Why Work From Home When You Can Co-Work?

Rena Tom is so multi-talented I'm not even sure what job description to give her. She is a jewelry designer and graphic designer, she opened the amazing Rare Device in Brooklyn and then partnered with artist Lisa Congdon to open a San Francisco branch, she's a business strategist whose blog is an essential read for anyone in creative fields (especially those who are self-employed), and she's the Market Editor of the fabulous Anthology Magazine. It is only natural, then, that Rena founded Makeshift Society, "San Francisco's first coworking space/clubhouse for creative freelancers." It is a stylish, light-filled space full of books and tools and craft materials, it's a perfect venue for classes and seminars and mixers, and it's "an organization for those who crave camaraderie to fuel their creativity." Rena has generously taken time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about the beauty of co-working..

Is there a common factor that leads people to utilize a coworking space, such as simply not having space at home, lack of space/money for all the resources they might need, or needing a workspace separate from family?

It varies quite a bit, actually. In San Francisco, space is certainly a concern. A lot of our members have roommates or families, and they find they can't get work done at home. Some of our members are just intrigued by what we offer, and choose to work a day a week with us, just to stay connected with the community.

Did you primarily work from home before founding Makeshift Society, and do you primarily work from the clubhouse now? If so, how do you feel this has changed your homelife and family dynamic?

It's funny; I work every day at Makeshift and I haven't done such a traditional "commute" since I had a full-time job! I used to work at home, and then when we got a nanny for my son, I found I still couldn't get anything done there, so I rented space at Workshop during the days. I got lonely, though, and that led to Makeshift.

I still work at home, but after Ivo goes to bed. The biggest change is that he knows I do work at an office and is pretty nonchalant about me leaving the house, and even being away on business trips. Work, for him, is a natural thing for mom to go do, and not something he gets mad at me for taking up what he thinks of as his playtime.

I loved what you said in your TYPO presentation: "Where you work can influence not only how you work, but who you are. Modern workers, who are always on, still need to learn how to be. If we provide different kinds of spaces so that at any given moment you can choose to sit by yourself at a desk, on a couch with one other person, in a conference room with a group, or coffee shop-style at a communal table, that can help shape the texture and the output of your day." This, to me, is one of the major advantages a coworking space has over working-from-home: most of us who work from home have to shoehorn the work into the home, using the kitchen table as desk or the living room as office. There's usually only one less-than-ideal spot for working, rather than many options! Do you see people cycle through your various workspace options throughout the day? Have you noticed that the couch is conducive to different types of work than, say, the communal table?

I really think people choose where they sit quite carefully, and some people do end up moving around. Soft surfaces lead to slumping and casual activities (reading, texting, checking Facebook, napping) a little more than the folks who need a table (typing, using a tablet and stylus, etc). Round tables and couches lead to intimate collaboration, whereas people head to head at the desks are doing intense work on the same project but without needing to talk to each other.

If you're visiting somewhere without coworking options, what are your favorite types of places to gain camaraderie to fuel creativity and the proximity that can stimulate productivity?

I tend to default to a cafe' when I'm out of town, or sometimes the library. Actually, just being somewhere new (a hotel, a friend's house) is enough to spark different kinds of work, for me! I focus more on my work itself when I'm on the computer, but then disengage more fully and enjoy random encounters at restaurants and parties more.

In your TYPO presentation you also said, "If you normally work at home, coming in to sit with other people is a deliberate act - of spending money on a membership, of putting pants on that day and getting out of the house, of doing what you said you'd do." How crucial do you feel this getting-out-of-the-house factor is for your members' creativity, productivity, and general well-being?

I really think this is the main reason for joining. The social club aspect of what we do can't be overlooked. Some members save specific kinds of work to do when they're at the clubhouse, work they can't get done anywhere else. Others tell me they missed coming in during their weeks away, even if it was for a vacation!

I like to watch House Hunters when I'm on the elliptical machine at the gym, and I've noticed that so many people these days have "Home Office" on their must-have list. How does membership at a coworking space such as Makeshift Society compare to the cost of renting/buying a home with essentially an extra bedroom? What other financial burdens (high-speed internet, etc) can a membership take care of?

I think that varies so much around the country that I'm hesitant to try to answer it. I can tell you that splitting costs is almost always a good idea, though. When you spend on a membership, you are paying for "desk space" but also the desk and chair itself, the utilities, office equipment, food and drink in some instances, someone on staff to answer questions and make sure the bathroom's stocked with TP, and networking with the other members, which is the true intangible. Yes, you may have to pay for parking and gas, but a surprising lot of our members are car-free, which also keeps the costs down.

Thanks so much, Rena, and thanks to @makeshiftsoc for the pretty pictures!

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About the Author

Tess Wilson is a floral designer, embroiderer, and regular contributor to Apartment Therapy, and has been known to make cakes on occasion. She lives in a little house with a big garden.
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