What is Coworking? It is a way to stay connected

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes for the Freelancers Union Blog about the importance of “staying connected” to other people.  “[F]reelancers may be particularly vulnerable to feeling disconnected and lonely.” [2]  As independent workers, they are also responsible for maintaining their own well-being.

Sensei Seldon gives three key things to do to sustain an independent career:

  1. Network with others
  2.  Join virtual communities
  3. Take care of your body

On the third point, she equates well-being with “self-care”, though I view the latter to be mostly cosmetic, while the latter is essential.  Exercise, rest, eat right.  You know it’s important, and Seldon is correct that your work will suffer if you don’t.  Budget time and effort to keep your own physiological and psychological infrastructure in shape.

The second point is, of course, not limited to independent workers. Many, if not most, workers—and basically everybody–are digitally connected in many ways. Independent workers may find valuable connections beyond direct work activities.

However, experience shows that digital communities are not enough.  People need other people, face to face.  So item number one is “network with others”—in person.

Historically, one of the key reasons contemporary coworking emerged is that independent workers can find a community of like-minded workers.  It is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas [1].

This is all good advice, and not just for independent workers.

I thing Sensei Seldon leaves out another critical principle. “Self care” is important, but the road to happiness is caring for others.  (Actually, we know Seldon hereself understands this:  see here and here)

Anyone with kids or elders or a family in general knows this.  Why is work-life balance a problem?  Because work is necessary but takes time away from what really matters, and what really matters and makes us happy.

So–when  looking for community and self care, I say aim to help take care of each other, not just yourself.  And this is certainly something that a coworking community can, and should foster.


  1. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  2. Tyra Seldon, 3 ways to stay connected for emotional and physical well-being, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/04/23/3-ways-to-maintain-your-emotional-and-physical-well-being/

 

What is Coworking? It’s Hard To Have Plants

Just in time for Spring, Geoff Gohlke writes in the Freelancers Union Blog about “7 plants that will brighten your workspace and boost your productivity” [1]/

OK, first of all, I love plants, indoors and out.  And it’s a great idea to have some plants around your workspace.  It’s a good idea for Freelancers and, I believer, for everyone.  There is nothing specifically freelancy about this suggestion.

His list of plants is scarcely new.  These old favorites have been on desks and windowsills for a generation or more.  It’s a good selection, though anyone who knows botany knows that these are nothing compared to a real plantscape, let alone a natural ecosystem.  But anything is better than nothing.  (And go outside where there are plants as much as you can, anyway.

So, yeah.  Plants are good.  Personally, I don’t think you need a lot of explanation or justification for wanting to be surrounded by plants.

But Gohlke wants to make a case.

So he tells us that “botanicals” (which seems like a rather insulting taxon-ist word–are we “zoologicals”?) aren’t just pretty, “they can also freshen up the air and boost your productivity”.  That sounds great.  And, sure, plants do filter the air, though a couple of potted plants on a desk don’t process all that much air.

“Boost your productivity”?  What does that even mean?  Compared to what?  He gives no evidence for this claim.  But, as I said, plants are good regardless of alleged productivity boosts.

Gohlke’s discussion suggests a couple of other points that I’d like to pull out.

First, he discusses the rudiments of caring for these plants, which means light and water. These standard desk plants are popular because they can stand and/or prefer low light, and do not require a lot of water, and generally can survive periods of neglect.  Fussy, they are not.

Unstated in this discussion is the fact that you still must take care of these plants, however forgiving they may be.  My own view is that part of the benefit of having living “botanicals” in your space is the psychological benefit from taking responsibility and tending them over the long, slow life of a plant.  Pay attention to them, and they will thrive.  That feels good.

Second, Gohlke makes some unstated assumptions about working conditions that are worth examining.  He imagines that  “you have a well-lit corner in your apartment or a windowless room,” but he definitely assumes that you have “your workspace”.  While he mentions “digital nomads”, it seems clear that plants are for a place that you “own”, even if you wander a lot.

You don’t carry around your plants, nor do you set them around your open plan work table that you rent by the hour.

Which suggests that, while a coworking space might have plants (and really nice ones also have gardens), coworkers generally don’t have a permanent space to put plants in.

So this article is for Freelancers, but not particularly applicable to Freelancers who Cowork.  You really have to have at least a permanent desk before you can have plants.  It isn’t easy to have plants when you cowork.

And this is certainly a downside of coworking for me.


  1. Geoff Gohlke, 7 plants that will brighten your workspace and boost your productivity, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/03/28/best-indoor-plants-for-productive-workspace/

 

What is Coworking? It Can Be A Place For Freelancers To Help Each Other

Apparently in recognition of Women’s History Month, Ariane Hunter writes about “9 ways freelance women can help each other get ahead” [1].

OK, I’d like to know about this.

First of all, I was totally baffled by Hunter’s assertion that stupid men “think that women are competitive, jealous of each other, and gossipy”.  She thinks women are more likely to think “when she wins, we all win”.

For someone who has spent decades fighting stupid stereotypes about women being “nurturing” and “soft” and otherwise not suitable for real work and business, I’m simply floored by Hunter’s starting point.  She repeats the patriarchal stereotypes backwards, as if this were a significant discovery.

Look, people are capable of behaving many ways, the question is what is the best way to act.  So let’s check out her nine ways.

The first thing to say is that her list is a perfectly reasonable set of collaborative, mutually helpful behaviors—for anyone.  I like the list, but I don’t see anything particularly female of feminine about them.

Share, connect, listen, say positive things, do business with good people.  These are great things to do.

Furthermore, these are great things for freelancers to do with and for other freelancers the know.  All independent workers face loneliness and isolation, so the connection and generous attention of other freelancers is a powerful good.

