries to simulate a real office environment for people who aren’t actually required to work in an office.
spaces can be of great help to a growing number of workers who are not tied to a traditional office space. some just feel more productive in an office. others may be drawn to the social dynamic, which you don’t get working from your living room in your pajamas. As remote work grows in popularity, so do coworking spaces in cities and countries around the world, from the United States to Bali, Indonesia. but are they a scam?
Reading: Is wework worth it
This apparently simple concept is more complicated than it seems. Sure, coworking spaces are versatile, but they’re also insanely expensive for what you actually get (a desk and some coffee, or draft beer if you really splurge on a place). for some, the cost is totally worth the professional environment and social benefits. to others, the entire business model feels like a scam. To settle the debate, two members of the Matador Network team, Senior Writer Eben Diskin, who is against coworking spaces, and Editor Tim Wenger, who is for them, confronted the issue. They both work remotely and travel a lot, but have very different views on coworking spaces.
against: coworking spaces are a scam
Paying for a coworking space is like driving 10 minutes and paying 25 cents for a public bathroom instead of just using the one in your apartment. Sure, it gets you out of the house. it’s a change of scenery. maybe the public restroom even has some fancy soap dispensers with that soft sudsy material that smells like fresh mango. but the fact is that you are traveling and paying 25 cents for a service that you can get for free without even getting dressed.
As a location-independent worker, I’ve considered coworking spaces on a number of occasions. Every time, I come to the same conclusion: They’re too expensive, they’re not conducive to productivity, and they nullify the whole point of being a remote worker in the first place.
for: coworking spaces are inspiring
Coworking is not for the glass-half-empty types who question the good nature of strangers and even the slightest hint of change or progress. In short, coworking is not for pajama-clad lounge warriors who prefer to keep video off on zoom calls and who don’t take advantage of their location-independent privileges.
Instead, it’s for the general thinkers who always know there’s a little more than what they’re currently getting. The modern world of work increasingly relies on contractors, small business owners, and freelancers to perform tasks that were previously performed in-house by staff at large companies.
The thing is, contract work can be isolating. The same goes for working for a remote company with team members spread across the country or even the world. Surrounding yourself with others in a similar situation can make all the difference in staying motivated. Without the established and visible corporate ladder to climb, it can often seem like you’re moving horizontally rather than vertically. Call me crazy, but I’m much more inspired by watching other people kick ass at what they do than by staying home and getting fomo from social media.
against: it’s a glorified coffee shop
The only difference between a coworking space and a coffee shop is that coworking spaces smell like febreze instead of French vanilla. oh, and it’s about $200 more for a table. I certainly identify with the need to get out of the house and work in a more public social environment. That’s why I go to coffee shops. for $4.50 I can get a large coffee, a blueberry muffin, wi-fi, and a “dedicated workstation” where I can sit until the place closes.
By contrast, a coworking space in my town charges $200 per month for a “shared desk,” $300 for your own personal desk, and offers private offices for up to $1,500 per month. that $1,500 can buy you about 600 blueberry muffins. I’ll let you decide where your money is best spent.
para: coworking represents the future of smart city design
one of the main arguments against coworking is the need to “drive to an office”. the people who make that argument sound like they were stuck in the suburbs of the ’90s, when the slightest hint of need required a 15-minute effort down a six-lane “neighborhood road” to get to the restaurant or mall closest . Depending on where you live, especially for people outside of the city center, coworking may not be the most convenient option for you. still, spaces are becoming more common in the suburbs and in smaller cities and towns.
The vision of the coworking space is not just about the coworking itself. it is that it represents a small part of what modern urbanism should be. I shouldn’t have to drive 40 minutes in rush hour from the suburbs to downtown to get to work, and I recognize that doing it as a remote worker defeats the whole purpose of remote work. instead, you should be able to walk, or better yet, hop on a bike or public transportation, to a coworking space (or wherever you work) within a reasonable distance of your home, hotel, airbnb, or, let’s dive deep. ends here — coliving space.
