Choosing the best freelance or self-employed workplace

Not everyone can pick where they want to work. But if you’re not required to be onsite with a client, then it’s great to have freedom in choosing the best freelance or self-employed workplace.

One of the big attractions of becoming self-employed is the autonomy of working the way you want. Especially if you’re freelancing to better manage a chronic illness, disability or your mental wellbeing. And with everyone having their own individual needs and preferences, you might find what works best for you will be a lot different to other people.

The most important thing to remember is that you can always change your work location if it’s not turning out as you expected. Or switch to a hybrid approach, mixing working from home with trips to a co-working space or a coffee shop when you need more social interaction.

The best freelance or self-employed workplace and location will be the one which makes you the happiest and most productive. Whatever that looks and sounds like. And no matter whether it’s a laptop on a tropical beach, or a quad-monitor desktop set-up in a small home office. 

Every option has benefits and drawbacks, so it’s worth considering what might give you the best start. Or whether it’s time to change this up, especially if you’re struggling with issues like procrastination, burnout, or setting a good work and life balance. To help you with the decision, we’ve collected some of the common options, and reasons why you might want to consider them.

 

Types of working spaces for freelancers and self-employed

Despite the common wisdom and advice dished out, becoming a freelancer doesn’t automatically mean picking a set work location. While everyone might assume you’re going to work from home or in a trendy new co-working space, it’s your decision whether or not you want to try something different.

Some options will make more logical sense if you’re at different stages of self-employment. But there’s an exception for every rule. If you decide you want to travel the world in a caravan or mobile home rather than setting up in a rented office, that’s your choice. And if you can make it work for you, it’s definitely a way to stand out from your competition.

Some of the most common options for freelance workplaces include;

Work from home

People have been working from home (WFH) for many years, with the term first used in a book by NASA engineer Jack Niles in 1979, discussing an experiment where 5 IBM employees were allowed to stay away from the office.

But the growth of digital technology and the recent  Covid-19 pandemic meant it was suddenly embraced by a huge number of employers and workforces during national lockdowns. And while some have pushed for a return to offices, it’s opened up the opportunity for many people to switch to working from home on a full or part-time basis.

In addition to choosing to work from home permanently or in a mix with more social settings, how you implement a home office or workspace will vary. For some freelancers, it may mean investing in a quiet location in the house or garden, and filling it with dedicated work equipment. But others are happiest perched at a busy kitchen table with a small laptop and a cup of coffee.

So while general rules on working from home for the first time can be helpful, you should always feel empowered to change or ignore anything which doesn’t deliver results in your situation.  It’s often assumed introverts will love being based at home, but that’s not true. And even those who prefer isolation most of the time will need to consider whether it makes sense 24/7.

You’ll also need to consider those around you, whether it’s family or flatmates. And if working from home might mean you’re automatically pegged as the person to manage house work because it’s seen as easier than if you were commuting to an office every day.

According to Statista, around 5.6 million people have now been working from home in the UK. Along with growing acceptance from clients and colleagues, it also meant a big rise in both supply and demand for home office equipment. So if you’re thinking about working remotely and have your heart set on a particular desk or chair, then planning and ordering ahead could definitely pay off.

 

Co-working spaces

While remote working is often associated with working from home, the lack of social interaction can be a downside. So as working practices have evolved, a number of co-working spaces have sprung up across every town and location in the UK.

Most co-working locations will all offer rented desks or small office spaces, with essentials such as wired internet connections or wifi. Most will also offer conference and board rooms, shared printing and other facilities, and access to other typical equipment you might need.

But they’ll often vary widely between those set up by small local co-ops and businesses, the large providers such as WeWork and Spaces, or those provided by companies which previously offered ‘traditional’ office space.

So it’s important to have a look around or try some places before signing a long-term contract. You may decide that it’s worth more to have access to a communal cafe or eating area, gym, or other social perks. Or that the social events organised by a particular co-working space are more appealing. 

Most coworking options are open workspaces with hot desks or dedicated locations shared by people across different businesses, but you can also find shared facilities with offices and custom suites for each company or team.

In larger cities, you might also be able to choose from industry specific coworking spaces, allowing you to mingle with other people in your profession or related areas. Or you may be able to join an incubator or venture capital space which combines coworking with support and potentially investment in your business if it’s seen to be successful.

