‘SURE YOU CAN WATCH PORN’ Inside the of­fices where any­thing goes

The world is now your work­place as gyms, cafés and banks of­fer free desks for broke self-starters. But, asks JOSIE COPSON, is it too good to be true?

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents -

OK, my col­league is tech­ni­cally the fit­ness in­struc­tor at the spin stu­dio where I have set up my of­fice for the day. I know why he is ask­ing me this. All around me, fel­low ex­er­cis­ers have started to pile in. The space where they would usu­ally dump their bags or sit to put their shoes on is now my of­fice. As such, they are strug­gling to get changed. They shoot me dan­ger­ous glances as they bal­ance pre­car­i­ously against the only wall space avail­able. But I’ve no time to feel guilty. I’ve got emails to re­spond to! Peo­ple to meet! Ar­ti­cles to write!

“No, I’m good,” I re­ply. He nar­rows his eyes. I’ve been sit­ting here since 9.30am. It’s now mid­day and, in that time, two sets of fit­ness classes have been and gone.“But why are you here so early?” he per­sists.

I tell him I’m a jour­nal­ist and I have a very im­por­tant fea­ture to write up about the baby of a fa­mous re­al­ity-TV cou­ple. He, in re­turn, tells me how much he hates re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. Oh, how we laughed! He gets of­fi­cially pro­moted to work-hus­band sta­tus. The blonde woman be­hind the re­cep­tion desk, who I’ve asked to fill up my wa­ter bot­tle four times, has been rel­e­gated. She was on shaky ter­ri­tory any­way – when I asked for their wi-fi code, she dropped a piece of pa­per on the counter like it was a used tis­sue.

You may have heard of the hous­ing cri­sis, but what about the desk cri­sis? Be­tween 2008 and 2016, the num­ber of free­lancers in the UK has risen by 43%*, mean­ing there’s now an es­ti­mated two mil­lion of us on the hunt for some­where to work that isn’t our bed or an over­priced cof­fee shop. I’ve got a full-time job, but I’m hop­ing to do more work on the side to fund my ad­dic­tion to buy­ing any­thing that Sarah Ashcroft’s In­sta­gram tells me to, and I don’t have the dol­lar to ac­tu­ally pay for a desk.

Thank­fully, savvy com­pa­nies are play­ing fairy god­mother and open­ing up their spa­ces to of­fer peo­ple like me a mo­bile of­fice. Boom Cy­cle, the spin stu­dio in east Lon­don where I find my­self to­day, is one such bene­fac­tress. They used to have a small juice bar and an area sell­ing leg­gings and socks. But now the owner, 33-year-old Hi­lary Row­land, has gone one fur­ther and

in­stalled a desk slap bang next to re­cep­tion. It’s a sin­gle desk re­ally – you’d maybe get two peo­ple on it at a push, but I’ve had my eye on it for months. And Boom Cy­cle isn’t alone. Ritzy Lon­don gym Third Space has kit­ted out the lounge of its Ca­nary Wharf branch with plump so­fas and low ta­bles from which you can do your life ad­min, while cer­tain branches of Vir­gin Ac­tive have decked out their spa­ces with the finest Ap­ple com­put­ers.

But, although it’s all lovely in the­ory, I’m un­sure whether you can ac­tu­ally use the space like an of­fice. I feel about as awk­ward as the time my dis­ser­ta­tion tu­tor at univer­sity had to break it to me that ‘brought’ and ‘bought’ were two sep­a­rate words two-and-a-half years into my jour­nal­ism de­gree (I thought they were in­ter­change­able). Sure, there are two other peo­ple typ­ing on lap­tops, but I have a feel­ing they work here – mainly be­cause the blonde re­cep­tion­ist is much nicer to them.

