To our collective attention span and the thoughtful, expressive letter add one more casualty of the networked world: the self-employed writer quietly toiling alone in a cafe or cabin. Once happy, or at least mildly appreciative, to be left alone with their thoughts, freelance journalists are increasingly succumbing to the need to be plugged in to others. Enter the trend of coworking, where workers pay a fee to share office space with the like-minded and similarly employed. Most often noted for acting as startup incubators, cowork spaces have proliferated in American cities and creative professionals who typically worked alone have jumped on board.
Don Ball, a founding partner at CoCo (Collaborative and Coworking Space) with locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., sees the rise in coworking as a product of historical changes in the journalism industry and the increased ease of collaborating virtually due to the rise in mobile devices. He also sees the need for a good, robust network and a pipeline of projects, not just for freelance writers and content specialists, but also for CoCo’s other members, which include business consultants, tech startups and social enterprises.
The trend may have been helped by the recession—which pushed more companies to rely heavily on freelance work—and the normalization of telecommuting. A forecast compiled by the International Data Corporation shows that mobile workers in the U.S., Canada and Latin America will grow to 212.1 million in 2015, a steep increase from 182.5 million in 2010.
Ball points out that the real value of coworking isn’t in fancy chairs or office amenities, but in the connections made. “There’s that old adage that people do business with people they like, and the whole liking thing takes place pretty quickly in this environment,” he says. In his experience, this leads to a speedy networking process he calls ‘accelerated serendipity,’ which is a lot less stilted than calling people on the phone, sending cold emails or hoping to run into people at conferences.
PARISOMA in San Francisco is a coworking space heavily centered on information technology, but project manager Raphael Sisa says journalists occasionally work alongside web designers and programmers. In fact, it’s a great place for tech writers who need to have their finger on the pulse of the industry. “A lot of companies working here are trying to define that edge and push it,” he explains, and coworking at PARISOMA allows writers to be where things are happening. For example, the space hosts a monthly mixer series that looks at the future of different industries.
Laura Shin, who has a day job as the senior editor at online financial planning company LearnVest, spends some of her nights and weekends at Paragraph, a workspace for writers based in New York City. “I wanted a quiet space to work. I just like it that there are other writers there,” she said. She doesn’t talk to many people at the space, but she appreciates knowing she’s not the only one sacrificing her social life to type away on her laptop on evenings and weekends. Writer-centered coworking locations often organize member readings or even agent roundtables, but more heterogeneous coworking spaces have other benefits. When Shin visited the Hub, a noisy, social and very diverse coworking space in Vienna, Austria, she found two story ideas in two days; a personal finance story she assigned to a LearnVest blogger featuring an acquaintance from the Hub, and a story about a company run by another Hub coworker, picked up by a fellow writer at SmartPlanet, where Shin works as a contributing editor on a different beat. “[The Hub] had a really creative, friendly, social vibe,” Shin recalled. “If I lived in Vienna, I would constantly be meeting people I could write about.”
Another benefit to networking at cowork spaces is insight into your own business and customers, something freelancers have a harder time getting their hands on than most professionals. Ghostwriter and editor Jocelyn Kerr, who works at Houston-based coworking space CoInside once or twice a month, began offering marketing services after hearing from CoInside members that there was a need for it. Although she didn’t get much business from within the coworking space itself, she took those insights to her regular clients and had great results. “I had done some email blasts and marketing collateral in the past, so I just started offering that and I noticed I got a lot of response, much more than for my other services,” she said.
Photo courtesy of CoCo Collaborative.