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When you’re the one who gets to decide where you work every day, it can be it can be tough to narrow down what exactly you need in a workspace. But most of the factors that will influence your success in a co-working space boil down to a few categories. If you focus on these categories, the decision could practically make itself.
Category 1: The Amenities
Some co-working spaces are known for having trendy amenities like nap pods, 3D printers, standing or cycling desks, and even indoor bike parking.
Trendy amenities can still provide value, but don’t let the fun stuff take over your decision-making process. Choose a co-working space that lets you tick even the most boring boxes off your daily to-do list.
If it doesn’t, the other amenities probably won’t make up for it.
Consider these common daily business needs—and any others that might apply to the work you do:
Takeaway: Put your most basic needs first. Then you can get excited about the space with the on-site pet groomer.
Category 2: The Culture
It was most likely the isolation—not the burden of buying a home printer—that drove thousands of solo workers into co-working spaces over the past decade.
Co-working spaces have a huge focus on community. Even in rural areas with fewer options, most co-working spaces proactively build community by hosting lectures, mixers, and other networking events.
Some co-working cultures are quite niche, targeting specific customers like startups, writers, women, and more, and these co-working spaces sometimes even screen interested parties to make sure the culture stays intact.
While most co-working spaces are less explicit about their culture, you can get a feel for the culture pretty easily by researching the “About” section on the space’s website and checking out the types of events they have.
Pay attention to the intensity of the culture, too, not just the character. Know how much you’re expected to participate.
If you’re a solopreneur or a startup, a place that requires you to introduce yourself before you sit down to work might be just the environment you need to make new connections. But if you’re an occasional telecommuter who already has a work community, a laid-back culture may be a better fit.
Takeaway: Pick the co-working space that (1) gives you the relationships and opportunities you want at this point in your career and (2) requires the same level of investment that you’re willing to give.
Category 3: The Daily Atmosphere
Atmosphere is related to culture, but it’s atmosphere—the daily pace, noise level, and mood of a space—that can make or break your productivity.
If you visit a co-working space and it sounds like a cocktail party, you might feel energized and excited at first. But when it comes to the daily grind, you could find it more distracting than helpful.
If you’re easily distracted, look for a co-working space with a mellow daily atmosphere or a floor plan with plenty of private nooks. If you can’t find either, you don’t have to rule out co-working altogether; you just need to be strategic about how you structure your work week.
For example, maybe you head to your co-working space when you need to update your LinkedIn page and get your watercooler gossip fix; maybe when you’re staring down a client deadline, you lock yourself in a closet at home.
Takeaway: If you’re prone to distraction, find the quietest co-working space possible. If you can’t find one, analyze your work style and find ways to maximize your productivity.
Category 4: Cost and Value
Most co-working spaces charge per day, week, or month. Many offer add-ons and upgrades, like an office instead of an open desk, but time is the most basic price unit.
Opting for a shorter term doesn’t always mean you’ll have a smaller commitment, though. Even if you decide on a monthly rather than annual membership, it may be like an apartment lease where you can’t skip a payment just because you’ll be on vacation most of the month.
Remember to add up other costs beyond the base price, too.
For example, if the Wi-Fi stinks, know you’ll have to get your own hotspot and add that extra charge into your monthly budget. If the space is far away, factor in the cost of extra gas and longer commute times.
But don’t forget about value, either—what you’re getting for your money.
If the co-working space in question has treadmill desks and you know you’ll use one, count pain and medical bills as potential costs saved. If you’re breaking into a new industry and need to rub shoulders with as many people as possible, the contacts you’ll make could be worth the cost of daily distractions.
Takeaway: Choose the co-working space that will give you the most value for the money you spend.
Don’t Forget to Try Out the Space in Person
Looking at these four main factors—amenities, culture, daily atmosphere, and cost—can greatly simplify your search for the perfect space. But to make the best decision, you should go beyond window-shopping and into the co-working spaces themselves.
Know what you want from your co-working experience and be prepared to evaluate whether a space can give you what you want. If it would help to quantify, give each space a score out of 10 for each category and pick the one with the highest score.
Once you pick, pat yourself on the back and pack your laptop for the next day. It’s time to get to work.