Efficient workplaces can’t always claim bespoke design as their saving grace; however, an ordinary fourth floor New York apartment has become home to a hub of freelance co-workers doing the nine to five their own way.
Ask any office worker if they’ve dreamt of escaping the humdrum of their building for a life in freelance employment and you’re bound to hear a resounding yes. At first glance it’s an enviable lifestyle – to get up when you want, work when you want for as long as you want; oh, and to be your own boss! Sadly, the dream often bears little resemblance to the reality.
In the same way that an office worker might grow bored of their surroundings or struggle to complete the day’s tasks for lack of inspiration, so too does a freelancer. Worse still, as their own boss, the onus to remain motivated rests entirely on the freelancer’s shoulders. With no manager or colleagues around for conversation, subsequent idea generation (or indeed just getting out of bed) can be a constant struggle.
In that sense there’s a lot to be said for the process of actually going in to an office and perhaps an even greater argument for the value of the space itself; how its open-plan layout fosters a meeting of colleagues and therefore minds; how the interior proudly displays awards and/or work, helping to buoy morale and motivate a team; how its location, architect or designer and choice of furnishings garner respect from peers and clients.
That’s not to say, however, that the success and professional prowess of an office space should be determined solely by shapes, colours and spaces, or even location – in fact anyone who thinks it should has clearly never “Jellied”.
This is the self-styled term that members of Jelly – the co-working group masterminded in 2006 by former flatmates Amit Gupta, an entrepreneur, and Luke Crawford, a software developer – use to describe becoming part of their gang. Jelly is now manned solely by Gupta, and the New Yorker continues to open up his West 31st Street home to his co-workers.
“Most Jellies start around 9.30am and run until 6pm or later,” Gupta explains. “People come whenever they want, although there’s usually a wave mid-morning and then again in the early afternoon. Every time is different, but folks will grab a seat, work on whatever they’re working on and sometimes introduce themselves to others around them.”
Participants are the usual suspects: the water cooler conversationalists, coffee-addicted hacks and sugar-stuffed creatives all hungry for the interaction that Jelly facilitates. “I think a change of scenery can be hugely beneficial,” says Gupta. “It’s easy to get stuck in the same routine, the same distracting patterns when you work in the same place every day, especially if you work for yourself. We get a lot of people who work for large companies but appreciate the change in venue and tone of the conversation that being at Jelly provides. I think the main reason people come to Jelly is the same reason I run it – to regain some of that sense of community and connection that you can lose when you leave the traditional workplace.”
What Jelly offers is a humanising element to the traditional office environment. Coffee in the local eatery becomes the equivalent of a boardroom brainstorm. Depending on the location, bedrooms and hallways act as conference rooms or just private space for people to make calls and breeze through their projects quietly. Gleefully, the sheer variety of individuals that come and go ensures a healthy dose of gossip and great networking opportunities too, just like in any other office building.
But it’s the human quirks of the organisation that really makes Jelly something to write home about. Each person brings his or her own unique design element to the experience, either through their ways of working and their attitudes or simply their work/life experiences. These things, Gupta claims, are what compensate his colleagues for the lack of a tailor-made building, and it’s hard to dispute this when Jelly has successfully positioned itself as one of the most productive workspace ideas in the USA.
Gupta swears by the value of the company his project brings, confessing his love for the “camaraderie of a traditional office, having interesting people to talk to and bounce ideas off”. However, I suspect his motivation wasn’t exclusively altruistic: the fact that a spawn of Jelly replicas has popped up across the USA (and reportedly even further afield) has raised Gupta’s professional profile – and that of his business Photojojo – significantly.
Still, what kind of an office would it be without its own set of politics?