I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the first article in this series -- ‘One is the Loneliest Number: The Dangers of Isolation in Solopreneurship.’ Clearly, the topic has resonated deeply with so many entrepreneurs working to build businesses, and struggling with all the mindset challenges that working alone can bring.
This series explores solutions to the loneliness that often plagues solopreneurs, so I’d like to share one of the factors that has made a huge impact for me in building my business -- co-working.
When I first ventured out on my own, I had a perfectly good dining room table at home, fast internet, and a laptop, and it would never have occurred to me to pay for a co-working space.
Many people who work from home report feeling the lure of laundry and dishes. I’ve always had the opposite problem; I open my eyes and my laptop in the same breath, and then don’t look up again until it’s 4pm, only to find that I’m still in my pyjamas, unshowered and hungry. I used to wonder where the day had gone, and then feel a little depressed that I hadn’t gone to the gym or brushed my teeth.
Still, I couldn’t see the value in paying money to go sit somewhere else, at a desk that wasn’t even mine, surrounded by strangers. It seemed sort of desperate, sad, and like a waste of money.
Then one day, an entrepreneurial acquaintance who was working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC,) invited me to visit for lunch. I had never heard of CIC, but quickly learned that it is iconic in the Boston startup world. Next door to MIT, it claims to be home to ‘more startups than anywhere else on earth,’ and is one of the first innovation centers in the country.
When I visited CIC’s dedicated co-working space for the first time, my whole world changed. I suddenly realized that you aren’t really paying for a desk and use of the odd conference room -- you are paying to be part of a community. Perhaps it’s the nature of being an ‘innovation center,’ but CIC is exceptionally focused on creating an ecosystem of entrepreneurs that take their responsibility as members of the community seriously.
Not all co-working spaces are created equal; I know I’m lucky to be part of such an awesome community. However, the shift in my mindset from ‘working at home’ to ‘having an office’ is, I believe, relevant to many solopreneurs.
When I joined CIC, I voluntarily started to commute an hour each way -- I take the bus and then transfer to the subway, at least three days a week. I use the time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks, brainstorm business ideas, mentally plan my day, and sometimes just stare out the window and day dream. My commute has become one of my favorite rituals as an entrepreneur. More than once, I have caught myself, walking from the subway station to my office, smiling for no reason, just happy to be part of the rhythm of the city.
I love the feeling of walking into my ‘office’ and seeing familiar faces. I usually sit at the same desk, and near the same group of people. I consider them my co-workers, and if I’m out of town for several days, I will often get a text from one of them asking where I am.
Some days I go in, work all day and leave without ever actually talking to another person, and still feel happier and more alive than if I had done the same thing sitting in my house. Other days I relish walking around the co-working space saying hi to people, and stopping for coffee chats in the kitchen.
Of course, there are definitely other business benefits to being part of a co-working community; the relationships I’ve developed, clients I’ve met, and the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of my customers’ needs have all been vital. There are never-ending events and workshops, so I’m constantly learning. I also draw inspiration from other entrepreneurs facing the same challenges as me.
Certainly the routine of brushing my teeth and leaving the house every day to go to a co-working space has been helpful in beating isolation, but I believe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the bus ride, maybe it’s the coffee chats, maybe it’s just being surrounded by other entrepreneurs. I suspect it’s a combination of all of those factors that has made me better at dreaming up creative solutions to business problems, and helped me maintain a healthy perspective on the highs and lows of building a business.
It turns out, I'm not alone in this discovery; recently the Harvard Business Review published its findings on the value of co-working in combatting isolation, and with some pretty compelling statistics -- 84% of respondents reported that working in a co-working space improved their work engagement and motivation. Most also reported being able to concentrate better due to fewer distractions compared to working from home or in coffee shops.
There are more shared workspace options available than ever before, and clearly, the demand is growing. Co-working spaces are generally month-to-month memberships, so it’s easy to try one out and see if it works for you. They also often offer different pricing tiers depending on how often you use the space, so you can still control your costs, and your schedule.
For me, the investment has been a game changer, and I don’t know where I’d be in my business if I had stubbornly refused to leave my dining room table.
What’s your experience of co-working? Have you found a balance of ‘home’ and ‘office’ time that has worked for you? Do you love working from home and don’t really get why anyone would want to go to an office? What works for you?
This is the second in a series of posts about the dangers of isolation in solopreneurship, and how to combat them. Read the first article here. If you have tips and tricks that have helped to keep you a happy, thriving solopreneur, please share them, and we may include in a future post.
Don’t go it alone -- join our group!
Due to popular demand, we are about to launch a new group membership program called Solopreneur Connection -- we'd love to have you join us! Click here to learn more about the program, and to submit an expression of interest.
Victoria Dew is the Founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications.