Places, Practices, People. According to recent research, these are the pillars that give structure to individuals with a successful independent practice. When I learned about these pillars, I was a few weeks into launching my own independent practice. I had just joined a coworking space, and was learning how to make the most of it. Now three months later, I am happy to report that coworking has gone a long way toward helping me establish people, place, and practice structures. My experience has even allowed me to identify opportunities for coworking spaces to provide more value.
Research shows that successful self-directed persons have well-defined spaces where they work. These spaces “protect them from outside distractions and help them avoid feeling rootless “. The places are dedicated for work. They allow easy access to the tools of the person’s trade, and little else.
Perhaps most obviously, a coworking space is a physical place to get work done. My coworking space, Workbar in Cambridge, is a particularly effective space, for reasons I have previously written about. When I am here, I focus primarily on my work. I’m surrounded by other people who are working, which provides valuable pressure to stay focused. I feel guilty, for example, if I shop online or check Facebook.
As far as providing tools of the trade, my coworking space does a fair job. Workbar provides enough external monitors and monitor stands for those who are interested. Workbar also has whiteboards, large sheets of paper, and post-its for creative work. Nevertheless, I find myself toting several additional tools to and from work. They include my laptop, Wacom drawing tablet, and snacks. This weighs me down during my commute, especially when I bring along my workout gear. A nice solution: offering lockers large enough for these items. Several leading workplaces offer lockers, which allow for workplaces to realize the cost-savings of flexible seating while offering their users a sense of permanence.
Successful self-directed persons follow regular routines. These include out-of-work activities such as exercise and meditation, but also work-related practices, such as keeping a schedule and beginning with tasks that require the deepest thought.
Coworking helps enormously to give me routine. I arrive at the office sometime between 9-11 am, and leave between 5-6 pm. While that may be less time than I have spent at work in previous jobs, these hours are highly productive. I arrive with a clear plan for my first half of the day, and get right to it. When I finish that task, I check my email, have some food, and reflect on what I want to accomplish in the second part of the day. At the end of the day, I feel free to engage in leisure activities, because I feel like I have been “at work”.
Creating a network of beneficial relationships is crucial to running a successful independent practice. Positive relationships run the range from family and friends who offer encouragement, to mentors who offer guidance, to peers who offer feedback and perspective.
At my coworking space, I have been able to build some of these beneficial relationships. By striking up conversations in our central kitchen area, I have met co-workers who have become friends. At social events hosted by Workbar, I have connected with peers who are independent consultants. In making these connections, however, I have relied primarily on my own outgoing nature, not so much on Workbar’s community management team.
Workbar can play a more intentional role in connecting members. This would help us better discover how we can be of value to each other. The majority of events hosted are primarily of social nature, such as a pancake breakfast or lunchtime martini hour. These events tend to leave members with few obvious conversation-starters. While not a huge issue for people who are fairly outgoing, such situations can be daunting for others who are more socially anxious. To overcome these anxieties, Workbar can integrate icebreakers, or intentionally introduce members to each other. In addition, Workbar can host networking events that are more targeted towards certain professions and interests.
Coworking has contributed greatly to my independent practice by helping me establish Place, Practice, and People structures. The biggest contribution has been to provide a place with few distractions and fair supply of tools. Having this separate place for work contributes further by helping my co-workers and me establish a daily work schedule. Finally, coworking provides a social setting with high potential for forming beneficial relationships. I have been able to form such relationships by being outgoing, but this may not be obvious for all. My coworking space can play a more active role here, by more intentionally connecting members. All things considered, coworking has been the right solution for me, and I will stay on for the foreseeable future.