Beyond Office Space: Are Coffee Shops or Coworking Spaces For You?

March 4, 2015

In the not-so-distant past, freelancers and other “office-less” workers had few options when it came to office space. But these days, that’s all changing, thanks to dramatic growth in the number of workers who identify as freelancers.

Today, nearly one in three U.S. workers is a freelancer, according to research conducted by Edelman Berland and commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk. As the firm’s “Freelancing in America” report definitively states:

“Gone are the days of the traditional 9-to-5. We’re entering a new era of work – project-based, independent, exciting, potentially risky, and rich with opportunities.”

So let’s say you’re one of these 53 million Americans. Where should you set up shop without the traditional employer-provided desk? Try on each of the following options to see which one will work best for you and your business needs:

Coffee Shops

Coffee shops are one of the easiest places for freelancers to set up shop – all you need to take advantage of this space is a laptop and a few bucks for a beverage.

That said, there’s a reason many cafes are moving away from offering wifi for freelancers, as mobile workers have developed a reputation as being squatters who take up tables that could be used to seat additional paying guests.

If you choose to make a coffee shop your “home office away from home,” keep the following etiquette tips in mind:

Make a purchase at least once an hour. If you’re taking up a table, you need to be paying for that privilege. Spending $5 on a drink or snack every time you visit is still far cheaper than renting traditional office space. Work at off-peak times. Want to really endear yourself to your coffee shop hosts? Come in outside of normal meal rush hours (typically 7:00-9:00am for breakfast and 11:00-1:00 for lunch) to free up tables for dining guests. Buddy up. See another freelancer working at your favorite coffee shop? Instead of filling up two tables, introduce yourself and ask to share the space. The shop owners will appreciate it, and you never know who you’ll meet!


If you aren’t comfortable taking up retail space at a coffee shop, you may be able to find a freelancing home at your local library. Many library branches offer free wifi service, as well as banks of computers you can use if you don’t have your own.

That said, libraries aren’t an ideal option if your business requires you to make frequent calls, if you need a secure internet connection for your freelancing activities, or if you aren’t comfortable in the close quarters of many library work rooms. If these factors aren’t an issue for you, though, you’ll enjoy the free pricing (no pressure to buy coffee here!) and the easy access to reference materials and trained librarians.

Coworking Spaces

Coffee shop work is a great way to change up your environment on a short-term, temporary basis, but you’ll find it both uncomfortable and expensive to make these cafes your home base eight hours a day, five days a week.

If you’re looking for something more permanent, consider coworking spaces. These group offices – found in nearly every major U.S. and Canadian city – offer open or reserved desks, in addition to communal services such as internet access, printing privileges and coffee. As an added bonus, the social aspects of these communities represent great professional networking opportunities and can help eliminate the lack of office gossip many freelancers suffer from when going out on their own.

Find the coworking space nearest to you by searching the Coworking Wiki and Coworking Canada site, or by using office-lookup apps like Sharedesk or Cubefree. Not in the U.S. or Canada? Check out this growing map of worldwide co-working spaces to find one near you.

Executive Office Rentals

Similar to coworking spaces, executive office rentals give freelancers access to professional work spaces without signing restrictive commercial real estate leases. Where the two differ are in their amenities and structure:

Like coworking spaces, executive offices typically offer flexible rental arrangements based on days, weeks or months needed, preventing you from paying for space you aren’t using. Regus is the best known of these providers, though many smaller regional options exist in most cities.

Incubator and Accelerator Spaces

Local government bodies and business development agencies have a vested interest in encouraging the growth of young companies in their communities, as these startups represent the potential for new jobs and economic growth. As a result, many of them will offer what’s known as “incubator” or “accelerator” spaces at below market rates to help facilitate their growth.

These spaces won’t be a good fit for most solo freelancers, but they’re worth a look if you’re planning to expand your operation beyond yourself. Check with your local government for more information, but watch out for restrictions that may come along with your lease. It’s not uncommon for incubator tenants to be required to attend certain training sessions, commit to a specific lease length or meet other requirements in exchange for the discounted rent.

Traditional Commercial Real Estate

Traditional real estate isn’t usually the right fit for freelancers, given its high rental rates and restrictive leases, but you shouldn’t rule it out entirely – especially if you’re planning to grow your freelance services into a larger company with more employees.

If you do decide to go this route (or, if this is the only route available in your area), be sure to work with a broker you trust. Certain lease provisions, such as triple net leasing, which covers building common areas, can stick you with unexpected costs if you aren’t careful.

On-Site with Clients

Of course, depending on your freelancing arrangement, you may not find it necessary to secure external office space at all. If you’re working as an independent contractor to a single business, consider asking whether they have on-site space available for your use.

Not only will working on-site save you money, it’ll give you both the social exposure many freelancer miss and easy access to the internal contacts you’ll be working with to complete your projects.

Home Offices

Finally, there’s the good ol’ home office. Even if you decide to pursue one of the office space ideas listed above, maintaining a home office can be helpful if you need to catch up on projects in your off hours, or if your work involves materials that are difficult to transport to an external space.

Fortunately, building a home office doesn’t take much space, and it doesn’t have to be expensive (and keep in mind that doing so may help you qualify for additional tax breaks). HGTV and Real Simple all offer ideas for small home office spaces that’ll get you inspired – no matter how much room you have to work with.

Which of these options do you take advantage of as a freelancer? Share your work habits by leaving a comment below.

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