How Changing This One Aspect Of My Freelance Career Benefited My Mental Health
the benefits of hot-desking at wework
When we relocated from London to Singapore, I had one stipulation for my career – that it would be possible to continue freelancing, with the opportunity to expand my own business operations.
As a millennial “slashie” my career has grown across multiple verticals within the fitness and wellness industry and I highly value the tapestry of skills that enable me to be just as comfortable writing copy in an office setting as I am in the studio leading a class.
During the initial stages of establishing myself in a new city, which brings with it learning the ropes of a unique industry eco-system, building a new network and expanding client leads, I found that the most reasonable (and affordable!) place for me to operate my digital business was from the confines of the second bedroom of our inner-city apartment. Which, with a little imagination, became my home office.
Working from home, has its perks – not in the least being able to wear whatever you want all day and getting the opportunity to prepare home-cooked meals for lunch. However, it can also create a very isolating environment, which for me, began to affect my headspace.
To give some context, on a CV I would best describe myself as a “highly motivated, self-starter, with disciplined work ethic and an inherent creative streak.” I’m naturally disciplined and flow best within structured time frames and routines. If I set myself a task, it’s going to occur. If I create a schedule with deadlines, I stick to it, or more likely, finish ahead of time. However, I’m also a creative soul and thrive when I am inspired.
the reality of freelancing from a home office
Freelancing and working from home looks so easy on Instagram; light, airy, dreamy, productive and so, joyful. With lust-worthy Scandinavian-inspired office set ups, colour-coded work calendars and cinematic visions of deep work flow. In reality, freelancing often looks like an instability of income and an unpredictable workload, which when combined to operating out of a home office, can lead to limited human interaction, a lack of feedback or critical review and a sense of isolation.
I began to find that freelancing in this manner can, especially those with a predisposition to such experiences, bring up issues of mental health – heightened anxiety, rumination of negative thinking, comparison, even depression. In my experience, I began to find myself constantly questioning everything I was doing and slipping down in terms of mood, health and inspiration. I was working for sure (because I had set those schedules for myself, remember?) but began lacking quality and pride in my output.
After close to one year working in this way, I realised that instead of feeling freedom from working from home, I felt limited and confined. With my solitary freelance lifestyle beginning to take a toll on my mental health and my work.
At this point I received a divine gift – a months’ trial membership to a WeWork office opening nearby, which of course, I quickly accepted. The happy coincidence here being that many of my good friends and industry colleagues also had desk-spaces within the community of the shared office.
The shift in my mental state was almost instantaneous. Surrounded by a community of creators, thought leaders, start-ups and established companies, I felt inspiration course through me again. I was empowered to refresh my perspective, re-evaluate elements of my career and ignited to get into work every day.
This is how I found WeWork shifted the state of my mental health for my freelance career.
1. increased social Connection
Life before WeWork looked like me either not uttering a word aloud for 12+ hours a day until my partner returned home, at which time you couldn’t shut me up. As an extroverted introvert, the necessary removal from busy social situations assists me by allowing me to work well in autonomy – but put anyone in a room by themselves all day and I think most people would begin starving for interaction and conversation!
Human connection is a necessary aspect of optimal and healthy living. Our bodies are wired to have human contact and the connections developed from real-life interactions, beyond the words quickly typed out onto a screen, are necessary for our mental and physical health; with studies showing us that we have an up to 50% chance of improved longevity and a strengthened immune system, and lower rates of anxiety and depression when we have increased social interactions. We also tend to become more empathic, trusting and co-operative, with higher levels of self-esteem. Certainly, I found a natural lift in my mood and energy from entering a co-working space. If not in the least that I found myself actually forming eloquent (for the most part) sentences, rather than unintelligible mumbles to myself from behind a computer screen!
Which led to….
2. Natural Networking
The saying “your network is your net worth” may be a cringe cliché, but in an eco-system such as Singapore, the network that surrounds you is invaluable to receiving opportunities and leads for future projects, clients or collaborations. Within a co-working space like WeWork, there is a natural impetus to build connections with fellow flexible workers as introductions are made over shared desks or hydrating at the fruit filled water dispenser (#WeWorkPerk).
The aspect of visibility also comes into play here. When people regularly see you, you tend to stay at the forefront of mind – which can result in advanced leads or invitations. The interactive workspace additionally helps to build connections between collaborators, where with a range of industries and skillsets represented, you can connect to the people, technology or insights that you may truly need to help propel your career or burgeoning business idea.
