Five reasons why I didn’t Join a Coworking Space

A little over four months ago now, I joined Jewelbots. I also wrote a retrospective on the first four months.

When I first joined Jewelbots, Sara mentioned that they’d either cover me working from home (pay for internet) or they’d cover me working from a co-working space. Since I’d had mixed results with Working From Home previously, I elected to take a serious look at co-working spaces.

Here’s why I didn’t join one.

1. Coworking Spaces aren’t built for productivity. If you’ve ever heard me rant about open office floor plans (twitter, blog post), then you know I dislike them immensely. The chief reason is that they foster collaboration at the expense of productivity. If you spend 8+ hours a day doing something, don’t you want to feel like you accomplished something meaningful at the end of those 8 hours? What about if ‘meaning’ in your line of work meant releasing code?

Collaboration is a great goal if that’s what drives your business (It’s even a good idea otherwise; except that you have nothing to collaborate on if you go out of business). If software drives your business, then perhaps you should optimize for creating software?

See? There I go again. Even in a blog post about coworking spaces, open office floor plans rear their ugly head. I probably won’t edit that out.

My point is, coworking spaces are generally open offices (most money per sq. ft. that way), and open offices do not enhance productivity.

Why would I pay to be in a space that makes me less productive?

2. Coworking spaces don’t let you control your environment. As I write this, I’m on a standing desk with three monitors, a laptop, a freshly painted room, and standing pads. Oh, and I have a smattering of dev boards, an iPhone for testing, and a Ladycorn I was supposed to ship out last night. How easy would this set up be to replicate at a coworking space? The three monitors would be out; the standing desk would be a huge if (if no one else grabbed it that day), and I certainly wouldn’t have the comfortable chair. That brings me to the next point, money.

3. The economics don’t work for productivity. In order to get that same setup (I paid for all this, btw) in a coworking space; I’d have to pay for a private office (about $600 a month), sign a year lease, and have all of this shipped there.

That’s just not economically feasible for a single remote employee to do in a startup. In order to pay for itself, I’d have to be $7200 a year more productive than I would be otherwise, and that’s just for office space. That doesn’t count the desk, the chair, the monitors, the arms, or any of the other accessories (around $3000 all told).

4. The choices just aren’t that great. I live in Springfield, VA. For those of you that don’t know the dynamics of the Washington DC area; I live at the end of the Blue Line. If I want to travel to Arlington (the ‘major’ metropolitan center that isn’t DC), I’d have to spend 20-30 minutes (each way) on the Metro each day; in addition to the 10 minutes to commute there and back. If I want to go into DC; that’s another 20-30 minutes (depending on the day). At best that’s an hour to get to and from work, at worst it’s 2 hours. And that’s if nothing goes wrong (which it does, all the time). In Arlington, there are currently two choices for Co-working spaces; one’s part of an unused coffee shop, and the other is a small office space above a bank.

5. You can’t control internet speed or connectivity.

Internet’s really important to programming. In this instance, I couldn’t do something as simple as deploy our site to Elastic Beanstalk because the internet was terrible. That’s a bad thing. What would have happened if our site went down and the internet went down at the same time?

Coworking spaces are probably great. But they don’t work for everyone, and after trying it for a few days, I realized they didn’t work for me either. They embody all the bad parts of an open office floor plan and working at Starbucks, all while paying for the privilege.

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