As stylish rent-a-desk workspaces grow in popularity, Jenessa Williams decides its time to step up her freelancing gig
When most people roll out their ‘New Year, New Me’ adage, what they normally mean is a half-hearted attempt at veganism, or a pledge to spend less time scrolling on social media. I’m normally just as bad, except 2019 has already seen a major life change: the decision to go entirely freelance.
Without the social or financial comfort of a part-time job, I’m having to seriously get my rear in gear if I want to keep my mortgage payments ticking over. Working from home comes with plenty of amazing perks, but there is no denying that my productivity can suffer when the call of the sofa becomes that little bit too strong.
2019 needs to be the year where I work smarter, not harder, and I think co-working might be just the ticket.
Someone busts out a Colin Caterpillar cake... today is a good day'
So to Avenue HQ, which opened in October. It's the latest co-working space on the block, conveniently situated within the same building as East Parade Social. I know very little about it, but I am told it’s very popular amongst young creatives looking to take their professional life a little bit more, well, professionally.
Sounds like a bit of me, so a short online form later and I'm booked in for my first day as a co-worker...
I arrive and am greeted by friendly front desk staff, who check my details and take a frankly hideous photograph to go on my new member card. (Note to self - spend some more time on your hair before any future inductions.)
The office is beautiful - modern and massive but still strangely homely, with sofas and breakout areas to encourage flexible working. There are bookable meeting rooms, as well as private, free-to-use cubicles ideal for phone calls.
It’s a little chilly, but then that is my fault for choosing a covetable desk right under the air con (hold on, it's January?). I’m set up with Wi-Fi and left to crack on, in plain sight of ten or so strangers. I make a note to keep my screen NSFW clean, grab a complimentary tea (the kitchen is all help yourself - including the biscuits... oh dear) and attempt to exude ‘working on my novel’ vibes.
It’s time for a toilet break, and the panic that occurs when working in public with your fairly pricey laptop on show begins. Do I pack all my stuff away, only to have to unpack it again in approximately 90 seconds? Or do I risk it and hope that Avenue HQ is full of trustworthy sorts who won’t take a second look at my stuff?
I risk it, and return to find my belongings safe. This is certainly a safer environment than the usual coffee shop setup. I chide myself for being overly suspicious - it’s very clear that everybody here is far too busy with their own work to care about mine.
I undergo a full tour of the building with the Community Manager, who is responsible for my induction. She’s lovely and clearly makes a real effort with each and every tenant. I can imagine this place fully thriving in the summer - there’s an events space downstairs for yoga workshops and networking, and a rooftop terrace.
She explains that, throughout January, I’m entitled to ‘free co-working Friday’, to which I nod but feel a little wrong-footed. Aren’t I always allowed to work Friday? I quickly re-check my sign up documents, and discover that my £20 sign-up Flex account only actually entitles me to ONE WORKING DAY a month. ONE. If I require up to ten day passes a month, I’m looking at £120, or £220 for unlimited use.
Wow, I reckon I might need to find some more clients…
Back at my desk and back to work. The quiet chat of fellow workers and the upbeat disco music from overhead is providing plenty of ambient noise, and I’m actually rather enjoying myself...on a Thursday...at work. Who am I? I'm feeling very smug with myself until Mr ‘Feet Up On Desk’ arrives and proceeds to have a very loud phone call. I put on headphones to drown him out and, thankfully, he winds up his call soon after.
Two articles down and it’s time to crank out some lunch. It feels a bit indulgent considering that I’ve already taken full advantage of the free biscuits but East Parade Social’s doorstop chicken and chorizo sandwiches are far too inviting. My partner works nearby and comes to meet me, a pleasant interlude to both our days - even if our coffee is completely burnt and barely drinkable. In classic British fashion, I say nothing, grateful for the caffeine boost and the 15% discount offered to all Avenue HQ residents.
Back at my desk, I’m a wee bit distracted by the hustle and bustle of one of the larger teams, who appear to be having their own break in the office, but the headphones go back on and I’m in the zone. I quite like that this isn’t the sort of co-working space where everyone has to be totally silent, but I do wonder how I would fare on a slightly busier day. These hectic periods are a little on the distracting side for someone used to full control of their environment.
Storming through my work, I’m feeling good about life, only increased when someone busts out a Colin Caterpillar cake. Hooray for co-workers! High off camaraderie, I power through the last of my day’s articles and, upon reading it back, don’t entirely hate everything I’ve written. Why does this seem so much harder at home? I decide to make a start on tomorrow’s work, and even find time to fill in my new diary with jobs that’ll need doing next week. Just call me a girl boss. In fact, maybe don’t – that sort of nickname is soooo 2018.
The office all but empties out, leaving me with my very own playground for the last hour. I fit in a cheeky bit of social media scrolling, plus a general bit of much-needed desktop organising. Suddenly, in an office, I’m finding time to do all the things I convince myself I don’t have time for – weird how that happens eh? With the East Parade filling up with ping-pong players and early evening drinkers, I scan myself out and take my leave, thoroughly content with a full day's work done.
If you’ve got the money to spend and you’re looking to give your work life a kick up the arse, I wouldn’t think twice about recommending Avenue HQ. The wifi is fast, desks are large, basic refreshments are free and the attempts to cultivate a community environment through events create a support network for potentially lonely freelancers or start-ups. It really is quite the gang, and its appeal is obvious.
But for little old me, I’m not quite earning enough to justify the price. Maybe next year. Whether you can afford co-working or not, it’s a valuable lesson in self-discipline and concentration, and how mixing up your environment can really aid productivity. From now on, I will be endeavoring to buy my own office chair and sit at a desk in my spare room, instead of convincing myself that Judge Rinder is acceptable ‘background noise’.