I’m a coworking believer now. Better late than never.

My home office has been my home base for years, since well before I learned to say ‘no’ for good. In conversation, the revelation that I work from home produces two default responses:

  • Bemusement tinged with irony; as in, “Interesting. I don’t think I’d have the discipline for that. How’s it working out for you, man?”
  • Mild envy; as in, “Wow, I wish I could work from home.” (You can, trust me.)

A few months ago, I decided to change up my routine. I joined COCO, a growing coworking outfit with a handful of locations in the Minneapolis metro, one in Chicago, and one in Cincinnati. (COCO is rebranding as a franchisor called Fueled Collective; expect farther-flung outposts to pop up in the near term.)

I now spend two to three days per week at COCO. That’s a big change for a guy whose occasional coffee shop outings made the weekly highlight reel.

My coworking experience thus far has been almost entirely positive. With respect, COCO’s awesomeness is only part of the story here. Coworking just speaks to me. I’m getting four things in particular out of it:

Fewer distractions

This was my prime rationale for joining COCO.

If you work better in quiet, low-distraction environments, you probably find it curious that a relatively loud, open environment with lots of comings and goings is more productive for me than a quiet home office.

For me, it is. I’ve concluded after years of self-reflection that I’m simply not great at holding myself accountable. Milestone goals, over-structured time, to-do lists, frequent breaks – these strategies all help, but they’re not enough. I need external motivation to avoid distracting myself.

I find that motivation in an overblown but deep-rooted (and effective!) fear of outward indolence. Though my rational side understands that my fellow coworkers couldn’t care less what I do with my time or whether I manage my minutes and hours as efficiently as I should, my superego imagines that they’re intently interested. They’re champions who cheer as I round the corner into the next graf and disciplinarians who rap my knuckles when I reach for my phone. I perform for them.

I can’t put a dollar value this psychological trick’s import, nor can I assess whether it’s a healthy mode of thought. It’s weird to talk about out loud, for sure. But I know for a fact that I’m more productive at any COCO location than I am at home. And that’s what matters most.

Networking opportunities

For better or worse, independents and solopreneurs live and die by their professional networks. Much as I hate hearing that my network is my net worth – and, given the circles I run in, I hear that tired cliche more often than you’d believe – I know deep down that it’s not wrong.

Coworking hubs are inherently pro-network. It’s impossible not to interact with other members here, even when you’re flying solo and operating from an introverted baseline. The bullpen areas are built for collaborative work, with variably sized communal tables that promote casual interactions. The weekly happy hours are a bit forced for loners, but they happen with or without you, and you’re always welcome to join. The periodic events and workshops – see below – necessarily involve interaction with hub members and walk-in outsiders, some prominent.

Though I can’t quite say I’m making fast friends here, the sheer amount of incidental connectivity is alone worth the monthly price tag, and the story ideas fly fast and thick. It’s a dream perch for someone who writes for a living.

Free evening events

Any coworking hub worth its salt organizes periodic events for paying members, their guests, and sometimes the general public.

COCO is no exception. One of the highlights of its annual event calendar is COCO Pitch Night, at which five promising startups vie for up to two slots at Google for Entrepreneurs’ Tech Hub Network Demo Day. As I mentioned in my COCO Pitch Night 2018 debrief, I left kicking myself for missing out on previous pitch nights.

There’s nothing quite like watching passionate entrepreneurs, immensely qualified people who’ve in some cases traded cushy jobs for against-odds crusades, pour their hearts out in front of dozens of strangers. I’m looking forward to more like this in the months ahead.

Free skill-building workshops

I’m fairly sure they have a more fashionable name internally, but I’m not sure what else to call them. These low(er)-key events are designed for specific subsets of COCO’s membership: Coffee and Closers for business development types, WordPress Wednesdays for people who create with WordPress for a living (ahem).

I’ve come across a few impromptu, open-door events too – one about Apple development tools a couple weeks back, for instance. I’m not an Apple guy, but it’s nice to know I could learn something new simply by stumbling into the wrong room here.

That’s all I’ve got. How do you feel about coworking – worth the investment, or overblown coffee shop alternative?