Studio/office rental

If you want to permanently separate your business and home life, or plan to expand it to a larger team, you may want to look at studio or office rental.

This is traditionally how many companies have set themselves up, and it offers a number of advantages if you regularly host client visits, or want your own dedicated and private space to build a business empire.

It’s obviously more suitable for artists who need big spaces to work, you’re freelancing in an occupation which generates lots of noise and mess, or you need a specific type of building and equipment.

Having your own dedicated address will also benefit you in marketing via channels such as Google My Business, and it does look good on business cards. Plus you can really make the space more of your own, although you’ll need to consider any restrictions by the landlord, along with your budget, location, and commuting time.

Picking the right studio or official rental means weighing up the pros and cons of a more expensive choice in a central location or with more modern facilities, versus requirements like staff and client parking spaces, or how close you’ll be to cafes, banks or other amenities.

Working on-site

For various freelance and self-employed professions, it’s a requirement that you’ll be working on-site with clients. But even if it’s not a necessity, you might find that volunteering to spend time at a business can benefit both you, and your projects.

Working on-site can vary massively between standing in a muddy building site as a structural engineer, to visiting as a photographer, or being required for a set period as an SEO consultant or business analyst.

The expectations of you will also vary, even between clients in the same industry. Some may allow you a bit of extra freedom as an external member of their team, while others will insist you follow employee rules for clocking on, taking breaks or dress codes. The more you’re treated as a standard employee, the more important it is to protect yourself against problems from off-payroll working rules, known as IR35.

Whether or not you’re allowed a lot more freedom as a freelancer visiting a client, it’s a good idea to try and avoid taking too many liberties. Even if your direct client doesn’t mind, it can impact on your ability to work with other people in the company if they think you’re unprofessional or just sitting around.

Whether you’re a sole trader or working as part of a limited company, it’s also good to check the rules regarding costs and expenses if you’re regularly visiting client locations.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of different freelance workspaces

We’ve already mentioned some of the benefits and drawbacks of the various types of freelance and self-employed workspaces. But there are more things to consider when you’re setting up your business, so we’ve compiled a quick checklist of the various pros and cons below.

Pros and Cons of Working from home

Pros

  • Flexible scheduling: Working from home allows you to manage your work and personal life with greater options over how your routine is set up. You may be more productive in the morning or late at night, allowing you to work freely without any time restrictions.

    It also means you can take a break from working to tackle some house work, spend time with your family, or tackle the school run.
  • No social requirements: While it’s a myth that introverts always want to be alone, it’s true that many people do find they’re more creative or productive when they can block out social distractions and other commitments.

    Working from home means you can avoid most people as much as you want (depending on how amenable your family may be), or choose to work at times when everyone else is out of the house or asleep. 
  • Saving money and time: Commuting can be a major financial and time drain, with hours lost every day. And while some people appreciate the division between home and work life, for others it will be a massive relief to skip standing in a crowded commuter train just to battle your way to work. Before having to buy an overpriced coffee and sandwich at lunch rather than just moseying to your kitchen.

    Working from home also means no dress code, so while some freelancers find a productivity boost by still ‘dressing for the office’, others are happiest in jeans and a t-shirt or their pyjamas.
  • More chances for other activities: If you’re saving time by not commuting, or need a different break in your working schedule, you’re free to spend time exercising, meditating, or pursuing any hobby you like without judgement from bosses or colleagues.

    Whether you want to learn a new language, play a musical instrument, practise some needlecraft or spend a little time gaming to clear your mind and relieve the stress of the day so far, it’s fine as long as you don’t find yourself procrastinating too much.
  • Building your own workspace: Working from home means you can set up a workspace which perfectly suits your needs. That’s particularly important if you’re living with a disability or chronic illness, but it’s also a massive boost to happiness and productivity if you enjoy being surrounded by plants, inspirational posters and loud music, for example.

    Whether you want to work at a gaming desk with an ultra-powerful PC, a bijou vintage writing desk overlooking your garden, or laid flat on a beanbag, it’s your choice.

 

Cons

  • Distracting environment: While you might know that working from home means productivity and delivering on client projects, your family, flatmates or friends might not appreciate that you’re not just hanging out.

    If you have young children or pets, it can be an even more difficult challenge to overcome. 
  • Isolation and loneliness can be a problem: Setting up your own business or starting as a freelancer can feel lonely, especially when you’re working alone at home.

