Where you do your freelance work might be one of the most important decisions you make as a freelance consultant.
Get your work space right and you’ll be more productive than you ever thought possible and even open yourself up to new opportunities.
Get it wrong and you’ll find your environment either stifling or distracting, leaving you unproductive and frustrated – not great for when you’re trying to make it as a freelancer.
There are a range of options – from home-based consulting, good old coffee shops or the rise of new co-working spaces and hubs. Finding the best option – or mix of options – is up to you and your work preferences.
Here’s a few options and insights behind each work space to help you find which freelance work space is best for you.
(Thanks to Jenny from She Gets Around for suggesting I write this post!)
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Working from home is probably the image most non-freelancers have in their heads when you tell them that you’re a freelancer. Long lie-ins, working on your laptop without getting out of your bed, and even not getting dressed until past lunchtime are all stereotypes of freelancers who work at home.
And that image is right. At least it was for me, until I realised that this approach to working at home wasn’t all it seemed.
Working from home is seen as a luxury for many, but it does come with its pitfalls that can stop you getting much done at all – not ideal when your freelance work depends on your productivity levels.
With TVs and other distractions in plain sight, there’s plenty of temptations to keep you from focussing on your work. With the kitchen only a few steps away, it is tempting to make yourself another cup of tea or raid the fridge. And with no one looking over your shoulder to get work done, you need the focus and self-discipline to make sure that you can make home-based consulting work for you.
But there are ways to make your home working environment conducive to productive freelance work.
It can help to have a separate work space or spare room that you can use an office. Entering this work space will put you in the right mindset and create a clear distinction between your work space and your living spaces.
Otherwise, it is easy for you to spill out of your work environment to working on the couch. This often leads to you working more (unproductive) hours, as the line between work and living blurs and you spend hours into the evening still on your laptop.
You also definitely need to get yourself a plant in your workspace. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that “investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”
The research found that having plants in offices made working conditions better, based on both measures of productivity and subjective measures such as perceived air quality, self-reported concentration, and individual employee satisfaction.
Who knew that a bit of greenery could make you a more effective freelancer?
Cafés and coffee shops
Working from home can get a little lonely and unsociable, so working from a café or coffee shop is a natural choice for freelancers who like to be among other people while working or miss the buzz and activity that comes from working in an office.
What’s more, it’s been proven that low levels of background noise can actually make you more productive.
It’s pretty hard to be creative in a quiet space and a loud workplace is frustrating and distracting. But research published in the paper "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition", found that the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee shop is just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.
If you’re working from home, you can even recreate his background noise by using a service like Coffitivity, an app that gives you "enough noise to work." The app recreates background noise of a coffee shop and streams it through your headphones, which will have you upping your productivity levels no matter where you work.
Working all day at one place and using their wifi is a) expensive if you’re buying a coffee every few hours so you can keep using the wifi, or b) a poor show if you’re not buying more coffee and just leaking the wifi – especially if you’re working from an independent café.
One way of making working at coffee shops more productive is to plot out a workday route through multiple coffee shops. Not only will the change of scene make you more productive, but you’ll also benefit by the walk in between cafés to clear your mind and get some exercise.
Plus you’ll be in a new café every few hours, so you can justify using their wifi for a while!
If you are going to work from a coffee shop or café, make sure you stick to the right etiquette. The good people at Worksnug have created this useful guide to coffee shop manners that will set you on the right track.
Co-working spaces are large offices that are divided up into smaller spaces and desks that small businesses, startups or freelancers can rent. This makes it affordable for everyone to have an office to go to, without breaking your budget.
If you need more space, you can always hire more desks if your small business expands and you hire more people.
Most co-working spaces also run networking events or invite guest speakers in, meaning there’s plenty of opportunities for networking and meeting new contacts.
You’ll be working alongside other freelancers and small businesses, who will more than likely be working in different industries. Co-working spaces are great places to see how your peers are doing, learn from them and even collaborate if they work in complimentary areas.
For freelancer web developers, graphic designers and digital consultants, I recommend TechHub, which started in London a few years ago but has now spread across Europe and further worldwide.
For others, take a look at the Impact Hub Network, which has over 7,000 members 45 across countries.
The co-working wiki has a list of various spaces across the UK and elsewhere, so take a look to find a co-working space like you.
Your own office or studio space
Don’t like the idea of working in a public space but not finding it productive working from home? Renting studio space – not as big as a fully fledged office, but a private space just for you – is an alternative option.
And if you’re team expands and you start to take on more contractors or staff to help you deliver on project, good for you! You might think about hiring your own office space, as it is easier to work with a team if they’re there in the same space as you and you can build up the rapport needed as a top performing team.
But be wary: any extra profit you will get from clients is likely to go on paying for the office lease. This means that you’ll have to take on more clients to make the same amount as you did before you took the office space. So make sure you do the figures before hiring any office space – studio or otherwise.
Anyway, part of the reason that many people go freelance is to avoid going into office environments, so why would you want to hire your own office anyway?
My freelance work space setup
Want to know what my work setup is?
I’m lucky enough to have a little work desk set in front of my fourth-floor window, overlooking a tree-lined street with a local park on the other side. Here’s the view:
I actually had a bit of trouble with my back after sitting in a bog-standard Ikea folding chair all day. I would find myself slouching a lot and after a while, my back began to hurt – a lot. I ended up being able to spend no more than 10 minutes before it started to be painful, so I started looking for alternative seating arrangements.
But I didn’t want to go all out and buy a big office chair with all the adjustable knobs and ergonomic whistles you could need. It would look a little out-of-place in my home environment.
So instead I got myself a kneeling chair. It has no back, so it forces you to sit up straight, stop slouching and it’s impossible to lean back on – unless you want to fall off the back. Plus the kneeling angle opens up your body at a wider angle and relies more on my stomach muscles, meaning I activate my core more to keep my posture, which means I’m not relying on my back to keep up straight and no longer have any back problems.
Here’s what it looks like:Where the magic happens.
No, I’m not going to take a photo of me sitting in it. It’s really fun to ask friends who visit to try to sit in the chair, without showing them the correct way. They often sit the wrong way and look ridiculous (but don’t tell them that). A photo of me sitting in the chair would give the game away.
(If you’re in the UK, you can by a kneeling chair from the nice people at Sit Kneel Chairs)
One thing I do need to buy is a laptop stand, as I still find myself bending my neck down as I stare down into the screen. Just a simple stand will raise the laptop to eye level and will be better for my posture.
I don’t normally work in cafes or coffee shops, unless I’m having a meeting. But I do often go to work in my client’s offices, which means I get the benefits of working from home, then mixing this up with some days working in an office with other people.
After a while I do find that I need the quiet productivity of my home, but it’s great to get out and see people once in a while. And the clients often provide the coffee and biscuits 😉
What’s your preferred freelance work space? Where do you freelance from? Home office or on the road in coffee shops? Let me know in the comments!
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