Home workers, freelancers, consultants, sales people, and other free roaming SMEs complain that working from home is lonely. Those who have chosen not to rent a small office space (often because good quality office space is expensive, or because they're frequently on the road) miss the camaraderie of colleagues and lack flexible access to professional business resources such as large printers, conference software, presentation and meeting rooms.
Coworking is a new way of working where independent professionals, SMEs and small teams from many industries get together and work in one location.
Formats vary from straightforward coworking (desks and chairs) to studios and collectives for artists or maker and hacker spaces (workspace, gadgets and machinery).
Members of coworking spaces report an increase in productivity, which they attribute to the energy generated from being among other busy people.
Community curators likewise champion the phenomenon of "accelerated serendipity" - the brainstorming, problem-solving and collaboration that is already familiar to anyone who belongs to a tight business network. Coworking communities can even help melt the perceived barriers between industries and even across sectors.
Depending on the setup, members benefit from office space, areas to relax, meetings in a living room space or around a big kitchen table, shared hot-desks, private nooks for phone and conference calls, studio space, conference space, or expensive equipment, for less than the price of the equivalent-sized traditional shared office.
Prices vary, but the advantages continue with a choice of packages and price points, reflecting need, commitment and affordability.
Recently-opened coworking spaces in Northern Ireland include: Boom Studios, a social enterprise that arose out of Project21, with studio and gallery space in Bangor and Eighty81 - a coworking space and incubation programme based at Ebrington Square in Londonderry. Other areas include the Laboratory, a space for developers based in the Rumble Labs' headquarters in the Cathedral Quarter, StudioSouk - an open plan studio and retail space in Belfast city centre - and WabiSabi, which is the latest coworking community for NI that runs regular coworking days.
Does this mean that traditional offices and workspaces are on their way out? No. The office isn't dead and coworking is its new collaborative, friendly, flexible face.
Coworking communities and spaces provide versatile, energising alternatives.
They may appeal primarily to lonely home workers and nomadic professional freelancers. But they can also offer an attractive solution to many others, facilitating new and valuable collaboration opportunities across industries and sectors.
Dawn Baird is a founder of training and coaching firm Sensei