Coworking blues

Coworking blues

You know that old Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi? The one with the chorus that goes “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? Well that’s how I’ve been feeling for the past six weeks. Ever since that fateful day when the contactors moved in in our building, with their hammers and pneumatic drills, to spruce up the facade, instantly destroying the peace of my home office.

I’ve always quite liked working at home without ever entirely being able to avoid feeling the grass just might be greener on the other side. After all, in my previous life as a journalist, I rather enjoyed the camaraderie of the office. After all, I’m not an obsessive loner, like some. I’ve shared my home office and never had a single problem. During COVID, in fact, I was rather shocked by the number of couples who seemed to really hate sharing workspaces. For me, the gentle sounds of a person working next to me help me concentrate too, and, as long as you’re disciplined, it’s good have a break together from time to time.

So, when it became clear, on the first day of the hellish drilling, that the home office was not going to be a tolerable place to work for the foreseeable future, I wasn’t too daunted. There was a coworking centre (incidentally, native speakers, what do we call one of these? In Spain it’s simply “un coworking” but I can’t help thinking that “a coworking” sounds a little bald) round the corner – I could go there. I went to discuss my requirements with them, found it was going to be cheaper than I thought, and booked places for myself and my partner, Ana, who’s even more sensitive to noise disturbance than I am. Our problems seemed solved.

In fact, they were just beginning. Because coworking is not quite the romanticised idyll it’s cracked up to be by some – those who tell you “Ah, it’s so nice to get out the house and see some people.”

Why would I want to share my workspace, for example, with the Noisy Caller? Just when you’re making yourself get down to that tricky translation, up he pops, his voice rivalling in decibels the pneumatic drilling I’d left behind in the flat. I now know more than I ever wanted to or ever should about his business. Who’s not doing her job properly. Who’s about to get his marching orders. What their next sales campaign is going to be. I’d really rather not.

Sadly, the Noisy Caller is just one of a whole series of types we’ve come across in our time at the coworking. Some people, of course, are friendly, or at least polite, with a “Bon dia” when we arrive. That’s all apart from one man sitting in the corner, the Impassive Expat. He’s English, but he NEVER says anything to anyone in any language. He just burbles on all afternoon on the phone in English about nothing on particular to what seems like anyone who’ll listen, before silently slipping away in mid-afternoon. Lord knows how he makes any money out of that!

Worse than either of these, though, is the Space Invader. She sits next to me. And when my back’s turned or when I’m out of the office, her stuff starts creeping on to my desk. No matter that the desk opposite her is absolutely empty – she wants my territory! I, of course, will have none of it. After she placed a headset on my desk I waited until she went out to the toilet, put it firmly on her side of the partition, and put my rucksack at the edge of my desk as a boundary marker. I thought that was that.

It was not the end of the matter, though. I returned from lunch one day to find that the Space Invader and her colleague had entirely taken over my desk. “Sorry! We were having a meeting and we thought you weren’t here so it would be OK.” No matter that the desk opposite the Space Invader remained empty. No matter that the desk opposite and the desk next to the Space Invader’s colleague (Space Invader II?) remained empty. They wanted MY seat. I’m thinking of hiring mercenaries to protect it.

Worst of all, is another mysterious type in the coworking centre who has never actually been seen. This is the Person Who Put Fish in the Microwave. The place has coffee facilities, although the coffee is foul, and it also has a microwave for heating food. But that’s totally unusable because it stinks of fish. And anything put in there would clearly also end up smelling and tasting of fish. So we’ve resorted to buying takeaway coffee from a local bar and going home for food. Fortunately, neither are far away.

As summer wears on, the coworking centre is also becoming unbearably hot, especially when the sun shines on the not-very-well-insulated corrugated roof. There are fans, but there comes a time when all even the most powerful fan can do is blow hot air from one place to another. I now seriously have to weigh up every day which will be worse: the boneshaking drilling or the sweltering heat.

All in all, I can’t wait for the noisy workmen to finish so I can get back into my quiet, comfortable, air-conditioned office. As for social interaction in the workspace, I’m happy to share with Ana, but it turns out I’m a 21st-century man: I much prefer other office contact to be with people of my own choosing via the internet.

Note: the photo is definitely NOT of our coworking centre and does not show any of the characters described in this post.




  1. Catharine Cellier-Smart

    I’m 100% with you on this one!

    There’s a coworking space about a 5-minute drive from where I live and a few years ago I tried it on several occasions but gave up in the end. It didn’t have a Space Invader, but there were definitely several Noisy Callers.

    And there were plenty of other factors that turned me off too: a non-ergonomic working environment (no standing desk or proper office chair), having to work on my laptop instead of my 27" desktop computer, potential security issues due to using their wifi, difficulty in getting a decent cup of tea (I would have had to take my own mug, teabags, milk AND kettle every time!), and – due to being back in an office environment – a general, vague feeling of being limited that reminded me of my 15 years spent as an employee.

    I get plenty of professional and non-professional social interaction elsewhere (including lunches with a co-working group!), so I’m happy to stick to my own office, which is where I’m most productive.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Catharine. Your points about ergonomics and the working environment are very good ones.

  2. Emma Goldsmith

    What an entertaining piece, Simon! Sums up everything that could go wrong with a shared working space and you’ve convinced me never to try it, so thank you for sparing me that experience.

    Must say, though, the lack of air conditioning would have been a no-no for me at this time of year.

    • Simon Berrill

      Thank you, Emma! Glad to be of service! The lack of air conditioning wasn’t really a problem in May, but it’s now pretty hellish, despite the fans they’ve got, which help a bit. This week will probably be my last there because it looks as if they’re finishing the works pretty soon.


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