When I started “freelancing,” I had a lot of expectations as to what my life would be like setting my own schedule, picking my own projects, etc. My life would be ultra-flexible and I would be spending my time doing something I loved, coding. I wouldn’t have anyone to answer to but myself, and that would be the ideal work environment.
It turned out that while there are many benefits to freelancing, for me, the flexibility and lack of direct accountability were not so high on the list.
Working from home, I could pace for hours before starting a project. Most of my days and nights consisted of over-planning, procrastinating, and then a 10-12 hour block of anxious, frenzied coding, and I was exhausted. My work life had lost its boundaries.
I would pick up projects that required me to work on-site from time to time. While working in an office, there was an expectation that I would spend my paid hours coding, so I would dive right in. I would take things in smaller chunks. The solutions to small problems would seem to roll right out of my fingers. I wasted far less time by writing, adjusting, redirecting, tightening, than I would trying to pull everything together in my head and then drop it into code as one solid system. So that seemed to be a solution. Stop over-planning and getting excited, and just sit down and code.
A little social pressure helped reduce my coding anxiety, helped me be more efficient, and helped me to do something that I really loved to do, write nice code. Coworking, working in a social setting, provided just enough social pressure. So my expectations of coworking were simple: Social pressure would keep me efficient.
While coworking has done wonders to keep me efficient and reduce my coding anxiety, I’m starting to realize that “social pressure” is really one of the very smallest benefits of working in a more “social” environment. I’m starting to realize that my work exists within an ecosystem of other projects, built by other people like me, and networking is an essential part of the freelancer’s life.
It’s becoming increasingly important as more people are becoming freelancers.
The best projects I’ve worked on, I’ve found word of mouth. I’m getting more interested in sharing my ideas, in blogging, in building my projects open-source and contributing to other open-source projects. I’m starting to think of my work as less of a “job” and more as a part of an ecosystem that will sustain me as I contribute to it.
I’m also starting to realize that “making money”, while it’s a necessary and much appreciated part of “what I do”, it’s no longer the end goal. It’s just one of the outcomes of how I spend my time. Taking a step back, I could say that capitalism is a useful tool for getting parts of the economy and people in general moving and productive, but it’s not always the best tool. If you look at the thriving open source community, some of it is funded and paid, a lot of it is built and shared without the money changing hands directly.
Maybe these ideas will spread to other areas of the economy.
Maybe they have in ways I don’t know about. This web of inter-connectedness can support our endeavors to ends that used to require rigid hierarchical managed workplaces. If we can get rid of some of this bulky scaffolding and work together more organically, that would be great.
**Matt was the very first founding member of Cohere. He has since married, had two kids and is currently working remotely while traveling the United States with them in an Airstream.
**enjoy this post by member Beth Buczynski from our archives**
Before I became a freelancer, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be the master of my own professional domain. No unreasonable boss limiting my creativity, never being forced to support something I didn’t believe in, and no need to leave the house to work- ever.
When I finally made the leap to full time freelancing, I realized that while working right across the hall from my bed was oh-so-convenient, it didn’t always encourage me to be productive (or professional).
So I set out in search of alternative work environments, and like so many freelancers, soon found myself adrift in the coffee shop circuit in Old Town Fort Collins. Constantly searching for a dependable wireless connection, I bounced from one coffee shop to the next, feeling lost and frustrated, and hoping that my purchase of a bagel and bottomless coffee would be enough to buy me some uninterrupted time when I could finally get some work done.
Between tiny tables, screaming children, and constantly smelling like I’d used my own clothes to clean out the espresso machine, I managed to squeeze out just enough work to get by, but noticed myself becoming desperate for stimulating conversation throughout the day…and an internet connection that wouldn’t unexplainably kick me off right when I hit ‘submit’ on a really important assignment.
The week I was forced to leave three different coffee shops after unsuccessful attempts to coax my computer and their router to be friends, I knew I had hit rock bottom, and decided it was time to find a better solution to my office-less-ness. That something turned out to be coworking.
After a little more than a month at Cohere (update: Beth has been a member for over a year now), I’m happy to report that the urges to hurl my laptop out the window have completely subsided now that I have access to a rock solid internet connection, ample electrical outlets, and an amazing selection of desk space that allows me to spread out and get comfortable before a day of work.
When I get up in the morning, I know that instead of fighting soccer moms, business lunches, and college kids for room to work, I have a specific place to come every day where the only other people within earshot are those also interested in being productive (and occasionally ignoring work altogether to laugh, debate the proper punctuation of a bulleted list, and devour a cupcake).
