James Ward is a member of Leeds’ Old Broadcasting House (OBH) coworking community in Northern England, working as freelance “digital coach.” I spoke with James on his thoughts and experiences over the last few months as one of the most active evangelists of his coworking community.
Imran: How did you first encounter coworking as a concept and what drew you to it?
James: I heard about an event for freelancers, GoingSolo, being held at OBH in Leeds. I had started working freelance just a few months earlier but from past experience working on my own I had learned the importance of getting out and making connections with other people. Working on your own every day in the spare bedroom can get pretty lonely and soul-destroying.
For me, attending this event was one of those serendipitous moments in life that lead to changes more profound and beneficial than I could have imagined. First off, it was my introduction to a network of professional peers all talking about the same challenges and issues as I recognize: managing finances, clients, confidence. The exchange of ideas was exhilarating. I came away from the day on an absolute high…and I had also discovered coworking.
NTI Leeds, who run OBH, have given over a large part of the building to coworking, a concept I hadn’t really heard of before. I had assumed that my only option for working away from home was to rent expensive office space or spend my days working on my lap in coffee shops. But here was a place where for a very small cost I could work at a proper desk, in a professional environment, surrounded by other freelancers. And, to top it all, the coffee is good — and free!
Imran: What have been your greatest challenges and surprises in coworking?
James: There can be tensions in this kind of environment, especially where the culture and expectations of the members are evolving and changing as the space grows, the population changes and members’ businesses needs develop. It can sometimes be quite noisy in a shared space and I think that’s something that you pretty much have to just tolerate, just as you do in any shared environment. We recently started holding a semi-formal meeting once a month to give us all an opportunity to discuss with each other and the managers of the space any issues or ideas that we have. Like any community — and it really does feel like a community — we need opportunities to communicate with each other.
What really surprised me was that I hadn’t expected the extent to which working in a space like this would improve my life. I have gained so much: friends, business contacts, skills, opportunities for work, ideas and inspiration. Joining OBH has accelerated the speed at which I have come to know and be known on the local network and has enabled me to get involved in events and activities that I simply wouldn’t have known about otherwise: Twestival, Think Visibility, Business Link Enterprise Shows, to name a few.
Imran: How would you like to see coworking evolve, globally and locally?
Locally, I would like to see the coworking community here in Leeds grow and become more flexible. OBH is extremely well-equipped — 30″ Apple displays, Mac Pros, Adobe CS3, etc. — but not everybody needs these facilities. Some people just need a place to connect to the web and sit at their laptop. I can see scope for different membership options, depending on your requirements, although I wouldn’t necessarily want hugely complicated tariffs and per-hour charges. I like the simplicity of a monthly fee.
Globally, some people have talked about a “coworking visa”‘ that would allow members to use facilities in other cities when traveling.
Imran: What are the key insights and pieces of advice you’d offer to those considering coworking as a mode of work?
- Be tolerant. If you need peace and quiet to concentrate, consider getting some decent noise-canceling headphones.
- Be respectful. We all have deadlines to meet. Try to be sensitive to other people’s needs.
- Be generous. The more you share, the more you will get back
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