Recreate the Vibe of Your Old Co-Working Space at Home

At some point in 2019, I decided it was time to find an office space after watching someone’s laptop stolen right in front of my eyes while working out of a local coffee shop. That incident launched my stint as a member of a co-working space.

Before the pandemic hit, the Bay Area was full of modern, bright, stylish co-working spaces aimed at nearly every type of worker or freelancer.

Back then, co-working spaces offered a welcome hybrid for those without full-time jobs: all the fun of a workspace, none of the bullshit the office often comes with. For a while, three days out of five, I loved dressing in nice clothes and commuting (well after rush hour) to a pretty space in downtown San Francisco, where the hum of productivity and the veneer of solidarity soothed and cocooned me as I went about my business.

But now, it’s 2020, and many freelancers around me mourn the loss of their chosen shared offices — and even those who had been going into regular office spaces miss the structure and productive vibes that came with them. When shelter-in-place mandates first swept through California back in March, The Wing, The Assembly, the WeWorks, and the rest of the co-working spaces — which made up a thriving business sector in the Bay — closed their doors temporarily. Some of them aren’t coming back; when the Assembly, a beloved Mission co-working and wellness space, recently announced its closure, spirits were low. “Having a co-working space offered a sense of community and camaraderie, and I loved the pretty interior design,” former co-working “colleague” Kelsey Mulvey recently told me. (She has since launched a newsletter to keep up with fellow freelancers.) Sphere, a new-ish atmospheric coworking space in Oakland, closed permanently too, pivoted to virtual co-working, whatever that means. The Wing — which has been entangled in allegations of racism and staff mistreatment — is on pause, with an uncertain future.

The pandemic has forced us to retreat from the outside world and our former gathering places and therefore led to some new modes of living our entire lives from home, baking bakery-grade bread in our kitchens and working out with the world’s best yoga teachers in our bedrooms. So what about work? Is there a way to co-work-if your WFH environment? What makes a co-working space so comfortable, inspiring, and fun, from a user experience standpoint? And is it possible to recreate that environment at home? After talking to some local experts, a few tricks began to emerge. Follow these steps (I know I will!) to transform a meh WFH situation into an optimal recreation of the co-working good ole’ days.

Keep the sitting plan flexible

Don’t get stuck at your desk all day. “Seating is important — but so is movement,” says Molly Goodson, the Assembly’s co-founder. “We designed the Assembly to have lots of different types of seating options with the hopes that no one would stay in one place too long,” Goodson recommends having one nicely set up area for deep, focused work, but diversifying with locations for different tasks throughout the day. “Maybe it’s coffee and checking email in one chair, while another seat is designated for responses.” Maggie Spicer, an intuitive design specialist and founder of Whisk, a brand strategy, and interior agency, also recommends having a large desk or kitchen table as an anchor, and planning out a few more seating areas throughout the house, switching to more cushy seat midday.

Insist on bookending rituals

One of the beauties of a co-working space is the fact you must show up and leave, which frames work hours in concrete boundaries. Even though we’re not going to many places these days, you can still imitate your arrival and departure at work in order to get in the right headspace.

“There’s a real danger of work bleeding into everything, which we were seeing a lot of at the start of shelter-in-place, and only contributed to this collective sense of exhaustion and dread,” says Goodson. “At a certain designated time, light a favorite candle (try PF Candle Co’s Teakwood & Tobacco for the Assembly signature scent) to signify to yourself that you’re done.” To start the day nicely, Spicer recommends some light breathwork with Frequency Mind, a new website that live streams breathwork sessions.

Invest in affordable upgrades

Plush blankets? Fluffy pillows? Fresh flowers? It’s time to bring those co-working staples into the home. These are small, achievable items that inevitably give the work environment a thoughtful, intentional touch. “A small plant is a good addition to any work setup,” Goodson suggests. Other upgrades include “a mug that puts a smile on your face, ideally from somewhere you love. A candle that chills you out. A little treat like a refreshing facial mist.” Many co-working spaces used to offer fitness classes; whip out that yoga mat and set it in the corner, alongside yoga blocks and a water bottle. Your stretch break awaits.

Consider the sound

The best part about a good co-working space just might be a well-curated playlist. Get your hands on a few by the Assembly (Goodson recommends this one to relax, this one to reflect, or this indie rock playlist for a good pick-me-up), or this one by the Wing. And if it’s casual hum and chatter you’re after, someone recently recommended Coffitivity to me, a website that offers ambient sounds of coffee shops, lunch breaks, and offices. It may sound weird, but the gentle noises did wonders for my productivity.

Go ahead, have a snacking station

Aimless trips to the fridge aren’t glamorous. A snacking and hydrating station is. Spicer suggests setting up a corner with fresh flavored water, adaptogenic tea, and healthy snacks, just like a chic co-working space might have (“In the afternoon, swap the water’s flavor!” she says). Arrange everything nicely, taking extra care of space’s only and most valued customer — yourself. Having a designated station, possibly in the kitchen, also helps with movement. “I like to keep water in a smaller vessel so I’m forced to get up and refill it,” Goodson adds. “Move your legs and change perspectives, which is possible in even the smallest space.”

Don’t forget about those co-workers

Despite all the pros of being home all day (has anyone actually put on real pants since March?), human connection is still invaluable. Working alone doesn’t mean neglecting this important aspect of a communal space. “The best thing you can do is free: Check in with someone you miss every day,” Goodson says. “Remember to talk to real people — take real breaks and call a friend for a few minutes. Text someone and see if they can chat for 5–15 minutes.” If friends live nearby, do as you would at a co-working space and meet them for lunch outside. Spicer recommends having a FaceTime lunch with a friend or setting regular check-ins or mini-celebrations, remotely. “Anything to invite the spirit of community and connectivity.”

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