Where should I work? The remote worker’s guide to getting the space portfolio right

If you believe the surveys, a growing number of people work in some location other than their organization’s headquarters. Much work can be done anywhere. But if you are the doer of such flexible activities, it raises the question: where should you work?

At home? At a co-working space? A coffee shop?

I think for many people, the best answer is some version of all of the above. Different places work best for different sorts of work and different situations. Here are the benefits and drawbacks I’ve found for each.

The home office. This is definitely my preferred option. I don’t have to do my hair (unless I have video calls). The commute can’t be beat. My stuff (like my snacks!) is all here. During certain phases of life, such as when I was nursing babies, being able to have them cared for in my house while I was working at the house meant I didn’t have to bother with all-day pumping much of the time.

That said, there are draw-backs. Kids make noise. If you have a small house or apartment, it might be hard to separate yourself from the family’s goings-on. While working from home means you are there to let workmen in, you are still there while they’re pounding and drilling and what not. You are at the same place as your TV, or your various half-done chores, which some people find distracting. That’s why sometimes it might help to have available…

A rented office/co-working space. During my home renovation, there were a handful of days when I had many calls and podcast recordings. Attempting to do those with a demolition going on was just going to be an exercise in frustration. So I used the Regus office located 8 minutes from my house. There are Regus locations all over the place, and most allow you to rent an office, or a conference room (for meetings) by the hour or day.

This worked fine in the sense of being a good office space, with cheerful reception people, and good internet. Of course, it still wasn’t silent. One day a gentleman in the office next to me was talking loudly on the phone, so I had to mute my line (for the podcast) when I wasn’t talking to avoid his voice being picked up on my microphone. This is why things that require absolute silence need to happen in recording studios. Also, renting an office by the day isn’t cheap (I paid $75-100/day depending on the length of time – the per hour rate went down pretty quickly after the first few hours).

Co-working spaces are sometimes cheaper in that many people aren’t renting a private office, they’re renting space in a common area. I think the appeal here is that some people like to work around other people. I am not sure I see the appeal. I seek out the Amtrak quiet car as I cannot stand listening to other people’s cell phone conversations. This probably explains why I wound up in a home office many years ago.

Coffee shops. Coffee shops are likely the cheapest option for a work spot from this perspective, in that you only really need to buy enough to justify the time you’re at your table. The atmosphere can be stimulating with people coming and going. Tasty coffee is always nice. However, you have no control over noise or privacy, and it’s kind of rude to linger if there are lots of people hoping to get a seat (much like with a restaurant). Talking on the phone for hours could likewise drive any other coffee shop patrons insane.

Libraries. Libraries have, to me, many of the upsides of coffee shops without some of the downsides. You don’t have to buy anything! (Though some might find it a downside to not be able to take their latte into the stacks. Some libraries do have cafes somewhere for patrons who want to grab a bite). Quiet is generally expected and sometimes enforced. Hanging out for a while is generally OK. However, you can’t take phone calls or record podcasts and such without arranging a special room or some such (if your library even has such work options).

I haven’t worked in a library in a while. But back when my kids were younger (and more likely to be around) I would sometimes hire a sitter when my husband was traveling and go work in a library at night. Being in a different location, and at a not-normal work time, often nudged me to work on different projects beyond the day-to-day grind. This is where I wrote much of The Cortlandt Boys. These days, I’ve sometimes taken my printed manuscripts to libraries to read them through. Somehow being in a different place from where I wrote the manuscript makes me think differently. And the library is quiet enough to allow for thinking!

If your work can be done anywhere, where do you work? What are the upsides and drawbacks?

10 thoughts on “Where should I work? The remote worker’s guide to getting the space portfolio right

  1. I am a stay at home mom with young kids, one at home and two in school. I do volunteer projects and do not like to be home on the mornings I have help. I sometimes take my computer to the gym and stay there in the cafe before or after a workout on my computer. It gets me out, I get to exercise, and then can do computer things uninterrupted by kids during the day and not at night.

  2. I’m working from my back porch right now! I work from home on MWF, when my youngest is in school for 5 hours, and from a coffee shop near his school or the library on T/Th, when he’s only there 4 hours (it’s a 20-min drive to/from home — 40 minutes is almost an entire hour lost!). I prefer being at home, but I’m also not easily distracted by laundry or chores 🙂 Just the internet … I’ve started following KJ Dell’Antonia’s advice to keep my laptop wifi off as default, and it helps.

  3. Hi – my job changed from to in house to remote this January. I work from home most days but some days I reserve a study room at the local library. I can get a 3 hour block of time (I generally do 9-12) and a private room which allows me to take phone calls.

  4. I work from home once a week, and my biggest gripe is that I don’t move enough on those days. It’s quiet, no kids are around anymore (school), I can do laundry, I even eat healthier lunches…. but I rarely get to 10,000 steps!

    1. @Maureen – I totally get this. I run every day, but there are days I don’t really do much movement other than that. And it turns out that 2-3 miles is still no where near 10k steps!

  5. I’ve worked in all these places mentioned. When I first started the dream of working for myself I thought the home office would be perfect. As it turns out, I missed human interaction too much. I was lucky enough to find some cheap private office place and get some friends to share the space with me. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best option for me! Sometimes being in the same space every day gets old though, so I’ll hit up some of my favorite coffee shops.

  6. I’m always surprised people don’t use libraries more. You can often work there all day for free, or worse case buy a low cost annual pass to that library. This saves a ton of money compared to coworking spaces and its much quieter than a cafe!


    1. @Paul – I am totally with you on this one. I think some people like the background noise of people talking but I just don’t!

    2. For me, it’s the opening hour — my library system doesn’t open until 10 am, leaving me an hour to kill between dropping my son off at preschool and the doors opening. Sometimes I’m happy to sit in the parking lot or on a bench, but the weather (and my laptop batter) doesn’t always cooperate! I agree, though, that libraries are pretty much ideal (I also used to be a librarian). What better break than to take a quick walk through the stacks for a new book to read?

  7. For years when my kids were little and I worked part time as a technical editor, every weekend I would go to a specific Starbucks to work. My husband was home with the kids so I didn’t have to worry about that. I would get up early and arrive when they opened at 5:30 AM (while the rest of the family was sleeping and didn’t miss me). I would place one order per hour (drink, then food, then another drink, etc). I loved working there because it was too early for the cafe to be busy but the drive thru was busy so the employees were working hard which made it easy for me to work hard. I could work for 3-4 solid hours before it got too busy or crowded to focus. To this day when I get a tough project I need to work on, I go to Starbucks in the early morning like that. My kids are old enough to stay home by themselves now, but often I am back home before my husband leaves for work. For me, 2-3 focused hours of work at Starbucks can equal what I would accomplish if I worked all day at home with kids around.

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