The members that make up Cohere have become a source of inspiration, motivation, innovation, and levity in my life, not only making me a better writer, but also a better, more connected member of the community at large.
If you’re tired of dragging your laptop from one tattered coffee shop couch to another, I encourage you to give coworking a try. You might come for the internet and the cushy chair, but you’ll stay for the conversation, collaboration, and support.
“MOM! I NEED SOMETHING TO EAT!”
“Hold on a minute, I’ve just got to finish up this email.”
“MOM! I just stepped in dog poop and it’s on the kitchen floor!”
“Alright. Take off your shoes and I’ll clean it up after I finish this post.”
“MOM! I want to play with the dinosaur but he won’t let me!”
“For the love of God. Stop fighting before you’re both sent to your rooms. I’m trying to get some work done!”
This is what my day looks like while being a work-at-home mom. It’s not easy trying to multi-task; taking the kids to playgroups, returning emails requesting meetings, making healthy lunches while trying to do research for the next restaurant review. It’s also not easy to balance the ever-present mommy guilt. But, I still wouldn’t have it any other way, even if it would be easier.
I’ve always known that I wanted to stay-at-home with my boys and we’ve done everything possible to keep that our reality. It was very important to my husband and me that our family had that type of lifestyle. But, after being a stay-at-home mom for a while, I got the itch to do something more. I felt a bit lost and needed to do something to find my voice, to regain the person that I was before I had kids. I’m not the crafty kind of mom who is constantly keeping the kids engaged and I needed to do something that wouldn’t drive me insane.
That’s where writing came in.
I’ve always been a writer. It’s in my blood. More specifically, I’ve always been a blogger. It started with our simple family blog that gained national recognition. Then, I was inspired to create a fitness blog when our family needed to make some money in a crisis. I learned a lot of valuable lessons when it came to blogging and it all seemed to come naturally.
As sort of a fluke, I started a food blog for Fort Collins. I saw a need, knew how to make it happen with the years of blogging under my belt and thought it would be more of a creative writing space for me than anything else. I was wrong, way wrong, but in a good way. It became a business and soon I was a Professional Blogger, writing Fort Collins’ #1 food blog.
I had deadlines, meetings and massive amounts of emails to return. I had marketing plans, budgets, and explosive growth to manage. It was the most fun I’d had in my entire life, even though I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water. Maintaining the balance between mom and professional blogger was challenging.
Through the magic of the online community we have here in Fort Collins, I met Angel during a particularly scandalous time on my blog after writing a less-than-glowing review for a local coffee house. Word spread quickly about what was going on and our paths crossed on blog comments and email. I loved what she was doing but since Cohere had daytime hours, I could only lust after the idea of coworking with other Fort Collins freelancers. While taking the boys to daycare is nice every once and a while, it wasn’t something we wanted to do permanently.
That’s where night coworking came in.
The minute the Night Owl Lite membership was created, I was completely on board. I felt like it was perfect for me! I didn’t have to find childcare for my kids and I had a specific amount of time dedicated to my business. In the few hours I’m there a week, I can accomplish more than I ever imagined. All while surrounded by great people full of answers, advice and support, to boot!
My membership at Cohere is one of the best memberships I have. The dedicated time and networking with other online professionals is helping me take my business to the next level. I couldn’t be more excited about it, even if I’m still cleaning up dog poop that’s tracked throughout the house during the day.
When I left $GIANTSOULSUCKINGMEGACORP for a kinder, gentler startup, one of the perqs I was most anticipating was workingfrom my home office all the time. There are few things more enjoyable in life than a gentle breeze wafting through the mesh of a Herman Miller Aeron chair, cooling your nether regions while you write exquisite, elegant code.
I mean, let’s face it — your home is your castle, and if the king doesn’t want to wear pants, well, it’s good to be the king. For the first few months, I reveled in the glory of the home office: a 10-second commute, bacon and coffee on demand, and I’d never miss the FedEx guy again. But a funny thing happened on the way to the insane asylum. I found myself compulsively ordering completely useless tchotchkes from Amazon just so I could talk to the FedEx guy, who was becoming increasingly nervous about coming to my door, even after we both agreed on a pants policy.
I was discovering that extended periods of time cut off from outside human contact made Alex something something. It was about this time that my colleage, Paul Hummer, mentioned this rad group of people at his coworking space, Cohere. At first, I was mildly surprised that my beloved cow town of Fort Collins was progressive enough to support a real live coworking space. But then I remembered that everyone here drinks two quarts of jawesome juice for breakfast every morning and thought to myself, “of course Fort Collins must have a coworking space; something sweet must have happened by now and I’m missing out on it!”
