If you work from home and miss the hustle and bustle of the office, the chance to catch up on the news or the latest episode of Downton, then co-working could be the answer.

There’s been an explosion of collaborative work spaces in recent years. Co-working spaces provide freelancers and other lone workers the opportunity to rent desk space as often as they need it.

There can be benefits to  co-working ; Spaces provide a sense of community for lone workers, networking opportunities and the chance to collaborate with other businesses as well as the usual office facilities. Most spaces also provide meeting rooms, giving a professional workplace to meet with clients.

Co-working has evolved from just a handful of spaces in the 90s, to over 2,500 worldwide today. By March 2007, the term co-working had become a trend on Google’s database.

It’s now a part of life for more than 100,000 workers worldwide. For a monthly fee or, sometimes, an ad-hoc fee, you get desk space, wi-fi, access to meeting rooms, printing and scanning facilities, and even free tea and coffee.

Emma Yankey, who works as a freelance Virtual Assistant for Time Etc, began using a co-working space a few years ago when she was providing VA services to a client in Dubai.

“Working at home I found I was missing out on the social and networking aspects of work that you get when working in an office,” explains Emma.

“Working at home is great, but you can become very isolated and it’s hard to keep up-to-date on what’s going on in the world when you just have a lap-top for company.”

Emma found co-working gave her the chance to have business conversations and share best practice with other co-workers. “The networking events are a really important aspect of co-working. We’d meet up in the pub or a café and the barriers would come down. This meant I could really begin to get to know the people I was working alongside.”

But it’s not all fun, fun, fun. Emma says that from time to time, co-workers would join who were disrespectful of voice levels or perhaps a little too interested in the business of others. Also, it can be difficult to get peace and quiet to make an important phone call, as meeting rooms can often get booked.

Creating communities

There’s more to co-working than just desk space, says Quentin Johns, head of business development, Impact Hub, Westminster, who describes his spaces as ‘collaborative’. “We create intentional communities. All of the businesses in our Westminster Hub have environmental or social ambitions at their core of their business plan,” he explains.

The first Impact Hub was formed in 2005, in Islington, North London. It was born out of the need for work space and resources for a number of recent graduate friends, who were artists, entrepreneurs and activists. “As well as resources such as printer ink, they begun to share contacts and learnings and a peer-to-peer network evolved,” explains Johns.

Impact Hub now has 8,000 global members and 72% of those recently reported that they’d made meaningful collaborations while using the spaces. When the Westminster members were questioned, 39% reported that collaborations had come out of eves dropping on conversations – something that you can’t do when you’re working alone at the kitchen table.

As well as offering a ‘soft’ support network, like meditation for stressed-out workers, co-working spaces can often act as an information resource and help to facilitate funding.

Third Door, takes the co-working idea a step further, by adding in childcare. The workhub and nursery, based in West London, was founded by Shazia Mustafa when she found she wanted to spend time with her child, but continue working. “I discovered that it was difficult to work with a child at home, and I’d seen this model working in the US and realised there was a gap in the market here,” explains Shazia.

Third Door, the first of its kind in the UK, was set up in May 2010 to provide a ‘home from home’ environment for parents and their children. “It helps to solve the work/life balance problem of professional parents,” she adds. “We have an older demographic than some of the other hubs and attract a wide range of people too. We have everyone from a medical editor through to somebody who makes porridge.”

And because of the way that parents are invoiced, Third Door’s workers are able to claim childcare as an allowable expense, not something that can normally be done.

Putting something back

Many co-working spaces are set up to bring positive benefits to local communities too. For example, each Impact Hub is locally owned and managed with an emphasis on putting something back into the local community. “We use local caterers and suppliers and local enterprise where we can. We also host 560 social entrepreneurs in our building. They all need lunch which must have an impact on the local economy, too”, says Quentin Johns.