A GUIDE TO CO-WORKING IN AUSTIN

Pictures of beautiful Vuka, co-working space just off S. 1st. I shot these for my travel guide client, HUNT Guides.

Lately, it seems like everyone I know is quitting their day jobs.

You’ll recall that I did last October. Since then, three of my friends have too. Some of them have new work lined up. Some of them are inventing the work. With things like healthcare and 401K plans available over the Internet, we figured, why not?

According to this Forbes article someone forwarded me, “many women view corporations today as being fundamentally flawed and limiting in their value structures.” That sounds about right. I’ve actually never worked for a big corporation — the biggest entity I worked for was the University of California system — but I’ve got enough friends at Dell to know it’s not just a woman thing.

My first big girl job here in Austin was with a book publishing company that went bankrupt several years ago. There were wonderful people at that job, but my God, were our offices depressing. Located in an office park not far from the one where Office Space was filmed, we had this vast concrete lot with one small, sad grassy knoll poking out of the middle. Sometimes, usually around 3:00, I’d go outside and stand on that grassy knoll, just barely big enough to hold me, and gaze out over the Taco Bell and Texaco in the distance. “This is my life,” I’d sigh. “Somebody help me.”   

Later, when the company moved to a building nearby, a man flew a plane into the IRS building down the street. All I’m saying is, there was some weird energy in that area.

So when I got a job in the same field, book publicity, only working from home, my first thought was – “this is my life, and it’s about to be AMAZING.” And I was right! It was amazing.

But eventually I figured out that PR wasn’t for me, and despite the cushiness of sleeping in, not commuting, only getting marginally dressed and only then when I felt like it, I realized that my job was indeed cool, but freelancing (specifically, freelance writing) would be even cooler. And I was right about that too! I love my work life now.

However, there are drawbacks to freelancing. Here are four:

1. Not getting dressed. I’m convinced that 50% of being a successful anything involves getting up and putting on new clothes that you haven’t slept in.

2. Not being nice. By which I mean, not socializing. This is the other 50% of being successful: being a person others want to be around. And when you are around others, being nice, you usually get more opportunities.

3. Not having a schedule. This really scrambled my digits when I went freelance: not having a stucture. Because trust me, on your first day of non-corporate job freedom, you will wake up at around 9 or 10, have a leisurely breakfast, do an hour of work, have a leisurely lunch, then go directly to Barton Springs. Why? Because you CAN! Work freedom really is like crack. It’s hard not to binge during those first glorious days.

But then, that lack of structure starts to make you feel weird, because you’re all, “am I lazy?” and then you start obsessively checking your bank account to prove to yourself that you are not, in fact, lazy, but productive and solvent, and to prove it, you stay up until 1am working because you did wake up at 11am after all and hey, gotta make up for lost time. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

4. Not knowing whether you’re doing it right. I’ve talked about this before, this feeling of wondering if you are professionally awesome or professionally floundering, and everyone’s just too nice to tell you. I think that’s why money becomes so important to freelancers. Money’s important to everyone, but when you divorce yourself from a tidy system of promotions and raises and company accolades, money (and your own mushy, unreliable inner cues) becomes an even more important (-seeming) yardstick for measuring your competence.

So. If you are freelancing, but also experiencing one of the unfortunate states above, what are you to do?

Co-work.

Listen: co-working if freaking fabulous. “But why would I pay for an office when I just quit an office?” I hear you saying. Oh my God, it’s so not like your old office. Soooooo not like your old office.

I’ve gotten clients from my various co-working spots. That’s because networking there is easy, unlike most awkward networking events. Also, your co-workers aren’t your competitors or bosses or anything like that, so there’s no pressure to manically x out of your Facebook page when someone walks by. And, although I haven’t been to all of them, most co-working spaces are pretty cool-looking.

Austin is positively exploding in rad co-working spaces right now. I sometimes go to Link, near my house, and also Vuka, which has free co-working on Fridays and has the added benefit of being beautiful. Now, granted — I still work from home, I still work from coffee shops; sometimes I’ll start the day working from home but get so stir crazy that I drive to a coffee shop; sometimes the coffee shop is too social and I have to come home! But, if you are a lone contractor/freelancer/real estate agent/someone else who usually works by his or herself and is wondering whether it’s actually worth a few hundred dollars to pay a monthly co-working membership fee, I’m saying, it is.

Here is an Austin co-working space list, broken down by neighborhood:

NORTH/CENTRAL:

Link

Posh Coworking

Plug and Play (perk: on-site childcare)

EAST:

Brainstorm Coworking

Opportunity Space

Perch Coworking

Soma Vida

Conjunctured

Space 12

Chicon Collective

Center61

DOWNTOWN:

GoLab Austin

Capital Factory

SOUTH:

Vuka (featured in those pics above)

Hub Austin

Go forth and co-work, my fellow Austin freelance brethren! And if you know of a co-working space in town that hasn’t been added to this list, please do let me know about it in comments. I’ll keep it updated as I hear of more.

If you already co-work, what has your experience been like?