I tagged along with Paul for one visit and I was hooked. Here was a self-selected group of savvy, motivated, and let’s be honest — just darn attractive people — with a diversity of talent and a shared love of lolcats. A chorus of O HAIs! greeted me and I knew that Cohere was my cure for the subterranean stircrazy blues brought by a basement office. The synergies are subtle for me; I’m a computer plumber, after all, a low level bit banger who still insists on 80-column text terminals for email. Unfortunately, computing plumbing abstractions leak from time to time. The coworkers at Cohere cover a diverse swath of backgrounds, but they all tend to be sophisticated technology mavens, and observing them cope with broken software is like being in the world’s greatest real-time useability lab. So it works. And in return, they put up with my strange obsession of the platypus.
My company’s flagship product, Ubuntu Linux, is named for a Bantu word meaning “humanity towards others”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of it: We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
To me, that captures the essence of coworking and Cohere. Freelancer or not, you can’t work well all by yourself. You owe it to yourself to plug into a community, leaving it better than when you found it, and maximizing yourself both professionally and personally in the process. We’ve got a great community at Cohere. Come check it out. We’ll leave the wifi on for you.
The Power of Connection
Connection means different things to different people, but in reality, it is at the core of our DNA. It’s something I knew from a science perspective, but never truly “got” at a lifestyle level until now.
I recently sat in on a presentation by Joan King, a Ph.D in Neurosciences and Psychology, who also served as the Chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology for the Tufts University School of Medicine. Her talk was short, but left an impact. She focused on the neurology of connection, explaining the basic function of cells and how they work independently and as a unit.
She pointed out that when cells are separated in a Petri dish, they immediately start searching for other cells to connect with and form a bond. If unable to find a connection, they die.
This is why I feel Cohere is a great alternative for dis-connected workers. As a writer who works primarily from a home office, I often spent long days alone, especially while working on deadline. My in-person connection to like minds faded quickly in exchange for purely digital relationships and writing deadlines. Even though I couldn’t put my finger on it, I always felt a little something was missing.
Transition to More Fun and Enhanced Creativity
As I transitioned to showing up at a welcoming, laid back place to work, I realized just how much I missed the energy of buzzing minds and spontaneous creative collaborations. I find it extremely helpful to share and exchange ideas with others who are not directly tied to my project, but offer incredibly valuable insight on new approaches or solutions.
Its even MORE fun to blow off steam and be silly in the middle of the day for no reason other than to decompress and have a good time. My membership is a great reminder that as a human being I can give myself permission to infuse light, laughter and play into my day at a moment’s notice, but the choice is up to me.
The Cohere “Workday”
I get work done as efficiently, perhaps even more so at Cohere because there are others working right alongside me; people focused on their passions too. My fellow Coherians also remind me that I am a human being allowed to take breaks. I’m not just some content machine always chugging towards the next deadline.
Cohere Madam, Miss Angel, is fantastic about organizing collaborative events, and my workmates also create spontaneous opportunities to grab lunch, snacks or entice me to delve into a fun, five minute video diversion.
I want to take this opportunity to applaud the core values and culture of Cohere, as well as those I cowork with on a regular basis. I have met and connected with amazing people, people who not only inspire me in my current business, but really activate me to take my company, Buzzword, to the next level. More importantly, the like-mind connections I am creating help me craft my very own kick-ass Petri dish.
Since I was 16 or so, I’ve been contributing code to various free software projects. Free software is software that is freely distributable by anyone, and is often also free of charge. I was able to view the source code that made up my favorite computer programs, fix the bugs I found, and send those fixes to the people who originally wrote the software. Oftentimes, these people were much smarter and had more “real world” experience than I, and could provide feedback. It was a like a free apprenticeship.
Zachariah (Cohere member) shared that the above title is my job description! I love it and it has inspired today’s post.
I come from a small town and enjoyed relative peace of mind knowing that our banker lived just up the street and gave out loans based on reputation. My school teacher was also my Brownie leader and my mom handed out the food stamps to our neighbors who were down on their luck. My best friend’s dad raised the cattle we ate, my uncle grew our corn and you could see into the kitchen at the bakery where my brother worked mornings.