    And while there are many ways to alleviate this issue, it’s a core component of many mental health challenges, including stress and depression. Often these conditions will cause you to shut yourself away even more, exacerbating the problem even further.

    A study conducted by Office For National Statistics reveals that 2.6 million people suffered from “Chronic loneliness’ because they were working alone and that has affected their well-being.
  • Office expenses: While you’re saving money on commuting, you’ll also need to cover the costs of all your equipment and amenities. And ideally make sure you’re spending in the right way to minimise your outgoings on tax and expenses, so it’s worth checking with an accountant or financial adviser regularly on the latest rules and regulations.

    If money is tight, it can lead you to cut corners and avoid investing in even small costs which will benefit your business more in the long run. But at the same time, it can be disheartening to be sitting on an old kitchen chair at a tiny desk when your freelancing dream involves a lot more.
  • Usage and insurance restrictions: If you own your own home, then there are typically less restrictions on running a business at your address. But rental agreements will often preclude you from running anything from a property, although it will depend on what type of freelancing you’re offering.

    A simple office set-up as a writer or marketing consultant won’t tend to worry most landlords or letting agencies, whereas rigging up a hair salon in a garage would be more of a problem.

    And you’ll also need to check your insurance cover for equipment, or any liability if clients or customers are visiting your home for business purposes.

 

Pros and Cons of Co-working spaces

Pros

  • More affordable than a rental: The world is brimming with cool co-working spaces. When you rent a space, you are paying the full price for an apartment or studio while a co-working space is shared by many freelancers, small businesses, or self-employed people, so the cost is shared by them indirectly too.
  • Networking opportunities: Networking is an integrated part of any self-employed person. Co-working spaces are a hub for people from different fields, and this can often lead to potential client referrals or collaborations along with the social benefits of interacting during the working day or during organised social events.
  • A productive environment: We all tend to be influenced by the energy and outlook of the people around us, so being located in a co-working space alongside those working hard on their business can help with motivation and productivity.

    If you can see someone driving results as a freelancer on the next desk, it can mean you’re less likely to spend the afternoon binge watching a series on Amazon or Netflix, or it can provide an opportunity to ask them for advice or tips to help your career.
  • Attractive amenities: Working from home or a typical client office generally doesn’t involve an onsite cafe or coffee shop, pool tables, giant Jenga or other amenities and attractions. And a co-working space also means a more formal space to meet with clients without the cost of full-time office rental.

 

Cons

  • Difficult to find: The concept of co-working spaces really started emerging in the early 2000s, and despite the large number of facilities opening since then, it can be difficult to secure a spot. Especially in the most popular locations.

    And obviously high demand also tends to increase prices, meaning you can end up paying much more for a desk..
  • Workplace restrictions: Working alongside other people means you’ll need to be considerate about the co-working space rules and regulations, and avoid distracting or annoying everyone.

    So you probably won’t be able to customise your desk, listen to loud music without headphones, or leave rubbish lying around, for example.
  • Lack of privacy: There’s a difference between being social and distracting, or invading someone’s privacy by ignoring common decency. And in any co-working space, that’s a potential problem, as you’ll have no control over who else is using the facility.

 

Studio/Office rental Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The balance between work and life: Having an office means you don’t take your work home with you. And time travelling between the two locations can provide an important barrier to prevent them merging.
  • Professional meeting space: Inviting clients to your own studio or office will allow you to appear more professional than an informal home or coffee shop meeting.
  • Kerbside appeal: If you’ve invested in office space in a central or busy location, then it can help increase client leads, particularly if you’ve also installed professional and attractive signage and branding. Even if people passing don’t rush in straight away, seeing your brand regularly will bring you to mind when they do think of marketing, design or other freelance services.
  • Setting your own workplace rules: Within your office or studio, you’re the boss. Which means you can set the rules for yourself and any staff you bring in. Whether that means minimising distractions, formal break times, or dress codes, it’s all your choice.

