Is the cost of a coworking membership worth it? Here’s how to decide.
I’m one of those freelancers who holds a gold badge in working for long stretches at coffee shops. On any given weekday you can find me parked at a local java joint, typing furiously on my laptop, pushing to meet deadlines. But being the frequent coffee shop–hopper I am, I’ve grown tired of playing the “will there be a power outlet or not?” game, or having to worry if there will be any tables for me to park my seat. So I’ve found myself daydreaming about signing up to be a member of a sleek coworking space around town. Sure, having a guaranteed spot to work and all the kombucha you could ever want is appealing. But the question remains: Is it worth it?
Here’s how you can decide:
Consider the Perks
As a city organizer of Freelance Friday, a monthly coworking event, I’ve seen my fair share of spaces. And they certainly do come with some neat perks, such as:
Free beverages. Most spaces have free tea, coffee, and water. And some of the more upscale ones offer craft beer and kombucha on tap, and all the salty snacks you can consume to your heart’s delight.
Conference rooms. If you’re someone who meets face-to-face with clients, or hold meetings with remote team members, then a conference room will come in handy. I’ve also used a “telephone booth,” closet-sized rooms with a space to plug in your laptop and do phone interviews.
Cool people. Miss water cooler talk? A main draw of these spaces is you won’t be working by your lonesome. Plus, it turns out that people who are part of such spaces tend to be happier and more productive, partly because of they feel like they’re part of a community.
A separate workspace. Another biggie. It’s far too easy for the freelancing life to turn into 24/7 work mode; many of us find it challenging to separate work and home life (raises hand).
Networking opportunities. Depending on how active a space’s social calendar is, you’ll be linked up to mixers, talks, and workshops. Many spaces encourage participation from its members, so if you want to up your experience with public speaking, they give you the chance to do so. I’ve seen talks from members on everything from creating Facebook ads to what it’s like to be a TV producer (L.A. perks!), and got to co-host a talk for freelancers.
Free printing. Most memberships come with printing privileges. While there’s usually a monthly cap, unless you’re printing screenplays every day, your quota should cover it.
Other amenities I’ve seen include built-in sleeping pods and meditation rooms. And some offer Taco Tuesdays, weekly happy hours, and free sessions with a visiting masseuse.
Weigh the Costs
Let’s look at the numbers, shall we? There are different types of memberships you can opt into. The least expensive is the flex desk or “hot desk”, which allows you to work at one of the open tables scattered about the space. While the cost varies, in my town of Los Angeles I’ve seen a full-time flex desk start at $275 per month.
You can also opt for a dedicated work desk, which allows you to leave your stuff at the space. Those generally are about $375 or so (once again, the cost can vary). And if you’re leveling up in self-employment and are hiring a crew, you can rent out a private office, which I’ve seen start at $800. You might be able to get a lowered rate if you sign up for a six-month or year-long commitment.
Some spaces also offer drop-in days rates or package deals. For instance, you could opt for a 10- or 15-day month pass. Or opt for a reduced rate if you get a membership for off-peak hours, such as nights and weekends.
Gauge Whether It’s Worth It
So these memberships aren’t exactly cheap. To see if the cost is worth it, let’s do a break down. Let’s say you spring for a $300 a month membership. If you work at your space four days a week, or twenty days a month, that breaks down to $15 a day, or $60 a week. Sure, that’s a little more than the $10 you may be spending each time you’re at a coffee shop, but it does come with all those perks. And those perks could help you run a more successful freelancing business.
If you’re still on the fence, you can check out free coworking days, or check to see if a space offers a free trial period. There are free coworking meetups in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
You can also casually host a work party, which I do about once a week. (Just be sure it veers more toward “work” and less toward “social hour.”) A few friends and I get together at someone’s place or a nearby coffee shop to catch up and get our productivity on.
If you want to be a member to get out of the house every so often, or travel quite a bit, a pass from Deskpass or Croissant might be best for you. Plus, these package deals allow you to roll your passes to the next month. Because the space near me I like is way over my price range, and the one I really really like is across town, I am opting for Deskpass, which gives me daylong passes each month.
To figure out whether a coworking membership is a worthwhile self-employment expense, you’ll need to carefully weigh the perks against the costs. Sure it may cost more than the latte and scone if you just worked at a coffee shop, but like that one Radiohead song, it could help you be fitter, happier, and more productive.
Jackie Lam is the creator of Cheapsters, where she helps freelancers get by in the gig economy. She lives in L.A., where she is on the perpetual hunt for the perfect breakfast burrito.
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