Why coworking doesn’t work for me

But might for you!

Illustration by Nate Otto

As technology evolves, and companies wake up to the possibility of remote collaboration, more and more people are trying out coworking. Progressive as ever, we at Basecamp have written about “working alone in a crowd”, in an office you aren’t responsible for. And we’ve put our pennies where our pens are, offering our staff a stipend to help with renting a desk somewhere.

I’ve worked remotely for years, in and out of cafés and shared offices, and I’ve even managed my own coworking space. And here’s what I’ve found:

Coworking doesn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

I came to this realisation during a recent trip to Manchester, England, where I helped train the new support person who’ll soon take over my weekend shifts. Rather than making Jayne, who lives near London, fly halfway around the world to our Chicago base and learn new names, new systems and new stupid in-jokes while struggling with time-zone delirium, we thought it would be more humane to pop her on a train instead — which, in the UK, is sometimes quicker and less stressful than a transatlantic flight. Instead, we got team lead Kristin to fly in from Oregon and meet us in our temporary home, a shared office called Workplace.

Workplace was perfect for our needs. We were given our own meeting room, with a quaint mock front door we could shut when we needed our privacy. We had comfortable chairs, high-speed wifi and other essentials like a steady flow of drip coffee and as many biscuits as we could eat. At first, we enjoyed the buzz of other people getting down to business around us, while we actually had face-to-face conversations and got to know each other IRL. But, by the end of week two, that room started to feel like a carpeted cell.

Why? Because that’s just not how I like to work. Training is one thing, meetups are another, but in my daily working life, I much prefer to be in my own home office. Desk sharing does nothing for my work, the way in which I approach it, or how I wrap my life around it. Since I stopped coworking, I’ve never been happier or more productive. It’s been better for:

My work

Here’s how my day-to-day goes: I listen to loud music and reply to emails. I look for answers, troubleshoot problems and pitch solutions. I teach an online class at the same time every week, and, at random, field requests for phone calls. When it’s quiet, I write. I have my colleagues at hand when I want their help, and complete solitude when I need it. And when I’m done for the day, I’m done. No part of this is enhanced by having other people around, working on their own stuff. Coworking spaces are wonderful places to collaborate, socialise and escape home life — but none of those are things I need.

My introversion

Almost everyone in my team, maybe even the whole company, falls at the introverted end of the spectrum. We work remotely, connected but alone, and exercise our empathy muscles until they ache. During a busy day, I interact with more than a hundred people over email, Twitter, phone and online chat, most of them complete strangers. After that, I want one of two things: hangs with friends, with whom I can be my true, unfiltered self, or time to myself, cooking, reading or playing records. The last thing I need is more casual acquaintances with which to make small talk or awkward eye contact.

My family

Truth be told, the only company I really need is my wife and “daughter”, a beautiful four-year-old who bears a striking resemblance to a French Bulldog. Zoë is a photographer who sometimes shoots on location, sometimes in our home studio, spending the rest of her days retouching images at the desk next to mine. That means I get time with my favourite person, practising our karaoke jams and squealing at photos of other bullies (don’t tell Olive!), but also time to focus on me. Going to a coworking space would mean being away from my fuzzy family, a trade-off I never want to make.

My weird habits

Everyone knows that you should have regular breaks during your working day, time away from that screen. But not everybody spends that downtime doing pull-ups on their bathroom door. Sure, there are a few “active collaborative workspaces” where such activity would be encouraged, but, outside of those broworking spaces, anyone doing push-ups between the desks will be cause for concern. Other weird habits I’m better off keeping at home: mid-morning showers; preferring to listen to podcasts rather than other people; staring at my dog while she sleeps.

My non-commute

A quick poll of my fellow Basecampers revealed that having no commute is their favourite thing about working from home, and the biggest block against considering coworking. I’m lucky in that the space I ran was down one flight of stairs from our apartment (which brought its own problems!), and any new shared office would be a short bike ride away. But, for me, an office door is enough separation between my work and life, and I’d rather spend my journey time walking the dog. Did I mention I have a dog?

If this doesn’t describe you, by all means — consider coworking. Everyone is different and each person works differently. Maybe your job is isolating and you’re craving human interaction. Perhaps your projects would benefit from an outsider’s ideas or their complementary skills. You might not have space at home to dedicate to an office, or the desire to own a printer-scanner-fax. Or you just want to get out of the house more.

If you’re looking for a new way to work remotely, coworking could be the answer. But you might have to search long and hard for a space that suits you, and you might have to sign-up for some trial months. And when you’ve found the right fit, you’re going to have to make it work for you. Whether you end up in a shared space or your own home office, focus on making each day a healthy, productive time.

With Basecamp 3, remote collaboration has never been easier. We’re spread all over the world, working together across every time zone, and we built this tool to help you do the same.