3. elevated Motivation levels
When those around you are thriving on high vibrations, it is natural to get pulled into the frequency. Seeing the office around me abundant with success, flourishing with the inception of new ideas, creative pursuits and interesting endeavours helped to provide an assortment of motivation to just try new things and test the ideas that had been on the backburner for too long. The collaborative environment elevated my belief in thinking my plans were possible. When you hear of some many new concepts being launched or expansions rapidly moving, you can’t help but receive a little flutter of motivation to follow your own passions and purpose in the same way.
3. invited Fresh Inspiration
As a creative who is highly influenced by the energy of the environment I am within, the shift into the WeWork co-working space bought with it a fresh wave of inspiration. The change in atmosphere stimulated by the dynamic of a shared office space, where there is a consistent but steady hustle, constant innovation and curiosity, helps to create an engaging and uplifting environment in which to work from. Additionally, the regular open events, workshops and panels put in place by the WeWork team helps to provide fresh insight and inspiration to members, aiding in advancing knowledge, connection and understanding.
4. Defined My Work Hours
and more importantly my time for breaks.
When working from home, I became immersed in my solitary rhythm – constantly working to create output and simply taking markers of time from when my partner would arrive home, a grumbling stomach calling out for food or an appointment/workout booking time. Yet when I moved into the co-working space I began to drop into more defined work hours. Initiated by the journey (be it still only a 10 minute to walk to the office!) I would be able to set a time I wanted to be at my desk each morning and then likewise, give myself a set finish time to pack up and leave by the end of the day. This simple structure instantly gave more definition to the time allocated to the portion of my work which requires me to be at a desk, from which I could then prioritise the time that I need to be creatively working – planning classes, filming, teaching, devising or developing content!
I also found within a shared workspace, I became quickly aligned to the natural rhythms and breaks of the day of those around me, which released some of the pressure I had been placing on myself to perform. Witnessing the work flow of those around me, the times and frequency they took breaks, engaged in deep work or set about for collaboration, gave me an element of permission to relax into my own natural daily patterns – without the mental projection I held previously that everyone is hustling, at all times.
5. Opened Up Team Energy and Peer Review
I'm exceptionally fortunate that I share my WeWork space with a group of my close friends and industry colleagues here in Singapore. However beyond just the joy of having familiar faces around the office, the benefit of having a group of people who expect to see most days has created an atmosphere of being apart of a small team. This became particularly important for me in reducing the sense of isolation I often experience as a freelancer. Not only does such a dynamic help to keep you accountable, but it also forms an environment where it is possible to ask questions and get immediate responses – not be waiting on that email or text back.
Which lead onto another crucial aspect that has been of assistance – peer review. Having trusted “work” friends and colleagues now around me, I was able to brainstorm ideas around and ask for feedback or peer review, which is imperative to the development of my craft and work. This support has been hugely advantageous in the development of business ideas and applications – to help see differing perspectives, avenues or processes that may not have been my first instinct, but come from engaging with individuals with other backgrounds, experiences and insight. Additionally, being on the other end and helping to shape or offer insight to colleagues, has been a positive act of service.
6. Lead To Less rumination and comparison
Working in my home office bought with it a vortex of comparison to others I was seeing on social media in similar roles, overcomplicating the projects I was working on and ruminating on negative thoughts that were not enhancing my process. By removing myself from a place of isolation – where it is easier to be drawn into comparison and internal dialogues – to an engaged, interactive environment lessened the timeframe in which I was connected to social media and my inner critic – which more readily bought on these mind-sets.
Even though it was an external motivation, I even found that the accountability of being “seen” as working (so as not to have the guy sitting behind you watching you scroll your feed for hours on end) provided more of a push for getting off social media and on with the, seemingly endless, tasks at hand. The lessening of social media comparison of what a freelance existence should look like also came about with more real-life interaction, where it was possible to not just see the highlights, but the actual real life processes, frustrations and reality of working for yourself.
7. Enhanced Productivity Levels
A work office, no matter how beautifully and ergonomically designed – as WeWork’s always are – is never as comfortable as your own sanctuary at home. Which is a true advantage to enhancing your productivity as you are less inclined to just hang out and be there all day. Instead, there is a natural drive to get in, get your work done and then get out to enjoy your evening. Without the opportunity to just become distracted by the TV or whipping up recipes in the kitchen (though distractions do truly still exist within a shared office!) I found my output increased, with my attention focused on the work needing to produced.
From witnessing such positive shifts to my productivity, opportunities and my mental health since gaining a hot-desk membership at WeWork, I can truly say it's been a game changer for my experience as a freelancer. If anything, I wish I made the shift sooner to join the community!
Sidenote: I still do work from home when I need the space and sanctuary to go into a “deep work” phase, are recording film or voice overs, or just need to let my introverted self recover. When I do so, I utilise the practices from my “How To Actually Be Productive When You Work From Home” article.
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