Coworking – where freelancers join forces and share office space – has made work fun again. Prosecco with that conference call, anyone?
Imagine a workplace where you can have a glass of wine at your desk, flirt openly with your workmates without fear of an industrial tribunal, and go out for a drinky lunch and never come back without even having to phone in to explain. No, it’s not Mad Men or Fleet Street journalism in the 80s, it’s coworking, the new way of doing your business that’s sweeping the world.
In the olden days, you either had a job and went to your office, you were unemployed and watched Homes Under the Hammer from your bed, or you freelanced, doing your work in your pyjamas, spending your lunch hour with Loose Women and over-conversing every time you went to the shop as it was your only human contact of the day. You’d also probably find any excuse not to get on with your work: a load of whites to wash, a bit of light Hoovering…
With coworking, if it’s done right, you get all the benefits of working in an office (camaraderie, office parties, drinks on Friday, birthdays, people to bounce ideas around with) and none of the downsides (office politics, bosses, ugly corporate surroundings).
But that ‘if it’s done right’ is key. Walk into some coworking spaces – and they are everywhere these days, especially in the cooler neighbourhoods of cooler towns – and you might as well be in a school library or a regular coffee shop. No one talks or offers to make you a cup of tea, people fight over the best desks and there’s no more human contact than you’d get in the home office you set up in your back bedroom.
One place where it is done right is The Soho Collective, a three-floor space above Ed’s Diner at the end of Old Compton Street. From its funky graffiti picture of the Queen on the door and the three buzzers ‘top’, ‘bottom’ and ‘versatile’, The Soho Collective represents the area it serves: it’s fun, cool and filled with people who are either gay or extremely gay-friendly.
Gay journalists, gay events companies, gay PRs, stylists, architects and creative recruitment companies all share the space, naturally networking and sharing leads over coffee or even a prosecco if it’s appropriate. And if it’s Friday, it will often end up in the bar on the first floor, with huge windows looking all the way down Old Compton Street, with everyone’s friends joining in.
“I think people expect more from their working environment now,” says Eric Charge, one of three gay men behind The Soho Collective. They were actually just looking for somewhere to work but came into the gorgeous and iconic building and decided they had to have it so instead of an office for three, they wound up with an office for 30-plus.
“If you go to the headquarters of companies like Google or Facebook, they want to keep their people happy, so they make an environment that’s relaxed and fun and inspiring. We’re just trying to do the same for freelancers.”
And you can take a permanent membership, where you get keys for 24/7 access and can use the event space for your own purposes, or you can just buy a bunch of days and use them as you go, which makes it super flexible and penny-pricewise.
The Soho Collective has also become a bit of a community hub, holding legendary Pride parties and hosting meetings for everyone from women’s groups to gay start-ups.
“Coworking is a brilliant way of taking control of your career without the isolation that you get working from home,” says Eric, who works in finance. “Plus you get the networking, inspiration from people in different fields, IT support and the central London W1 address. And if it all ends in a gay party on a Friday, then so much the better.”