If you work in a smaller business, especially if you are a one-man band, then there can be a feeling of loneliness, to say the least. Unlike larger companies where you can get together with peers at the water cooler and chew the fat, gossip or have a good moan when you are self-employed it can seem as though the world is against you.

There is though a possible solution on the horizon – Co-working.

Although by no means a new idea, co-working has really taken off recently, especially since the economic crash. Attractive particularly to service and professional companies, a co-working organisation provides the ideal base for the ambitious business.

In 2008 a sea change occurred in the professional working world, whereas before highly experienced and qualified people could pick and choose work, the landscape suddenly shifted and now people tend to be more creative with the way they view their career. Self-employment in the UK is now at an all-time high and in the US the Bureau of Labour Statistics has estimated that there will be 65 million temps, freelancers and contractors in the marketplace. As the number of solo entrepreneurs increases so does the amount of serviced space to house them.

Although it can be based on a location, the chief benefit and generally the main purpose is to provide a sense of community and shared purpose whilst retaining the businesses individuality.

Co-working started in the mid-noughties in the States and spread quickly around the world and the UK is now said to have become the second biggest user of co-working space.

So what exactly is co-working? Although there are many companies that will sell you a rented office such as Regus, what makes a co-working set up different is that it will often seek to provide a business ecosystem. This means that an organisation will be set up with the aim of providing space for similar, but complementary business or to develop a business community in a particular place.

Good examples of these are the many business incubator setups that have been started by organisations such as universities and councils in the UK. These are designed as ways of stimulating an economy for a particular area of town or of filling skills gaps seen as lacking in the vicinity such as web and digital skills. There are of course other types of co-working organisations from collectives, non-profits and the usual private company form.

Imagine a creative business, say an advertising account manager who works on his own. A creative co-working community could include designers, digital artists, photographers, copywriters and many more individual small enterprises that could be brought in to work on his project at short notice. This flexibility is one of the key attractions of the co-working situation. When skills aren’t needed then they don’t get paid for, which means that commitments and overheads are kept to a minimum.

A co-working space looks ostensibly just like a normal large company office. The best locations have a good mix of different professionals providing complimentary services and will have business grade infrastructure, often otherwise unaffordable for the smaller businesses. They will include break out areas, professional meeting rooms and of course the all-important water cooler.

More importantly, though they will also house a shared culture of entrepreneurship and this backup and support system is seen as one of the most valuable assets for a smaller business seeking to survive. Being able to informally talk over issues or get input into problems is something that new starts lack if they work entirely from their kitchen tables. It’s important to recognise the networking opportunities that are generated as all people like to buy from people they know and trust.

Of course, co-working isn’t for everyone. If you’re expanding then moving into a place where you can only have one or two desks might not be right for you. Also, it’s important to remember that this is shared space, so you won’t be able to brand or customise your surroundings and after all, the reason you are self-employed is to be an individual and not work in a corporate environment.

That having been said co-working is highly affordable and provides an air of professionalism for firms. Users also report that having the ability to attend an office also helps them to fall into a more structured regime allowing them to concentrate on business rather than the attractions of daytime TV found at home.

Co-working has also been found to increase collaboration and creative thinking. In an annual survey conducted by Deskmag, people who work in co-working spaces were reported to be more productive, confident, and creative. Reports showed that 71% of people surveyed were more creative, 62% reported that their measure of work improved significantly, and 90% said they felt more confident when co-working. Additionally, 70% reported that they felt healthier than they did working in a traditional office setting.

Co-working may not be for you. But one of the benefits is that it is often possible to access the services on a monthly, weekly or daily rate meaning that you really can try before you buy.

If you are feeling alone and out of touch as a small business owner why not investigate the possibility of co-working, and if there isn’t a co-working organisation near you then you’ve found your next business opportunity!

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