The transition from full-time employee to an independent involves a bunch of things that you’ve never had to think about before: taxes, health insurance, a space to work in, etc. The order in which you tackle these depends on your specific needs, although it seems that for most people health insurance is the priority. Living in New York City has a lot of perks, but it also complicates every one of the things mentioned above. Taxes are more convoluted, health insurance is dreadfully expensive, and last but not least, work space is also expensive and the options are confusing.
Desk Rental: Craigslist
When I approached the problem of work space, I initially decided that I needed to rent a desk somewhere, to avoid becoming a vitamin-D deficient zombie hiding in the corner of my East Village apartment. The first place I looked was on Craigslist, which in hindsight is the best option, I think. This may be obvious for some, but a tip for searching the Housing > Office & Commercial listings is to search ‘desk’ + preferred neighborhood. It’s an unruly section of Craigslist, pumped with repeat listings by the big commercial desk renters, so proper search helps a lot. The Craigslist option will get you a better space for your money, but requires a significant time investment with all of the emailing and coordinating, not to mention the courtship ritual that is required when renting from an individual. It’s also difficult to understand what exactly renters are offering. Here’s a list of things to consider:
- Month-to-month, or is there a lease involved? For most independents, especially those just starting out, month-to-month is best. Cashflow can be inconsistent at first.
- Internet access — Commercial quality or standard consumer level?
- Phone — Landline or VoIP? Is service included in rent? Do you need to buy a phone?
- Furniture and other hardware — Does your desk have storage? Are there monitors included? Is there even a desk?
- Layout and noise — Can you shut a door, or is it an open office setup?
- Conference room — Is there a conference room available? Is it included in your rent?
Craigslist had some good offerings. I checked out one space in the East Village. The location was awesome, but it was also on the basement level with little natural light, which made it slightly less appealing than just working out of my apartment. A second space was available up in Midtown. It had tons of natural light and a startup-y loft look. I tried to get myself to go see it twice, but I didn’t want to get on the train and head up to Midtown. I decided if I couldn’t get myself on the train to just go look at the space, it wasn’t a good option.
Desk Rental: Commercial Desk Renters
I had a bad experience with this option. I found a bunch of big commercial desk-space renters through Google, and I decided to go with Green Desk in Brooklyn. Looking at the website, I formed the unrealistic notion that I would take be taking breaks from coding to look out of a window under the Manhattan bridge, sipping my gourmet coffee. Stupid, I know. I checked out two locations, Jay Street and DUMBO. As I approached the former, I thought it was this cool new highrise, but it turned out to be a squat little building next door to a health center and I think a car repair shop. I knew from the first minute it wasn’t going to work out. The DUMBO location was slightly better, but really what they’re selling you is an 8×5 glorified telephone booth, stuck in the middle of a DUMBO warehouse. The conference room was OK, but the kitchen was pretty nasty. Overall I found the space to be depressing, hauntingly so.
Here are some of the big names in this department:
This is the option that I haven’t explored fully yet. I think I’ll eventually pursue a coworking membership, since it breaks up the monotony of working from home and provides some good networking/collaboration opportunities. A lot of the coworking spaces seemed kind of intimidating, and several require cool-guy/girl applications, like Grind. Other options seemed a little more my speed, like New Work City, which based on the website images seems like it’s filled with dorks like me.
One consideration with the coworking option is that it seems difficult if you have serious, complex work that requires multiple monitors, or if you have a ton of calls.
After spending probably too much time deliberating and weighing the above options, I decided to go with a home office in the end. This made sense for me, for a few different reasons.
- I don’t live with roommates (well, technically I do, but she’s my partner and thus I have more control over the situation)
- My apartment gets some natural light (which ain’t bad in NYC)
- I would like to keep the $350-$1000 per month it would cost to rent a desk or cowork
It’s worked out well, although many days after working for 6+ hours straight and staring at code for a decent percentage of that time, I end up in a strange altered state which requires me leaving the apartment and staring at trees, a real book, or the wall behind a bar for a few hours. Apropos, it’s very easy to become a workaholic while working at home and doing something you enjoy.
Finally, here are some things you should consider, should you decide to go down the home office path.
- Land line — I tried to get a landline for my home office initially, and it turned into a huge pain. I thought it would offer the most reliable call quality, and it also seemed like a throw-back of sorts. However, there are some major issues with landlines here in NYC. First of all, only one company–Verizon–offers the service, and it’s relatively expensive (around $50 with voicemail and other goodies). On top of that, the infrastructure here in NYC sucks, and I would venture to say that a majority of apartments are not properly wired for a landline anymore, particularly those that have been remodeled. My apartment does have phone jacks, but after buying a toy-like digital landline phone from Staples and arranging for service through Verizon, I plugged it in and received no dial tone, so I unscrewed the phone jack from the wall to realize that the adapter was not even connected to the wires. I used this handy website to wire the phone jack (kind of sketchy btw, since the main line was not disconnected), but still there was no dial tone. I finally spoke with my super, who explained that the Verizon would have to come out and troubleshoot the wiring in the phone box at the back of the building. And Verizon said that would be like $70 for the first half an hour, or something, and that’s when I gave up. In short, Verizon has no incentive to keep the landline infrastructure up to par in NYC, and would rather you get VoIP, so this option is really tough. So I just got a Skype number…
- Eye burn — Most apartments are not properly lit for hardcore computer work. So I would suggest immediately the brightness on your monitors way down, lest you end up singing this.
- Writeoffs — I haven’t really explored the home office tax situation, but some basic research yielded that things like internet and even a percentage of your monthly rent can be written off as business expenses.