“Lets grab a beer before we leave, just give me twenty minutes to finish this up and I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
I remember saying different variants of that while I was at a WeWork in Manhattan a few months ago, and it’s something that often comes to mind when I think of coworking—a relaxed working environment where it’s easy to become friends with your coworkers. That’s not a myth, at least it wasn’t for me, and it’s one of the many reasons coworking is so popular.
On the other hand, sometimes you don’t want to keep bumping into your new friends when you have a project due at the end of the day and you’re racing to get it done. Many people, myself included, realize that coworking environments sometimes offer less privacy than we need to work at our best. Love it or hate it coworking is here to stay, and there are important lessons every business can learn from coworking’s successes and failures.
Some stats on coworking
According to Wix and Officevibe, here are the key stats on coworking: 70% of coworkers say they feel healthier coworking than when they worked in a traditional office, 64% of coworkers find it easier to get work done on time, 91% have better interactions with others since coworking, 78% of coworkers are under 40 years old, 50% are making more money and only 30% prefer to work during normal business hours.
On top of those stats, 33% of the US workforce is currently independent or freelance, and that number is projected to grow to an astonishing 40% by 2020. So not only does coworking offer all the important benefits listed above, but its target audience is expected to grow to record levels in the next few years.
Understanding the positives
The stats above suggest coworking offers some amazing benefits, but what’s behind those numbers? The Harvard Business Review studied the matter, and they concluded coworking spaces help people thrive in three main ways.
1. The first is that people who use coworking spaces are more likely to see their work as meaningful. That has to do with the type of work they are doing, but also with how they are doing it—the frequent lack of office politics in coworking spaces allows people to just be themselves at work without worrying about putting on a work persona to fit in. This helps people focus on their work while being more comfortable at the same time.
2. The second huge benefit is more job control. Coworking spaces are usually accessible 24/7, letting people decide when they want to work and when they don’t want to work. But at the same time this autonomy is tempered by the structure of belonging to a larger community, which paradoxically allows people to maintain a near optimal degree of control over their work and schedule in coworking environments.
3. Jumping off that point, the final benefit behind coworking is belonging to a community. Just because you can work from home all the time doesn’t mean you want to spend 100% of your time in your pajamas on your couch typing away on your MacBook Pro—people long for human interaction and being part of a community. Coworking spaces understand this and go through painstaking efforts to create an individual vibe and offer unique experiences.
It’s likely the above three key points help explain the startlingly-positive stats associated with coworking spaces, but just because there are some clear benefits doesn’t mean everybody loves coworking.
What about the negatives?
Emma Jacobs is one of those people—she describes how in her coworking experiences the typical lamentations of traditional office life are simply re-branded and given new skins in the coworking world. She describes how many co-workers she met were replicating corporate culture, and research from Professor Greenwald finds freelancers often subconsciously compete on long hours. When it comes to status, the unspoken hierarchy is that those with private offices and permanent desks are above the hotdesker.
Coworking, like everything, fits some people better than others. In particular I’m talking about introverts—active spaces where constant conversations compete with the pop/dance music for volume (lots of coworking spaces play it nonstop) are not the best places for introverts to work. But that doesn’t need to be that serious of a problem—nearly all coworking spaces have options for people who want a place they can work in quiet.
Every coworking space is different and some are worse offenders than others when it comes to the above complaints. I can relate to some of these complaints myself, although I think the negatives that come with coworking have more to do with individuals and their preferences than something inherently wrong with the concept. But that’s not to delegitimize their complaints—after all, it’s hard to imagine a workspace that is perfect for everyone.
What businesses of all sizes can learn from coworking
The benefits coworking offers employees are too good to ignore, and luckily there are ways your business can implement some of coworking’s best ideas. One way is to use coworking locations as an alternative place for people to work. That could mean anything from shifting teams to coworking locations while they work on a particular project, offering a coworking setup for employees who demand flexible workspace and schedules or using your favorite local coworking space for meetings.
But above all else the largest benefit coworking offers is the way it lets people work in the ways that give them purpose and meaning. Companies should try to give employees control and flexibility in their work environments, but more than that employers should give people the space and support they need to be their true, authentic selves.
Alternatives to consider
Unfortunately, it may not be possible for traditional companies to craft the type of space on their own that gives their employees the best benefits coworking has to offer. There is a difference between a trendy coworking spot in the East Village and corporate headquarters. But there are alternatives that can bring some of those benefits to your office, such as becoming a PivotDesk host and sharing your office. By becoming a host you can decide exactly how much space you want to offer and what company sizes you’d like to host. Whether it’s a lot or a little, office sharing is the perfect way to bring coworking directly into your office, along with all the benefits it entails.
The modern workplace is changing fast...
Are you keeping up?