This wasn’t a good week to go anywhere in Boston, which led to a lot of people working remotely:
Some people took well to the new situation:
Others felt a little cooped up:
It’s a classic struggle of the work-from-home life: freedom and comfort on the one hand, isolation on the other.
Enter Hoffice, a Swedish community trying to spread what they think is a better way to work from home – together.
Hoffice’s Facebook page describes the idea as, “A network for everyone with flexible work space needs, with the aim of creating temporary and amazing working session in each other’s homes.”
Each city with a Hoffice community also has it’s own Facebook page. People can join the Facebook group that represents the city they’re in, then post to the page and invite other group members to come to their home to work for the day. Hoffice members come from all kinds of professional backgrounds and work on their own projects. The purpose of gathering is not so much collaboration as mutual support.
Hosts specify how many people they can comfortably fit, and what kind of workplace “features” they can offer (Wi-Fi, snacks, a printer, a room to take phone calls, etc.). When enough people have responded, the host announces that the session is now full. (The Stockholm Facebook group, for example, has almost 850 people, so only a small fraction of the group goes to each Hoffice session.)
Hoffice itself is not a company and there’s no fee to participate in a group work session (unless the host asks you to contribute to a snack fund or something similar). The “founders” came up with the idea as a way to make their own work lives more satisfying, and encourage others to borrow their models.
Earlier this week, while Boston was trapped at home by the latest snow storm, Hoffice posted new guidelines to help newbies start communities in their own cities. Right now, Hoffice communities only exist in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, but it might not be surprising to see the idea pop up in Boston, considering the city’s long connection to the “coworking” movement.
“The basic premise is the same,” Bill Jacobson, the co-founder and CEO of Workbar, which runs shared workspaces in Boston and Cambridge, said. “People are looking to work around other people, and not necessarily people from their own company.”
At Workbar, like most other coworking spaces (here’s a rough guide to the dozens in the area), individuals or small groups pay to have access to a shared office, complete with free office supplies, conference areas, administrative support and, most of all, a diverse community of workers. Prices at Workbar range from $350 a month for basic access, to $3,000 a month for private office space that includes four memberships.
Jacobson said coworking spaces offer a more flexible and dynamic work environment than a traditional office, which he thinks will become more important as technology continues to blur the lines between work and life.
“Your work and life are not separated. It’s just a continuum,” Jacobson said. “If work has just invaded my life, how do I bring life back into the workplace?”
Aside from trying to provide a comfy and personal working environment, Hoffice has a very specific way to bring life back into the workplace. A major tenet of the concept is that work days are overseen by a “facilitator,” which can either be the Hoffice host or any other group member that volunteers.
The goal of the facilitator is to foster a feeling of camaraderie within the group, and help keep people working productively toward whatever goal they’ve set for themselves. Hoffice’s suggested way of doing that is to split up the day into hour long blocks – each one containing 45 minutes of work time and 15 minutes of break time.
Before each new block of work, the facilitator goes around the room and asks people to announce a few specific tasks they want to accomplish during the next 45 minutes. The idea behind the exercise is to encourage people to structure their work days, and to add a little pressure to stay focused.
Stas Gayshan, managing director at the Cambridge Innovation Center, which has been provided coworking spaces in the Boston area for about 15 years, said that kind of structure is often key for people who are self-employed or otherwise in charge of their own schedules.
“If you declare for other people that you’re going to do something, you’re more accountable to the doing of the thing,” Gayshan said. He compared Hoffice’s system to the November Project, a voluntary group workout community that was made famous in Boston and now exists in cities all over the country.
Neither Workbar nor the Cambridge Innovation Center seem close to incorporating home coworking or Hoffice’s unique daily structure into their programming, but Gayshan and Jacobson both welcome the idea of experimenting with new workplace structures.
“There is a really clear trend in modern workplace that a lot people who have traditionally worked alone want to work alone but around other people,” Gayshan said. “Here’s one more way where people say we really want to work around other people.”