I de­cide to push my lim­its a lit­tle fur­ther. My phone doesn’t have sig­nal down here, so I give my ed­i­tor Boom Cy­cle’s num­ber and tell her to call it if she needs to get in touch with me to­day. The phone rings and a guy who looks like an ASOS model (ac­tu­ally, ev­ery­one here looks like an ASOS model) an­swers. There’s an “I don’t know who Josie Copson is. You’ve got the wrong num­ber”. Be­fore I can get up to tell him I am THE Josie Copson he speaks of, the re­ceiver has been slammed down. It rings again and the blonde re­cep­tion­ist an­swers this time. She knows my name, as I checked in with her, so she makes the short jour­ney to my desk.“Your ed­i­tor is ring­ing about a dead­line.” I go up and lean over the counter, push­ing the phone’s wire to its lim­its as I chat for five min­utes. The woman looks ut­terly baf­fled.

At 3pm, I have a meet­ing set up with a woman who has the power to com­mis­sion some of my fea­ture ideas. She rings me, con­fused. “Where are you? I’m lost.”

“Just look for the mo­ti­va­tional black­board on the street that says, ‘Any­thing worth do­ing is worth kick­ing ass at!’” I tell her. When she even­tu­ally finds me, I or­der us a round of smooth­ies (I ask for Tet­ley, but they don’t have any), which sets me back the price of a H&M bikini – tea rounds are ex­pen­sive here.

“So, I’m re­ally think­ing that the Porn Awards could work for you guys…”

“The WHAT?” replies my col­league. The juicer for our smooth­ies has just been fired up.

“THE PORN AWARDS!” I shout.

“THE WHAT?” she shouts back.

Around us, peo­ple are lim­ber­ing up for their class, and for the first time I feel al­most com­fort­able here. My col­league doesn’t – she makes her ex­cuses and leaves.

I check my watch. It’s 5.40pm – only five min­utes un­til the class I’ve been wait­ing for since 9.30am this morn­ing starts. As I fi­nally step onto a spin bike, my work hus­band looks about, ut­terly re­lieved. They’ve been an ac­com­mo­dat­ing bunch, but I can’t help think­ing that if their lone desk was used in this way ev­ery day, ten­sions would rise. It’s a nice idea in the­ory. In re­al­ity? It’s time for me to test my luck else­where.

The good news is it’s not just gyms jump­ing on the pop-up desk wagon. Bar­clays is giv­ing its unutilised space (turns out no one goes into

“I tell my ed­i­tor to call me at Boom Cy­cle if she needs me”

banks any more) to so­cial en­ter­prises, busi­ness start-ups and com­mu­nity projects, while Google has a place in east Lon­don that you can use com­pletely free of charge if you fill out a short mem­ber­ship form and, you know, give all your per­sonal data away. You can even, I’ve heard it whis­pered, gate­crash some­one else’s of­fice space – with com­pa­nies like prop­erty agency 3Space do­nat­ing one desk to a non-profit start-up or ex­per­i­men­tal project for ev­ery com­pany that rents a desk at one of its shared-work­ing spa­ces. Giv­ing a start-up a lit­tle bit of space will mean ev­ery­one in­volved ben­e­fits – Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view re­search found that peo­ple in co-work­ing spa­ces ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity, lower burn-out rates and higher job sat­is­fac­tion. This is how I find my­self in pop­corn com­pany Prop­er­corn’s Is­ling­ton of­fice. Here, they lend desks to any­one who wants them (as long as some­one in the of­fice knows who they are and can vouch for the fact that they’re not a se­rial killer) in re­turn for some skill-shar­ing and gen­er­ally not be­ing a li­a­bil­ity.

The co-founder of Prop­er­corn is Cassandra Stavrou, who waltzes in wear­ing black trousers and a crisp white shirt, per­fectly match­ing the crisp white walls of the of­fice.“It gives it an in­cred­i­ble en­ergy, hav­ing so many pas­sion­ate and am­bi­tious young peo­ple un­der one roof,” she tells me.

“Who have you had in so far?” I ask, in­trigued.

