Monthly Archives: September 2017

Home-working, coworking and me

Gemma Greenhalgh looks at the benefits for the self-employed home-worker of occasionally getting out of the house and using your local coworking space.

Cat asleep on desk

Up until 2008, I had only ever been out to work. By that I mean out of the house and situated elsewhere, mainly in an office. Nine to five. Idle chat around the water cooler. Nipping out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Actual shoes on my feet (instead of slippers). You catch my drift.

That year, 2008, introduced me to my first ‘home-based’ job. I was an Independent Living Adviser for a charity based in Nuneaton – visiting disabled people in their own homes to give advice about employing their own support staff. And I was working from my own home.

‘Get up and get dressed as though you’re going into the office’ one colleague advised. ‘I hate it; I get lonely and depressed’ someone else bemoaned. I was getting mixed messages from my new colleagues but was determined to keep an open mind.

Luckily my partner and I have a spare room so I set up my desk on one side of it. I liked it. Friends and family made constant reference to lie-ins, working in pyjamas and watching daytime TV. I laughed all this off – what a notion!

Fast forward nearly a decade and I am indeed writing this at 8.15 a.m. in my PJs. I do occasionally watch Three in a Bed at lunchtime. I might sleep in if the day before was particularly long or fraught. I have been known to work with a cat or chicken on my knee. I still get the job done. My working day doesn’t suffer.

A constant balancing act

The frontiers between ‘home life at home’ and ‘work life at home’ are a constant blur and balancing act. Family members ask me to run an errand for them because, ‘such and such can’t do it as they’re at work.’ Is this because they’ve heard about the daytime TV and assume my day is ‘informal’ and ‘unstructured’ so a small errand won’t hurt?

My retired neighbour recently knocked on my office window and wanted my opinion about her hand-knitted socks. I was frantically trying to meet a tight deadline and had to shoo her away. I texted her later to apologise. ‘I forget you work from home’ was the response.

How can I avoid or adapt to such things? Should I be more strict with my ‘relaxed’ approach so my nearest and dearest take my vocation more seriously? Can I not just benefit from the advantages of being home based without others taking advantage? Shall I just throw a strop, form a barricade around my office and insist I’m left in peace and quiet (until I want to watch the TV at lunchtime that is)?

Do not disturb sign

My stint as an employed and home-based Independent Living Adviser lasted for three years. So far, I have been a self-employed, home-based proofreader and copywriter for over four years. To help with the questions posed above I have been thinking about alternatives to the ‘office-in-the-spare-room’ scenario.

A break from the norm

I thought about the potential of local cafes and libraries. I then discovered a couple of Nottingham-based coworking spaces and decided to give them a try. What did I have to lose except my dressing gown? A friend who is also self-employed (and gets easily distracted by the washing-up) decided to join me. I’ve since discovered that she gets easily distracted by many things. Whoever thought of putting shops and eateries in the city centre? Anyway, that’s another story…

It turns out that coworking spaces are pretty good! You can do that thing where you actually talk to people. You can escape the cat. Dressing gowns are a thing of the past! Who knew?!

I tried not to think about my slippers getting cold and lonely in the hallway and got on with: chatting to real-life human beings; looking at different walls; gazing out of different windows; having a slightly longer than average lunch break; and not worrying about domestic irritants like a speck of dust on the sideboard. Oh, and I did get some work done too.

There are coworking spaces around the country and they charge around £15–£20 per day/£8–£10 per half day outside London (some charge by the day and others by the month), which generally includes Wi-Fi, drinks and snacks, a work/desk area, toilet facilities and plug points. Some also provide bookable meeting rooms, monitors, quiet zones, printing, business advice and more besides.

I live a good 30 minutes away from Nottingham (longer in rush hour) so it’s not something I want to take advantage of too often. There are libraries and cafes (but no coworking spaces!) much closer that offer a similar break from the norm.

It’s an alien feeling to get stuck in a traffic jam when you’d usually be making your jam on toast in the morning. However, coworking can offer many advantages to the home-worker and it’s worth considering if you’re hankering for a change of scene, human-that-isn’t-family interaction or a feeling of belonging to a self-employed community.

Coworking is flexible and gets you out of the house and meeting people

Dee Miller, owner of Minor Oak Nottingham Coworking, sums it up perfectly: ‘Coworking gets you out of the house, working at an office you choose, in a supportive and diverse community of real-world colleagues.’ Dee has written about the benefits of coworking on the Minor Oak website, and from reading her words you get a real sense of coworking as a saver of sanity, an incentive to get out of the house and a place to meet people and share ideas and experiences.

