Working at home has obvious perks, but typing in bed in your pajamas isn’t necessarily quite as productive as sitting in an office. A new Swedish project aims to help freelancers find it easier to get things done, by transforming apartments and homes into temporary coworking spaces.
In the morning, 10 or 12 people might show up at someone’s apartment in Stockholm, as an article in a local paper explains. They perch on the host’s sofa, sit at the kitchen table, and take phone calls in the bedroom. And by filling the space with people at work–and by setting up an unconventional structure for the day–everyone seems to find it easier to focus.
One part of the concept isn’t new: Nearly a decade ago, my friend Amit Gupta started inviting fellow freelancers over to his tiny Manhattan apartment after he realized he missed the brainstorming and camaraderie of an office. The idea, which he dubbed Jelly, later spread to over a hundred cities.
But the Swedish version, called Hoffice, takes a different and more structured approach. Everyone in the group works in 45-minute shifts, based on research suggesting people can’t concentrate for more than 40 minutes at a time. When the shift ends, an alarm clock buzzes, and the group takes a short break to exercise or meditate. Before starting again, everyone explains what they hope to get done, to add a little social pressure to actually accomplish something.
Journalist Agneta Lagercrantz describes a typical scene:
The day I’m joining for this story the apartment is full. Amrit gets help setting up extra tables on trestles and Gösta takes his favorite spot in a Lamino armchair. 45 minutes at a time, we only hear the wall clock – tick-tock, tick-tock – and laptop key sounds. Or how someone suddenly gets up, and whispering disappears with the mobile phone. Then comes the alarm signal. It is time for the ten-minute break with stretching, meditation – or, why not, disco dancing?
The project started a little over a year ago, when freelancers Christofer Gradin Franzen and Johline Zandra decided to experiment with a different way of working at home. They invited over a small group of people, set up some rules, and though they didn’t intend for it to grow, it was an immediate success. Inspired by how much they can get done with the group’s regimented system, hundreds of people have now signed up for Hoffice in Stockholm, and new groups have formed in other cities throughout Sweden and Denmark.
Lagercrantz, the journalist who first covered the story, is now a convert, and has attended several Hoffice sessions–even though she has a space in a coworking office elsewhere. “I think there is an inexpressible sense of community and the joy of getting things done that might not happen at a co-working space or café,” she says.
The unconventional work style has attracted outside interest, and the founders have started consulting with organizations that want to experiment with new ways to work. But though it seems like the basic idea could spawn a new business (and startups like SpareChair, in the U.S., are already trying to make money off an Airbnb-style rental of home office space) Franzen is committed to keeping it free for everyone to use.
“To open up your home to others within the Hoffice Network is a gift,” Franzen writes in Swedish on the Hoffice website. “We give because we want to … and don’t require anything back.” A host might set out a donation bowl to help cover expenses like coffee, he says, but otherwise won’t be paid. But working in the groups tends to lead to other benefits–like when you discover that someone in your group has the coding skills to help build your new website, or the group gives feedback on a new idea.
“Another way that the gift economy helps to create an amazing and supportive working environment in Hoffice is by members spontaneously giving their time, energy and skills to help each other,” Franzen writes. “This creates a work environment that benefits us all.”