“Jour­nal­ists, stylists, au­thors… We had a free­lance jour­nal­ist who stayed for a cou­ple of weeks. She was fed up of work­ing from her kitchen ta­ble and hadn’t found long-term of­fice space, so she came and joined us. We’re still in close con­tact.” Oh, I get why I’m here – I can give them cov­er­age. But what about if my dad, who fits shut­ters for a liv­ing, wanted some­where to work on his sketches, I won­der…

Still, I make my­self at home. There’s as much free Prop­er­corn as you can stom­ach (turns out I can stom­ach a lot, as I sam­ple ev­ery flavour twice in nine hours). They also have a very fancy tea se­lec­tion, so I make my­self a tea ev­ery hour on the hour. There’s a free lunch put on by a hand­some chef called Ed ev­ery day, which is

to­tally ex­cit­ing, as well as a ping-pong ta­ble and an abun­dance of dry sham­poo in the toi­lets, which could come in handy as I haven’t washed my hair in over a week.

I at­tempt to start con­ver­sa­tions through­out the day – ev­ery­one is very po­lite, but I get the feel­ing they’re not in the mood for dis­sect­ing the ro­man­tic machi­na­tions of Love Is­land. And not ev­ery­one seems so keen on the con­stant tea rounds. To be hon­est, it’s hard to make your­self feel part of a com­mu­nity when ev­ery­one else here works for the same com­mon goal. I feel like a naughty in­tern break­ing work eti­quette, so I thank Cassandra for her hos­pi­tal­ity, pack up my award and pen pot, and head out into the evening air.

What I re­ally need is a place that has a com­mu­nal vibe; one where I can talk shop­ping or re­al­ity TV as of­ten as I like with­out fear of judge­ment. Ideally some­where with free wi-fi and cof­fee. And comfy chairs. That place, ac­cord­ing to my free­lance friends, is The Tim­ber­yard, a cof­fee shop in Soho that de­scribes it­self as the ‘fu­ture of work.’ It has 3G and, rather cru­cially, some­thing called ‘Re­verse Os­mo­sis Wa­ter.’ I don’t know what it is, but it gets me out of bed early on a Wed­nes­day

“I need some­where with wi-fi. And comfy chairs”

morn­ing. The prob­lem is, it is so early that I for­get my lap­top. I tell the guy be­hind the bar who looks puz­zled, but help­fully hands over a cou­ple of pages of A4 pa­per and a pen.

I set­tle into a squishy arm­chair (the other seats are taken by louche types in busi­ness-ca­sual at­tire hunched over lap­tops) and or­der a yo­ghurt pot and a bot­tle of wa­ter. I no­tice the bot­tle has a note hang­ing around its neck that reads ‘WORKSPACE pow­ered by PUR­CHASES.’ I sud­denly feel bad – this is the quid pro quo. Use our workspace, spend some money. (And I know you’re all dy­ing to know what Re­verse Os­mo­sis Wa­ter tastes like. Well, imag­ine a bot­tle of wa­ter. It’s a lot like that.)

There are long ta­bles here de­signed for im­promptu brain­storms and busi­ness meet­ings. Al­ready, there are small knots of twen­tysome­things us­ing their arms ex­pan­sively as though mim­ing ‘blue-sky think­ing.’ It’s an­noy­ing. Still, there are also sep­a­rate meet­ing rooms avail­able for hire, should you need them.

By 5pm, I’ve had about as much free tap wa­ter as I can stom­ach. Oth­ers ap­pear to spend a lot on Re­verse Os­mo­sis Wa­ter and cof­fee. I cal­cu­late that if I bought a bot­tle of ROW (its new acro­nym) ev­ery hour, I’d have spent al­most £25 on wa­ter alone. And prob­a­bly not done a lot to help the en­vi­ron­ment. As I wan­der home, I think about my week in all those of­fices. And the sim­ple truth is this: there’s no such thing as a free desk.

That’s the fifth cup of hot wa­ter that teabag had seen...

“Hold my calls, th­ese smooth­ies won’t drink them­selves”

“Yeah, I do a class most days. My of­fice is re­ally close by...”

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