There are many coworking spaces across the UK, albeit predominantly in urban areas, and it is easy to research the good mix of local coworking opportunities online. It is handy to know about such spaces and make use of them as and when it suits you, your day and your workload.

Like many aspects of self-employment, coworking is flexible. It offers a modern solution to the isolation felt by many self-employed people and seems to bring the home office and the traditional office together in a new way.

Concluding aside:

The issue of the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the word ‘coworking’ is contentious. Google ‘coworking and the hyphen’ and you’ll see what I mean!

Gemma GreenhalgGemma Greenhalgh has run GG Editorial Services since 2013 and is a professional member of the SfEP. She loves volunteering for numerous charities, including the British Hen Welfare Trust on their ex-commercial hen rescue days. Her favourite part is waving off the ‘spent’ hens, which were destined for slaughter, to their new free-range life. She is a massive fan of the Brontë siblings, particularly Emily. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book and Haworth is her spiritual home.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Restorative niches and the SfEP conference

In a follow-up to her popular blog post last year, Abi Saffrey has some ideas for how introverts can find spaces to breathe to help them avoid being overwhelmed at the SfEP conference.

Coffee cup with pause symbol

Last year, I (with substantial assistance from two fellow introverts) put together A survival guide for introverts, in preparation for the 2016 SfEP conference.

I am, ahem, embarrassed to say that I ignored most of that advice and I came away from the conference exhausted and not wishing to speak to anyone at all about anything at all for a week or so. During the conference, I did take a bit of time out for myself – a walk around the Aston campus and a bag of Minstrels in front of rubbish TV – but not as much as I’d planned. I was having a ball! I learnt stuff, I met so many smart and funny people, I saw a mouse in the dining room, I danced till after midnight, and I attended some inspiring sessions. I was getting energy from those around me; perhaps, very slowly, I am becoming an ambivert (calling myself an extrovert would be extreme).

I recently watched a fascinating TEDx talk by Brian R. Little, an extremely introverted university professor specialising in the study of personality and well-being. He talks about how the sensitivity of our neo-cortex is key to whether we display introvert or extrovert tendencies – some of us (introverts) have an optimum level of stimulation way below that of others (extroverts). And often when an introvert and an extrovert meet, they find themselves in a painful impasse where the extrovert tries to raise the level of stimulation and the introvert tries to lower it. As the introvert withdraws, the extrovert talks more, moves more, both of them trying to keep their neo-cortex happy.

One of Professor Little’s key concepts is that of restorative niches, the time out I mentioned above. Everyone needs a restorative niche to bring their neo-cortex back to its optimum level of stimulation: introverts need down time; extroverts may need more interaction and more action. Extroverts may well go from one highly stimulating situation into another – and create one if needs be by turning their music up loud. (I like loud music in my down time, but I’m still not an extrovert.) Introverts are more likely to indulge in meditation, a walk or staring into the middle distance.

Green trees

So, with the 2017 Conference fast approaching, I’m starting to think about the restorative niches I will be able to seek out over those two and a half days. I’m starting the weekend with a visit to the spa at Wyboston Lakes, making the most of the facilities that the conference venue has to offer. This should give me the break I need to transition from day-to-day life to conference mode, and help me cope with the physical tension that does arise when I’m out of my comfort zone.

This will mean that I can’t go to the speed networking session. Extreme introvert part of me is relieved: I’m pretty sure every introvert twitches at those two words. Speed. Networking. Social part of me is sad to miss out on the opportunity to be introduced to peers in a very directed, structured environment. On the SfEP forums, several conference attendees have talked about this session and the personal conflict they have about it – but all have acknowledged that the benefits far outweigh the anxieties. Some have expressed relief that it’s early on in the conference rather than at the end – when their neo-cortex could well be buzzing like ten wasps in a tiny jam jar and they may not be able to do more than nod and perhaps blink.

I’ll also be making the most of the free time in the evenings, and I won’t be rushing down to the bar well ahead of dinner. The accommodation and grounds look lovely, so I’ll probably go for a walk before or after breakfast, and sit in my room and stare at the wall for a while (note to self: pack Minstrels), or put on my headphones and turn up the volume. Or I might just hide in a toilet cubicle for most of a tea break.

All that said, I’m going to take things as they come. Maybe I’ll want to be first at the bar, maybe I’ll even manage a coherent conversation over breakfast. It’s okay to be a pseudo-extrovert for a while, socialising and learning with the tribe. When I get home, I’ll have a couple of days with limited stimulation to help my over-worked neo-cortex to recover, never wanting to talk to anyone ever again. And then I’ll be ready and raring to book my space at next year’s conference.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an advanced professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP