5 Best Workspaces for Freelancers

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- If you ever want to make your home feel like the most stiflingly dull place on Earth, become a freelancer.

Along with tracking down 1099 forms at tax time and figuring out how many assignments it takes to pay for health coverage, limiting your time in the home office and the stagnancy of said place is one of the toughest challenges a freelancer faces. If you're not fortunate enough to have some company pull you into their own digs for a few days a week, chances are you'll need to check in to the nearest Wi-Fi enabled spot just to stop your beloved home's walls from closing in on you.

That's assuming the task at hand can be accomplished on your computer. Otherwise, you're either seeking out a friend's garage or basement space for your craft or looking for some like-minded folks who don't mind the mess and noise.

What's out there to satisfy "third space" needs is a pretty mixed bag, especially after a nasty recession that saw coffee shops cover up their outlets and limit online time to discourage seat squatting. You can bounce across the country using Wi-Fi at McDonald's (Stock Quote: MCD), Wendy's (Stock Quote: WEN), Denny's (Stock Quote: DENN), Taco Bell (Stock Quote: YUM) and even Buffalo Wild Wings (Stock Quote: BWLD), but that also means parking it in or around one of those establishments all day and dealing with the lowest-common-denominator search, email and plug-in restrictions of each business.

That said, those restaurants and several other free and fee-based options are just the kind of facilities that can keep a freelancer on top of his or her game when working from home gets frustrating. Even freelancers who need a workshop more than they need Wi-Fi have options available. We took a look at alternatives for freelancers looking to leave home every so often and came up with five that could best fit their needs:

Public libraries

This should be your first stop if all you need is some Wi-Fi, research materials and quiet.

First off, it's free. In Boston, for example, every portion of its public library system including the massive, gorgeous library in Copley Square is a free wireless hot spot. All you have to do is get a free library card, connect to an access point, log in with your library card number and PIN and fire away. Want to print? It's $1 for a printing card and 15 cents per page.

It's pretty much the same story in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and just about any other public library in the country. That said, there are certain disadvantages that come with this particular forum. The quality of your Wi-Fi connection can swing dramatically depending on your library. If transferring large files is an absolute necessity for the task at hand, you might want to check the library's connection first just to make sure it can handle the load.

Secondly, while libraries can be quiet, they're far from a solitary experience these days. Add freelancers and the newly unemployed to the ranks of libraries' everyday patrons including students, retirees and folks who patently refuse to join a video store, hit a Redbox kiosk or use Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN) or Netflix (Stock Quote: NFLX) streaming services and it can get a little crowded.

Exercise a bit of patience and try to keep the workspace sprawl to a minimum. Remember when you were a kid and had to go to the library for school assignments? Well those kids are still there and won't think much of your independent labor if it conflicts with getting their report on the Ottoman Empire in on time.

The coffee shop

Remarkably, this is not only still an option but one that's become a lot more attractive since Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) went with unlimited free Wi-Fi in 2010. Yes, some places still enforce time limits during peak hours, plate over their outlets or shut off the Wi-Fi when users get too ornery or numerous, but the coffeehouse is still Laptopistan for just about every computer-confined working class.

Independent shops and chains alike tend to struggle with running a business and a de facto library at the same time and still try to strike a balance in their registers as well. Coffee and pastry add up and can put the daily rent between $6 and $12. While that's not so great for an owner if tables are a key part of the service and customers are getting shushed for daring to act as if they're in a cafe and not a cubicle, owners who can cultivate a thriving coffeehouse workplace and inspire strong takeout service at the same time can yield some measure of success.

The chains are already wise to this, which is why urban and suburban Panera Bread (Stock Quote: PNRA) shops are replete with folks clattering away at free Wi-Fi from its cushy seats. Dunkin Donuts (Stock Quote: DNKN) and Krispy Kreme (Stock Quote: KKD) are angling for a piece of the coffeehouse action with free Wi-Fi as well. Five years ago, Wi-Fi in coffee shops was compared to air-conditioning in 1920s movie palaces. As the economy changed during the recession, it could be argued that a constant connection and a place to work became a far more precious commodity than cold air.

