I’m done with co-working spaces. I have found an alternative that is not only free but much better for getting stuff done. Want to know what are those places? Keep on reading…
What’s wrong with co-working spaces?
I have been working in co-working spaces for the last seven years. This gives me a good overview of how things have changed, especially post-COVID.
After leaving Madrid and becoming digital nomads, our first full-time co-working experience was TechHub Riga, in Latvia. Or was it Rooftop in Berlin? Anyway, TechHub was a very cool place, with plenty of space, and separate rooms for teams. I remember it being a quiet and lovely spot, where you could get immersed in your work without the annoying sound of notifications or people speaking around you.
The monthly subscription back then was 65 euros per month for a flex membership and around 90 (if I remember correctly) for a fixed seat. That was very affordable and made the decision of whether to work on a co-working space or not quite easy.
In seven years, things have changed a lot, and not for the better.
Co-workings have become ridiculously expensive
Co-working spaces have become super expensive these days. Even before COVID, places like Hubud in Bali asked for almost two hundred euros for a monthly subscription, just to have the privilege of working surrounded by monkeys trying to steal your laptop while you struggle with a poor wifi connection.
A couple of years later, two hundred euros has become a standard, even low-range price for a monthly subscription in a co-working space. That is not just abusive, but also unfair to the local communities. In Portugal, for reference, 25% of the population lives on the minimum wage, which is around 700 euros. A monthly subscription of 200 euros would be almost one-third of your salary. This is Europe. In places such as Thailand, locals simply can’t afford the privilege of working in such spaces reserved for tourists.
Recently, we have seen co-working spaces in Portugal asking for as much as 400 euros, sometimes more, for a fixed desk. Ridiculous.
Co-workings have become noisy and distracting environments
We tried three separate co-working spaces in Lisbon. The first one, Outsite, was the only one where the staff cared to keep the place quiet. Unfortunately, it’s a small place, so the lack of meeting rooms and the amount of people working there means I ended up having meetings on the street, sitting on the sidewalk, as close as possible to the wall to get good reception.
That said, I loved the fact that you could not speak or take calls inside (with the exception of the meeting rooms). It created a focused working environment. Just what you need to get some real work done.
We tried others, such as Escape, but it was noisy like a chicken coop. People taking calls and speaking loudly around you. If you just use the co-working to check your email or have a look at your real estate portfolio, that works for you I guess.
Next, we tried LACS, also in the Alcantara/Santos area. It seemed promising, mainly because it supposedly had a “Silent area”. Unfortunately, though, there were a lot of people taking calls and meeting there simply because they were too lazy to go outside to talk in one of the many available meeting spots.
Reminding people constantly to please keep it down is not just stressful, it also makes you look like an asshole.
One Italian guy just told me that he would try to talk quieter, but made it clear to me that he was simply not going to get out of the “Silent Area” to talk or take calls. Because, yeah, I’m an entitled millennial. Apparently, he needs a large screen for meetings (his words).
The better, free alternative to co-workings, public libraries
Last Saturday I returned from the LGBTQ+ pride parade in Santarem and shared a taxi with one of the organizers to get back home from the train station. We talked about co-working spaces, and he told me he was working at the local neighborhood’s library, because, why pay two hundred bucks for having people taking calls around you?
Miguel and I had indeed stopped by the building several times. It is a beautifully renovated place close to our apartment, and we had considered going there one day to see if we liked it.
I decided to try that place the very next Monday.
So I went there and, what a difference! The place was quiet. For real. Nobody taking calls, having a conversation in front of you, or speaking loudly at a meeting. There were only a bunch of students and academics absorbed in their studies. I was able to completely focus on my work, outside of my apartment, for the first time in months. The internet connection was quite decent, so I had no trouble using the tools I need on a daily basis.
The place has also a beautiful café with a terrace outside, so I have the perfect place to take calls if I need to. The first attempt at a videocall outside was a little bit of a mess, as the signal from the library was not so good, but later I realized the café has its own wifi that works just great.
Some days ago we just informed our current co-working that we won’t be renewing our subscription.
Some reasons why libraries are better than co-working spaces
Well, first of all, because public libraries are free! Those two bucks we were paying each is 400 euros, a non-trivial amount of money to save every month.
But above all, it liberates me from the disrespectful folk taking calls, the social media manager with her constant Slack, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram notifications (because she needs that for work, and obviously asking her to put on her headphones is rude), the guys at the next table talking loud, and the dog sniffing around my backpack (don’t you like animals? what’s your problem?).
A library is a place where you are supposed to be quiet. Full stop. It’s socially accepted. I don’t need to justify that I need to focus on something important, implore people to please please be silent, or feel bad about it.
And if I need to talk, there’s a great place where I can enjoy tea while I meet my colleagues.
What about the other stuff that you do in co-working spaces?
This is not the first time we try a library as an alternative for co-working spaces. Last summer, in Antalya, we were unable to find and appropriate co-working. There were simply none to be found in the city center, and the ones in the outskirts of the city were long-term office rental services for local businesses. Fortunately, we found this amazing library, and were able to work wonderfully there.
Initially, we were worried about not being able to enjoy all the other alleged benefits of co-working spaces, such as networking, getting to know the local startup scene, etc.
Then we realized that we weren’t really into any of that. When you have work to do, you can’t waste your time having a coffee to make connections with fellow entrepreneurs. You have a business to manage.
And while it is true that I met one of my best friends in a co-working in Sofia, you can meet awesome people anywhere, in a co-working space, while hiking, or at the café of a public library.
So at least for me, co-workings are over. As long as I can find a good public library around (and you can find them everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Kuching), you’ll find me working there. Perhaps I am getting old(er?), but in the post-COVID world, where people don’t understand the concept of sharing a space (versus owning one) and being respectful with others using it, being able to concentrate on your work is becoming increasingly difficult.
Good riddance, co-workings! I’ll try not to hit the door on my way out.