In an increasingly global economy, products are made and services are rendered on the other side of the globe instead of right around the corner. I long for the bygone days of knowing my farmer, my baker and my candlestick maker and their children, spouses, cousins and their debt to income ratios as well as who was dating who every Saturday night. How can I get a little slice of this hometown nostalgia in a world where it is cheaper to make and ship bowling balls over here from China?
Managing Cohere has been an excellent exercise in keeping things local and provides daily lessons on how deeply you must CARE for your customers, especially when there are no layers of staff or thousands of miles between me and them. I see my customer’s faces and speak with each of them nearly daily. They witness how I work and interact and run the business. There are no secrets in Cohere (we have very thin walls). How many businesses can say that they actually see and talk with their customers every single day? Even the local coffee shop will draw the occasional tourist whom they will never see again.
Cohere is held up by local people who care. Our coffee is roasted by a woman named Jackie. She hand roasts and delivers our coffee right to our door and stands there and chats while I write her an old fashioned check. When is the last time you shook hands with your coffee roaster? Soon, we’ll enjoy the fruits of Grant Farms labor when the summer harvest starts. When is the last time you set foot on the land where your produce is harvested? Cohere t-shirts are printed by a man named Jason who does his work around the corner from here. He takes the order, prints the shirts and takes my payment. There is no 1-800 number–I just knock on his door. Our signs were made by a woman named Amanda. She delivered the signs to Cohere and stayed to explain how to install them.
Our furniture was made by a man named Drew. He bought beetle kill wood from Colorado forests and created everything in his garage, trucked it up here and installed it. All of these people care about their customers–deeply and locally.
Who serves you locally and how do you know that they care about you?
I recently became a member of Cohere, a collaborative workgroup in the Old Town area of Fort Collins, Colorado. Cohere provides the infrastructure of a corporate environment (only lots hipper and with great coffee) and is designed for the flexible workstyles of independent contractors and consultants.
While there are conference rooms and private areas, most of the action at Cohere takes place in an open office where you’re surrounded by all kinds of cool people working on their own stuff. You can feed off of the group energy and be super productive, sample from what’s going on around you and learn something, or participate in the free wheeling, mostly business oriented, discussions.
To make things even better, and in my case irresistibly so, these cool people know lots of things I don’t and see other things in fresh new ways. There are no office politics so opinions flow freely.
Some of the Cohere folks are designers of the marketing communications and web persuasion. They create powerful images and user experiences. I wouldn’t have a clue where to start on many of their projects.
Yet, as it turns out, their work and mine are closely related.
They deal with Branding. In my work, I deal with Brand. What’s the difference? If you check a few marketing books or Google both words the results are so confusing you’ll probably wish you’d just accepted that the “ing”-thing was it and gotten on with your life.
My take as a Marketing Physicist is a little simpler:
Branding is about creating the interface between a buyer or user and the organization providing a product or service. Branding attracts and then provides an emotional and intellectual shortcut – we interact with Branding through our five senses and our brain says, “I feel I know them” and hopefully even “I think I know what to expect from them.”
Brand, on the other hand, is what happens inside of the envelope created by Branding. Brand is the sum total of how well a company keeps its promises to its customers.
Brand has three major parts that a company controls: the desired marketing position, a compelling market offer or promise to prospective customers, and competently and predictably keeping that promise.
My personal focus is on the second part – I help companies discover unmet customer needs and create new, high margin, market offers to address those needs. I also help in the positioning and operational performance areas at the request of some clients.
Every week, while I work at Cohere helping companies with their Brand, my Cohere neighbors are working their Branding magic to make a Brand attractive, accessible, current and clear. We work together, for different clients, in a hip place without a cubical in sight. Oh, and with great coffee.
And if I have questions about my website, I know who to ask.
Michael Clingan can be reached at Michael@theclaymoregroup.com or at 970-613-0923.
Please enjoy Cohere Member Skippy’s thoughts about working at Cohere. Here is a snippet…
At Cohere I am surrounded by people with high standards. People who achieve and create. People who seek out new limits to push and new rules to break.
These people are entrepreneurs, writers, programmers, copy writers, technical wizards, marketing masters and more. They freelance and create and come up with brilliant ideas almost daily. By associating with them there can only be two outcomes.
The Cohere Flock can lower their standards. Not likely.
I can raise mine. More probable.
Not only does who you flock with influence your standards; your flock also holds you accountable. Your flock will hold you accountable for your actions and call you on your standards. You might say to me “my flock doesn’t hold me to anything or call me on anything” and you might be right. But the absence of standards is still a standard. A low standard, but it’s a standard. A total lack of accountability is simply the lowest form of accountability…Full post