Coworking space

Want the coffee shop work atmosphere but don't want to put up with all those annoying "customers" with their "orders" and "conversation" while you're trying to get stuff done? You're not alone.

The folks behind CitizenSpace in San Francisco, San Jose and a future location in Las Vegas wanted to take coffeehouse-style social interaction and collaboration and extract the coffee, baked goods and mindless proles who consume them during their downtime. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each weekday, CitizenSpace opens its doors to software engineers, Web developers, social media consultants and strategists, graphic designers, product designers, public relations specialists, writers, sustainable Web hosting entrepreneurs and others in need of some workspace.

There's a bit of a cost associated with this, as rates start at $8 an hour for use of the lounge/kitchen/cafe area, Wi-Fi, printing, copying, snacks, drinks and library. That can shrink to $20 daily, $60 weekly or $200 monthly, but goes up to $300 to $425 if you want things such as conference rooms, event space, projectors, whiteboards, flipcharts, a 24/7 access key or a desk of your own where you can stash stuff.

Coworking is by no means a new concept, and spaces such as IndyHall in Philadelphia, Workspace in Vancouver, Calif., and Perch in Austin are among many nationwide offering similar services. If a stable and collaborative working environment that doesn't require you to eat a scone each day is important to you, coworking space may be worth the investment.

Writing spaces

Writers are a special breed when it comes to workplaces. They need inspiration, they need a muse and they need the world to shut the hell up every so often.

New York's Paragraph gets this and gives writers a place where they can find both creative inspiration and tranquillity away from a city that just never stops moving. Founded by two former students of the New School's creative writing program, Paragraph was founded as an extension of the graduate school writing experience -- where everyone is working toward a similar goal and exchanging ideas around it, but knows the kind of environment it takes to make that goal a reality.

After completing an application, members can sign on for a $132-a-month semi-annual fee, a $152-a-month quarterly membership or a $172 month-to-month membership. If that's a bit too rich, part-time memberships go for $90 a month for a semiannual mebership or $110 quarterly. You'll be pulling all-nighters during restricted part-time hours from 6 p.m. to 11 a.m., but the Wi-Fi, printing and library of this 2,500-square-foot loft are all still included in the price.

Writers' coworking spaces are just as common as their more businesslike counterparts. Santa Monica, Calif., hosts both The Office and The Writers Junction; San Francisco has the SFGrotto; Portland, Ore., writers go martial at The Writers' Dojo; Chicago scribes have a home at the Uptown Writers Space; and New York gives Paragraph some literary neighbors at the Brooklyn Writers Space, Room 58 and The Writer's Room.

Shop spaces

Sorry, laptop zombies, but you're not the only ones who need some space to work every so often.

Since Starbucks and Panera frown on customers soldering circuitry at their tables, rehearsing green-screen fight scenes near the barista stand and sucking up spilled lattes with your homebrew vacuum, the technically inclined need a better place to put their talents to use. That's where Seattle's Jigsaw Renaissance comes in.

Home to robotics geeks, coders, appliance modifiers and builders, hackers and doers of all sorts, Jigsaw Renaissance is a hobbyist, entrepreneur and freelancer's second home. General membership starts at $15 a month for a member box for all your stuff, but can get even lower for starving artists and students who can prove extenuating circumstances. If business is a bit better, though, $100 a month buys a key and 24/7 access, while $200 tacks on a 6-foot-square designated area.

Jigsaw Renaissance doubles as a learning workshop and a place for kids to come and work on their own projects, but it also provides the kind of labor space a city such as Seattle sorely lacks. It's a similar case in other cities, where spaces including Brooklyn's Treehouse, NYC Resistor and Alpha One Labs; Detroit's i3 Detroit; San Francisco's Hacker Dojo and NoiseBridge; and Denver's Club Workshop allow members to build freelance time-tracking devices, stain bookshelves or even work on cars -- depending on the facility.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

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