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Coworking: Social club or work space?

I started working at Indy Hall almost two weeks ago. Indy Hall is a coworking space in Old City, Philadelphia where people who would normally work at home can now work in an office with like-minded people. It’s a great concept. Right now I am in the evaluation stage, so I wanted to share my thoughts.

So far, the experience has been great. I’ve worked productively and comfortably at home for several years and the change of scenery is nice. The main advantages of coworking that I see so far:

  • Clear separation between my work and personal life (so far).
  • Excellent opportunity to discuss and share ideas with a group of really smart people.
  • Dedicated work area that I can call my own.
  • Change of environment between where I live and where I work. It’s only 18 blocks, but Old City and Center City are very different.

There are also some annoyances, actually, it is mainly one annoyance.

  • At times, It’s noisy and I can’t focus or talk on the phone.

Even though I am in the "quiet area" noise travels in an open space. I’m really specific about having a quiet area to focus and get my work done. I read Peopleware a long time ago and really believe in the principles. Most of the time the space is relatively quiet, but throughout the day there are periods of chatter that escalate through the room. This not only breaks focus, but disrupts phone calls or meetings.

In some situations I wonder how people get any work done when they are talking all day. Maybe I just work differently. Indy Hall has an upstairs that is designated as a quiet area, which is where I work. The area allows me to focus and stay out of the normal traffic downstairs, but at the same time, it removes me from the social environment that I want to be involved in at times.

Possible solution?

I feel like coworking really needs the appropriate physical layout to accommodate a social environment that does not break focus. For instance, an open working space is cost effective and practical. It can work really well as long as the environment encourages focus (quiet, comfortable). At the same time, you can’t neglect the social element that is so important with this environment. Lastly, a good private meeting space for clients or group discussions is important for the normal working process.

So, in my view, a coworking space would benefit from:

  • Open working area, with encouragement on focus and comfort while working.
  • Private meeting area or conference room that does not disrupt the main space.
  • A general "lounge" that still provides the social environment throughout the day, but is separate from the working space.

Alex, much respect

With that said, I want to make sure that this is not viewed as a complaint toward Indy Hall. I think I will stay here for a while, but I am always one to voice my opinions. Alex Hillman has done an amazing job to make coworking a reality in Philadelphia and has inspired many others to do the same. We’re at the beginning of a great expansion in small, collaborative, and distributed work environments.