As I write this article, my friend’s little face is watching over me from the top right-hand corner of my screen via Skype.
We’re both on mute and we’re getting on with our own work, but just knowing that she’s there is great motivation for me to keep my head down. These virtual co-working sessions are usually the most productive part of my week.
What is virtual co-working?
It’s a concept I came across a couple of years ago through a community I’m part of, Digital Nomad Girls (DNG). Founder Jenny Lachs realised that her members, many of whom are freelancers working remotely from different parts of the world, were struggling to be productive without the sense of community and accountability that employed people get from working in an office.
She decided to create it. Members log into the DNG Zoom room at an allotted time, everyone introduces themselves and shares what they’ll be working on that day. The host then starts a timer for 25 minutes and everyone goes on mute to work intensely, before having a 5-minute chatting break. Repeat four times.
London-based Laura Amenta is the founder of Palms Up Club, which offers web design services and online courses for wellness professionals and yoga teachers. She says when she first heard about the concept of virtual co-working, her mind was “literally blown.”
“A freelance friend of mine had joined a community for virtual co-working and she was super enthusiastic about it and told me to sign up,” she recalls. “I was immediately excited about it as I’ve been working on my own for quite a while. And while I love being self-employed, sometimes it can get very lonely and it’s also hard to focus and be productive. Plus, I was lacking a good routine and structure in my working days.”
Virtual co-working is now an essential part of her weekly routine. “There is a session every Monday morning at 9 a.m., which I love because it helps to get a really good start into the week,” she says. She usually does at least two other sessions a week too. “I think most freelancers know how hard it can be to build a good routine and stick to it. Before the virtual co-working I was feeling quite lost with that, but now I have a more structured working week.”
The answer to lockdown isolation?
Amenta started virtual co-working before lockdown, but clearly it’s something that could help freelancers who are struggling to structure their days now they’ve been forced into working from home and don’t have the option of going to a café or co-working space.
Communications specialist Sophia Cheng, who hosts one DNG co-working session a week, certainly thinks so. “It’s great for any freelancer that’s looking for a bit more accountability and anyone that struggles with being productive when they work at home,” she says. “Knowing that there are six other people online working with me makes me much more likely to do something!”
Virtual co-working is also a great opportunity to make business connections and share skills. Cheng has given work to four freelancers she met through the group and I’ve collaborated on articles with several virtual colleagues, as well as taking part in skill shares. For example, one co-working friend helped me with social media marketing, while I gave her some tips on pitching.
How can freelancers get involved?
The DNG Inner Circle, which costs around £15 a month, is just one of many options. Focusmate is a platform through which freelancers can book 50-minute video sessions with a randomly assigned partner who also wants to get something done at that time. There’s also MyWorkHive, a Slack group where freelancers and remote workers can connect to share ideas and get work done, and Ultraworking, a platform that is ramping up its capacity to support more people who have had their routines disrupted by Covid-19.
Or you can just set up a co-working session with a freelance friend via Skype or Zoom, which I tend to do two or three times a week at least. We’re most productive when we use the Pomodoro technique: 25-minutes of work and 5-minutes of chatting. I can honestly say that in my eight years of freelancing, it’s the best thing I’ve done to improve my productivity and feel less alone when working from home.
By Elly Earls