Online Coworking

Share Your Sci has been hosting in-person coworking sessions for science communicators in London, but due to the lockdown these have turned into online events for the time being. The goal was to recreate as much as possible the motivation of working in the presence of other people, and the accountability generated by sharing what you’re working on. This turned out to be slightly more complicated to set up than simply booking space in a café, so here are a few tips for anyone interested in setting up a similar event.

Our monthly events bring together science communicators who want to carve out some time for writing, editing or planning science content, but these tips could apply to any online coworking session.

Tips

  • Set up a video call to replace in-person conversation. Even though a co-working session is mostly spent quietly working, there are a few key moments where people interact. At the start we usually have a brief check-in where everyone shares what they’re working on and how they hope to achieve that. At the end we do a quick debrief before leaving. To replicate this, we set up brief Zoom calls at the start and end of the virtual coworking session. In addition, calls are available every hour for anyone who wants a break and a chat.
  • Have a place for people to type and interact in addition to video chats. Not everyone is comfortable talking over video chat, and sometimes technological issues pop up. To give everyone a chance to share their goals and projects, we also set up a Google Doc that people can edit and type in during the coworking session.
  • Create a schedule and provide links from a central location. A second, non-editable Google Doc acts as a structured and central place with links to all the Zoom calls and editable documents. This info document is also linked from an Eventbrite page used to let people register for the sessions. The Eventbrite page sends out a custom email shortly before the coworking session starts, to remind people.

The power of coworking session

At in-person coworking sessions, people who normally work alone and from home get the opportunity to leave the house and work in a different place, surrounded by other people who are also working. The sessions are relatively short (usually a few hours at most), allowing people to bring a particular project they’re working on, and focusing on it for the duration of the meeting.

Coworking sessions are usually very motivating. That comes from having a marked-off location and timeframe to work, seeing other people working nearby, and setting accountability by telling people what you’re working on.

Some of these factors are difficult to recreate online. You’re entirely responsible for finding your own distraction-free space to work, for example. But setting a timeframe, creating work sprints during which everyone works quietly, and allowing people to interact with each other recreates a part of the experience.

Our work sprints and hourly check-ins were partly inspired by the time limit on free Zoom calls. Setting up a new 15-minute call for every hourly check-in allowed us to use it for a 3-hour coworking session. Being able to run longer group video calls would allow for a different format, by having the call running continuously, and seeing people physically working on screen.

Who is coworking online?