There is an undeniable sense of privilege in this. But the future of work will continue to move more careers remotely, likely driving market demand for flexible, close-to-home workspace options that include cafes and coworking. even better if it’s all tied together with other conveniences like restaurants, nightlife, and outdoor recreation nearby. progress is inevitable. you can generate a legal join to that.
against: the myth of productivity
In my opinion, the biggest misconception about coworking spaces is that they are a substitute for a real office environment. coworking spaces are the dive bars of offices. Offices are often considered uninspired and outdated workspaces, but they are generally designed for productivity and the pursuit of a common goal. coworking spaces may seem flashier and come with free donuts, but by comparison, they’re absolutely free for everyone.
Unless you’re willing to spend a good chunk of your income on a private room, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of an unpredictable cast of characters in a shared space. listening to the phone calls of others will become a daily distraction. Instead of getting used to your colleague’s obnoxious quirks, in coworking spaces you can expect a revolving door of “co-workers” with potentially annoying and inconsiderate habits. Sure, you might make some friends, but will you do anything?
If only there was a public place equipped with many desks that guaranteed absolute silence. oh yeah, they’re called libraries. And they’re free.
for: nowhere offers better networks
Coworking memberships can often pay for themselves solely from the networking and professional development opportunities they offer. in 2017, i spent a month in bali, working at outpost coworking, which is the best representation of the coworking promise i have seen. Its locations are accessible by foot or easily by scooter in both Ubud and Canggu, and the space offers convivial options for travelers along with services like airport transfers. In addition to being a stunningly beautiful workspace, Outpost hosted evening networking events with speakers who touched on a wide range of topics related to remote work and location-independent living. these events provided a great way to meet other people in the space and often led to fun and engaging dinners at nearby restaurants afterward. one of the most useful aspects of coworking came about as a result.
I landed a client, a business owner who needed content management, which turned into a long-term partnership and friendship that we both benefited from. As an added bonus, the income generated from that contract more than paid for my entire time in Bali, including flights to my next destination.
This is not unusual. these spaces are often populated by people who work in similar, but adjacent, fields. Web developers, copywriters, ad agencies, content marketers, and SEO experts are staples at most good coworking places. they all need customers and, in turn, each other. When you’re a copywriter at a networking event, chatting with a woman who runs a content marketing agency and needs copy for an upcoming campaign, guess who she’s likely to hire?
Relationships like that don’t happen when you never leave the office of your spare room. and they certainly don’t happen when you’re quiet in the library.
against: coworking spaces waste the flexible benefits of being remote in the first place
Deciding to work from an office every day as a remote worker is like choosing to work at Dairy Queen after winning the lottery. The main goal of location independence is the freedom to work where you want. that could be a coffee shop, your bed, a library, a park bench, or a bar. the possibilities are endless. Choosing to wake up, get dressed, pack your bags, and drive to the office is like slipping back into the restrictive cocoon you worked so hard to free yourself from.
Of course, the freedom of remote work comes with the freedom of working from a coworking space. There’s nothing wrong with revisiting office life from time to time, if only to remind yourself how much it sucks. just don’t pretend it offers something you can’t get at a coffee shop, allows for greater productivity than a library, or is even worth the exorbitant cost.
para: coworking solves the problem of “adult friendships”
We all know how difficult it can be to make new friends in adulthood once the days of alcohol-fueled youthful revelry are behind us. making friends in a traditional office or other workspace is totally doable and very common. But in many cases, there are limits to “work friends”; Mainly, once one of you changes jobs or leaves the company altogether, the friendship slowly dwindles until all you have left is a facebook connection and a warm memory of what you did. once it was.
In a coworking space, you are constantly surrounded by people who are “at work”, just like you. the difference is that they don’t work with you. They are not your co-workers and therefore your relationship is not based on workplace gossip or insider information. but they share an understanding of remote work. they also spend their days staring at a laptop, probably working on tasks you’re familiar with and using jargon you understand. They’re also likely to be at the aforementioned networking events, ready to kick back and have a conversation.
Beyond finding clients, it’s easy to make friends because other people are looking for social connections not work. this is especially true in travel settings, where you and everyone else are away from home and existing social circles. in this way, your coworking membership serves as an integrated meeting group for working professionals.
but hey, progress isn’t for everyone. some people would prefer to stay at home, which in my opinion is the real boondoggle of the location-independent lifestyle. If you’re thinking of giving coworking a try and all of this isn’t proof enough, grab me at the free happy hour this afternoon in the conference room and I’ll show you the photo collage I built with epic “dedicated workstation” views all around. the world.