- Coworking spaces are uniquely beneficial because they are a happy medium between remote work’s flexibility and office work.
- Independent workers have many options when it comes to working away from the home.
- The best free or very inexpensive alternatives to coworking spaces include libraries, parks, museums, universities, internet cafés, and coffee shops.
Coworking spaces are advantageous for independent workers who are looking to get away from home to do their work. Traditionally, coworking spaces have been seen as environments for cultivating creativity, attracting independent workers, start-ups, and freelancers.
Despite the benefits of coworking spaces, independent workers — especially those who are just starting out — sometimes cannot afford to use them.
Remote employees and independent workers interested in working somewhere other than home have many alternatives that won’t break the bank. When considering options, think beyond finding a place to simply sit to do work. The best work conditions include quality Wi-Fi and access to additional free resources, such as water and bathrooms.
Here are some of the best free or cheap alternatives to coworking spaces
The New York City Public Library on Fifth Avenue is a great example. Not only is it a quiet place with external and internal architecture reminiscent of Greek antiquity, but it is also a place with invaluable free resources, like books and journal articles.
Not every local library is as grand as the one down the block from Grand Central, but almost all of them are quiet places with free WiFi, computers for use, water, a wealth of research materials, and few distractions.
The only drawback is that working in teams at a library is generally unfeasible, barring local exceptions of the eternal librarian’s “no talking rule.” And even if the rule is not enforced, you’ll feel really embarrassed taking a Zoom call in a library when everyone around you is giving you the side eye.
In metropolitan cities, parks are increasingly being enriched with WiFi, designated online as “free hotspots.” Parks almost always have bathrooms and water fountains, so the addition of free WiFi makes public parks an ideal candidate as a coworking space alternative.
A drawback of working from parks is that this alternative works well only on especially beautiful days of weather. In the summer, laptops will overheat, making for needless interruptions, and in the winter, the same can be said of painfully cold faces and fingers – typing with gloves is next to impossible.
Museums often have similar — if not identical — accommodations as libraries, with free WiFi, water, bathrooms, and research databases, but without limits on conversation.
One advantage that museums have over libraries as an alternative to coworking spaces is that they are more accommodating to working in groups in person. Often a creative hurdle can be overcome by a meeting of minds near a painting.
Independent workers who live in an area with many universities, such as Boston, for instance, can use universities in ways comparable to libraries and parks.
While most universities will only allow students and faculty to use their libraries or research databases, many campuses are open to the public as quasi-parks, providing WiFi and often access to bathrooms.
Coffee Shops and Internet Cafés
Coffee shops and internet cafés are the most common alternatives to working from home, but they should require more background research than most give them.
Cafés have the highest cost among all coworking space alternatives, and they have the most room for incurring drawbacks with loud distractions and competition for power outlets.
A good one must have free WiFi, seating with easily accessible power, quality coffee, and ready access to bathrooms (because coffee). An exceptional one will have staff who remember your name and, ideally, your order.
Emma Ascott, Associate Editor
“I’m lucky enough to live around great parks, coffee shops, malls, and coworking centers. When I’m not working from my home office, I sometimes work at my local outdoor mall, which is equipped with free WiFi (thankfully), and gorgeous areas to sit and work. As a remote worker, I like to make myself leave the comfort of my home and go outside – whether it be to hike, shop, or work.”
Daniel Lamadrid, Marketing Manager
“I like working anywhere that either has a view, outdoor ventilation, natural lighting or all of the above — meaning outdoors. I’m very anxious so I can never stay or keep the same place or position for too long and that makes me innovate my workspace with whatever I can fetch near me. Sometimes from home, other times in public spaces or coffee shops, but always surrounded by nature.”
Lesley Miller, Managing Editor
“I love being on the water more than anything, so when I venture out of my home office it’s always to find an energizing spot with a water view. My favorite destination is Armature Works in downtown Tampa, Florida, which is along the Hillsborough River — near tranquil water, but away from the relaxed, vacation vibe that comes along with actual beach spots. I love to work outside on the Adirondack chairs in the lawn area when it’s not too hot. Otherwise, I hide from the humidity inside the marketplace where there’s still tons of sunlight and a great view through the floor-to-ceiling windows.”
Alex Rodarte, Digital Marketing Specialist
“I like to work from any place that has good coffee. Most of the time, I work from home, but from time to time, I change the routine a bit to have better ideas and be more creative. My favorite place is ‘Guayoyo,’ located in Monterrey, Mexico. I love their cappuccinos, and the outdoor terrace is perfect to have zoom meetings.”
Sheya Michaelides, Contributing Writer
“I love working from home, with my beloved cat on the rug next to me. However, I occasionally need to escape the four walls here and take myself off to a place where I am surrounded by humans. My favourite place to go on these occasions is a cafe called BEAM in Crouch End, London. Crouch End is known for being like a village because it does not have its own tube (subway) station. It’s filled with a diverse range of people, so working at BEAM gives me an opportunity to do a spot of people-watching whilst working on my laptop. I might enjoy one of their delicious Mediterranean breakfasts or just sip countless cups of Americano coffees, whilst taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi.”
Kate Tattersfield, Contributing Writer
“My favourite (free) place to work is the Dalston CLR James Library in London. Cyril Lionel Robert (CLR) James was a historian, journalist, intellectual and socialist. As well as books, archives and a handy cafe next door, it has a dedicated study/work area on one of the upper floors. It’s a great place to get your head down and concentrate, and the large windows let in lots of natural light. It’s also nice to be able to browse the books on the way in/out. I always find a hidden gem that I wouldn’t necessarily come across online or in a book shop. Long live the library!”