 

Cons

  • Travelling every day: This can be time-consuming, and expensive, if your office isn’t located near your home
  • Cost: If you’re renting a dedicated studio or office, that’s going to be a significant cost to pay on a monthly or annual basis. If you’re starting out, and don’t have an established client basis or idea of revenue, then it can easily wipe out any income. And if your client numbers drop, being tied into a long term cost can become a major issue.
  • Finding the right space: If you’ve ever searched for a home or office to buy or rent, you’ll know how difficult it can be to find the right place for a reasonable amount of money. And when the perfect studio or office space does crop up for an affordable rent, you can expect to be fighting hard to secure it against a lot of other freelancers and businesses. 

 

 

Working on-site Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Team support and feedback: When you are working on-site, it’s quick and easy to get insight from clients, management and colleagues rather than waiting for emails and Slack messages - and there’s typically less room for miscommunication in a face-to-face environment, allowing you to check exactly what’s required.

  • Motivation: It’s often inspiring as a freelancer to meet the people behind a client business, and see their passion and drive to succeed. This can help to keep you motivated when projects get more difficult, or give you the chance for insights that might not have been obvious when you’re working remotely.
  • No infrastructure costs: Working on-site with a client may require you to bring your own tools or equipment. But basics like desks, chairs, internet access etc should all be in place.  
  • Travel opportunities: Depending on your love of travel, it may be a big bonus if you’re able to visit new locations across the UK or around the world. Especially when you’re being paid to do it, and if you can build in a little time for sightseeing after a project has ended.

 

Cons

  • A loss of autonomy: If you’re at a client location, even if they give freelancers a little more freedom, you’ll still need to stick roughly to their timekeeping, dress codes and other restrictions.
  • Single-client focus: For freelancers who manage multiple clients at the same time, it can be a problem being located on-site. Especially when other projects might require phone calls or online meetings.
  • Travel: If you’re not a fan of travelling or commuting, then this will obviously be a downside, and you’ll need to make sure costs are correctly entered into your accounts to avoid issues submitting your tax returns.

 

How to decide your ideal freelancing workspace?

Unless you’re tied into a long term agreement, as your freelance career evolves you’ll have the option to change when you work. So don’t feel pressured into trying to pick the ideal self-employed workplace from the start.

But being honest with yourself in answering the questions below will help you to whittle down the wide range of options available, and give some idea of what types of location and workspace will be most suitable for starting out.

Do you thrive on social interaction, or solo focus?

Whether it’s based on your experiences at school, university or previous employment, it’s worth thinking about whether you tend to be happier and more productive if you’re surrounded by people, or working alone for the majority of your time.

This will help you to define your ideal location for the majority of your freelancing, but doesn’t mean you necessarily have to commit to one or other option for the whole of the working week.

Do you value the separation of your work and personal life?

For some freelancers and self-employed professionals, it’s important to maintain a distinct gap between their work and personal lives. And the expense of a separate office and commuting will be worthwhile, as it gives time and space to switch into work mode.

But others find themselves merging the two anyway, regardless of when and where work is supposed to take place.

Does your equipment need dedicated storage?

Most co-working spaces will have some secure storage available for smaller items such as laptops or phones. But if you’re self-employed in a role requiring large and expensive equipment, like photography for example, then you may need a location with increased storage and security, whether that’s your home or a dedicated studio.

It’s also important to check your insurance coverage for any location to make sure you’re covered appropriately for any damage or loss.

Do your clients prefer to meet in person?

Many clients are happy with remote meetings and collaboration, but some will always prefer meeting in person. Understanding the habits and preferences in your particular industry will help you know whether it’s worth investing in temporary or permanent space for meetings.

In some cases, everyone will be perfectly comfortable with an occasional chat in a coffee shop or cafe, but if you’re aiming to secure high value clients on retainer, then the cost of a co-working space or permanent office may make that more likely to happen, depending on your industry and specialism.

Are you comfortable committing to rental payments?

Whether you’re choosing a coworking space or a permanent office, most rental agreements will require committing to a minimum set period, along with potentially needing a security deposit. 

Given that freelance incomes can fluctuate enormously, and sometimes with little warning, it’s important that you’ve planned for the ongoing costs even if your income drops for any reason. Otherwise you could find yourself going into debt for an office space you’re unable to use, and depending on your status as a sole trader or limited company, this could also impact your personal finances.

 

 

Support and other resources for choosing the right workplace

Home working:

Co-working:

 

 


 

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Off-payroll working rules, otherwise known as IR35 or the intermediaries legislation, is a damaging taxation law from HMRC that IPSE strongly opposes.

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