Co-Working Or Co-Wasting Your Time? How To Get The Most From A Collaborative Workspace

Student? Freelancer? Sales agent? Creative? Entrepreneur? Whatever your flavour, you’re probably going to think about joining a co-working space at some point. Know how to get the most out of the set up.

Co-working spaces are one of the best lead indicators of a city that is growing into itself. They are places that attract the brightest young minds, students trying to get ahead and the freelancers who are carving out value in a hyper-competitive business world.

But co-working spaces are also a little like an untrained dragon – that is to say, potentially dangerous (to your productivity) but with the opportunity for career magic.

Having worked with some of the best – and some of the worst – here are my tips for getting most out of your flexible working life.

the hub islington

The Hub Islington, flickr.

But I work full-time in an office…

Even if you’re in a pretty stable day job with a company that has its own offices, see if you can negotiate a day, week or fortnight to work from somewhere else. A lot of workplaces are introducing flexible work policies, and the occasional change of scenery can be really beneficial for building the reputation of your business in the community.

Define Your Goals

You need to know why you want to join a co-working situation. That might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t consider their goals and options, and whether co-working hubs are actually the best fit. You should never go into any business decision without a goal in mind.

Think about the following:

#1 Distance

How far from the city/home/your regular clients, do you want to be? Commute times can be one of the most common things to strain relationships and create stress.

#2 Time

How much time do you plan to be ‘in the office’? If you’re in the line of work that has you meeting prospective clients or even doing work for clients at their place, you’ll need to set up a good rhythm with your time.

Consider blocking out some times of the day, or even whole days of the week for specific things, that way you can be ready for what you’re going to do, not wasting time ‘switching’ between tasks as you get interrupted.

#3 Cost

Speaking of wasting things, money is one you definitely shouldn’t. We’ve spoken about setting and monitoring goals for your money before – but as with any business expense – make sure you find a place that suits your back pocket.


Image: Fishburner’s Co-working hub for startups, Sydney.

Set Your Intentions

Intentions, like goals, are essentially the essence of your creative potential: it’s more than just what you want to do, but why you want to do it.

Being truly satisfied at the end of the week will largely be informed by how deliberately you set about trying to get stuff done. Think about what really matters to you, how this informs your values, and how you might judge someone else if they were trying to do the same things.

Learn boundaries

Your time is valuable (and value is more than just money). And as I said before, getting distracted, or even deliberately switching between tasks can be your undoing.

Make sure you set yourself some boundaries, simple things like letting those around you know that you’re going to be focused on something and that you’d prefer to chat later, or even the more advanced gadgets that can do the talking for you.

Be consistent

It matters; not only for you, but for the community you’ve chosen to be part of. For one thing, a rhythm with work can help you overcome decision fatigue, but on a different note, getting into a rhythm of when you’re physically at the co-working space can mean it’s easier for someone in your circle to pin you down if they want to introduce you to a potential client or collaborator.

You can’t share your calendar with everyone, so put some effort into showing up around the same times, or at least on the same days.

Put yourself out there

You’ve gotta be in it, to win it, as the saying goes. Almost every kind of co-working space will regularly run some events, whether they be socials, talks, workshops or whatever.


Go to some of these. Image: Fishburners.

Make sure you turn up every now and again. People are much more likely to develop rapport with someone they’ve spent at least one or two hours outside of traditional ‘work’ scenarios.

Share and collaborate

This might seem contrary to what Intellectual Property and patent law would have you believe, but often, coming up with ideas is the easy part. Execution is the process that takes effort and collaboration is the perfect way around it.

Never turn down a legitimate opportunity to share in building an idea or venture with someone, even if it means you might have to ‘give’ something away. You’ll learn a lot in the process, and likely make connections that can benefit you when it’s your turn.

Try new things

Co-working spaces open you up to new opportunities. Workshop on backend programming coming up? At least give it a go. Some pretty successful people have told us that “Creativity is just connecting things.” So if you’re looking for a breakthrough or just some new inspiration – you should try something you’ve never tried before.

Offer to help

There is one really reliable way to develop a community of people who are willing to help you out in a hard time, and that is to help them first. Even better is offering to help (or just helping without making a big deal about it) when no-one is asking you to. Build your social capital; be generous and it will reward you for years.

Definitely do not

Be that guy

Everyone here is trying have a good time and get ahead – there is no hierarchy – so please, please don’t be that guy who acts like he owns the place. Even the guy who actually owns the place doesn’t do that.

Start cliques

Circles of friends and collaborators = good. Being exclusive and not welcoming in new people = bad. Co-working spaces are communities, not school yards.

Make fun of anyone’s wild ideas

Ideas are basically worthless until something is done with them, so why bother hating on them? Not only that, extreme ideas can often hold a bit of previously unnoticed insight, and with the right conditions, could be the start of something extraordinary.

Ben works at the intersection of culture, technology, design and strategy. He is a Strategy Designer at Business Models Inc where he helps organisations better understand how they create, deliver and capture value through Business Models Generation & Value Proposition Design. Catch him on Twitter @benhamley.

Lead image: Hub Madrid