So I think you could change this article to be 9 ways freelancers women can help each other get ahead”.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I have read that article many times.

There is one thing that does stand out to me, though.  Many of these behaviors could have very different interpretation and reception when the giver and receiver are male or female.  For example, unsolicited sharing and connecting might have a totally different feel when an older man is “connecting” or “sharing” with younger women (or vice versa).  I’m sorry to have to say it, but it may be easier for women to help each other than for workers in general to help other workers.

On a more positive note, a coworking community is actually a much safer space for these kinds of positive interactions between workers. A coworking community is a group of “like-minded peers”, with similar interests and relatively little difference in social power and status.  So, inside a coworking space there are expectations that the interactions will be positive and supportive, and that “when one succeeds, we all succeed.”

From this point of view, this is one of the most important benefits of joining a coworking community. A coworking space can be a place were everyone can and do help each other, all the time, regardless of gender.

No wonder coworking makes workers happy.


  1. Ariane Hunter, 9 ways freelance women can help each other get ahead, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/03/13/9-ways-freelance-women-can-help-each-other-get-ahead/

Affordable Freelancing

Sensei Tyra Seldon discusses a new report from Commercial Café which surveys the cost of freelancing in various cities.  The basic idea is to calculate the base cost of renting an apartment and an office, and take a national average $38 hour charging, estimate how many hours per week is needed in different cities.  (The logic here is that freelancers can live anywhere, while charging national rates.  Your mileage may differ.)

The results are not particularly surprising, in line with what we already know of relative costs of living.  But the “hours per week” metric is revealing:  the most expensive locations require 100 hours per week or more (at the nominal $38/hour) to just get by [1].  Personally, I don’t think that’s feasible.

Sensei Seldon points out that this kind of calculation is an economic driver for “co-living” arrangements  [2]. Or, I’d say, moving out of the city.

I don’t have precise statistics at hand, but a back of the envelope calculation indicates that even the cheapest major city are more expensive than living in a small town or small city.  Assuming you can really charge NYC or Bay Area rates while living in a small city, my calculations say you can get the best space in town (with a yard for pets, kids, and a garden!) at about 25-30 hours per week.

It may not be as “exciting” as the big city, in all the unnamable ways that people like living in major urbs.  But there is an affordable opportunity.  And if you have connections to family and/or a major University, then this can be a quality lifestyle.

So, to the degree that Freelancing actually lets you actually live out here in the hinterland, and still have a good career, then it is a very interesting New Way of Work indeed.


  1. Diana Sabau, Your Work Week Could Be 10 Hours Shorter in Dallas or Houston – What’s it Like to Live and Work as a Freelancer in These US Cities?, in Commercial Cafe. 2018. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/your-work-week-could-be-10-hours-shorter-in-dallas-or-houston-whats-it-like-to-live-and-work-as-a-freelancer-in-these-us-cities/
  2. Tyra Seldon, The best cities for freelancers who want affordability, in Freelancers Union blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/12/10/the-best-cities-for-freelancers-who-want-affordability/

Diversity in the Gig Economy?

Patrick Llewellyn of 99designs writes at Entrepreneur about “How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity” [1].  In particular, he is referring to online platforms which, he says, “create a truly level playing field irrespective of location, gender, age or background”.

He touts the many benefits to businesses (thinking mainly of web design businesses like his own 99designs), which can find (low cost) talent from all over the globe.  He’s particularly excited by the availability of talent from every geographic location. Online platforms certainly make it way easier to hire contractors far away from your home office.

Llewellyn seems to believe that this is good for workers.  In general, online gigging is “a unique space where the world’s best talent can connect both with each other to exchange ideas and share feedback,” he says.  He views gig workers as “Valuing flexibility over more traditional benefits”, which is a “valid choice.”

Finally, the level playing field is especially important for workers who live far from the centers of commerce and media.  (This, I suppose, is another “valid choice”.)

“No skilled worker should be disadvantaged because of where they were born or where they live.”


This best of all possible worlds bears little resemblance to the actual gig economy.

First of all, much if not most of the “gig economy” is not high skilled labor, but trivial piecework for pennies.  And much, if not most, is not online work, even if the labor market is digitized.  Llewellyn is thinking about and talking about a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the overall gig economy.

Second, he’s rather hazy on what “diversity” means.  He’s primarily thinking of geographical location, which seems to stand in for cultural diversity.  But there are lots of other kinds of diversity to think about, especially gender racial, and ethnic backgrounds—and age. The online contracting workforce is certainly international, but it’s not clear that it is much different in any other way. And there certainly is no evidences that it operates as a level playing field.

Third, he offers not one shred of evidence that such geographic diversity is actually beneficial even to the business.  I’m assuming that he’s thinking of digital collaborations (in English).  Working across time zones with people who never meet in person can be challenging.  I believe it can work well, at least in some cases. But that doesn’t mean its good for all jobs, and there is good reason to think twice about this kind of outsourcing.

Finally, I’ll note that the article is entirely from the point of view of the business. (This is fair, as it appears in Entrepreneur.)  Hiring gig workers via an online platform is basically outsourcing to temp workers from overseas. This may be good for the business, and maybe even for some workers, but is hardly a great thing for most workers.

Let’s put the best spin on Llewellyn’s point:  he’s encouraging employers and freelancers to embrace the opportunity to work with “people who aren’t necessarily like you.”  That’s a good idea, but you scarcely need to outsource through digital share cropping to accomplish that goal.  There are plenty of people “not necessarily like you” right where you live.


  1. Patrick Llewellyn, How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity, in Entrepreneur. 2018. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/323253