The Evolution of Work: Coworking

MP900433182The evolution of work has continued a fascinating process whereby the structure of work changes to meet the state of the external world. In a previous post, I have discussed the development of permalancers and slashers. These groups have grown significantly in recent years, partially in response to the ongoing challenges of economy and the job market. To work is to live — and the structure of that work has had to flex with the times. For many, working independently (or even remotely) has become the best and most viable option.

Freelancers have become a force in today’s world of work. (In the US alone, there are over 40 million independent workers.) Moreover, with less physical real estate an increasing number of employees work remotely while still affiliated with an organization than ever before. With the emergence of this larger “solo” presence, more and more of us are looking for innovative methods to stay productive while on our own. But, we are challenged to do so without the added social benefit of coworkers or colleagues by our side. The problems solo workers face can run deep — and the accompanying symptoms often fester undetected.

We are social beings after all, and loneliness can be a formidable challenge. As a psychologist, the thought of millions sitting alone in front of a computer monitor, challenges much of what I have learned about meaningful work. We are designed for interaction and collaboration — and to many freelancers this state of  “aloneness” can become untenable. Studies show that perceived loneliness can lead to multiple problems, including sleep disturbances and the inability to fight disease. People need people. Certainly as individuals, we may have a unique level of contact that works for us. However, most people benefit from some level of human interaction in their work life. We may not always require coworkers to help us become productive every day, but to have the option is often preferable.

For others the basic notion of working at home is the issue, where the myriad of distractions can break concentration, provide ample opportunities for procrastination and limit productivity. To make matters worse, these distractions are always present and available in a home setting. As a result, many find that a location specifically designated for work is the best option – increasing the opportunity for both focus and effectiveness.

Enter coworking

Coworking is a brilliant option. Personally, I find the founding principles of the movement inspiring. The tenets, which include openness, collaboration and a sense of community, are workplace attributes which individuals working on their own are  challenged to replicate within a home office. Of  key note, is that coworking is the product of evolution, and not a momentary blip. As described by Anna Thomas, former Chief Happiness Officer at Loosecubes, “People talk about coworking as a hot trend, which inherently implies that it’s not sustainable. In fact, shared workspaces provide the opportunity for one to create a more sustainable (and potentially fulfilling) work lifestyle.”

Indeed, this movement has fulfilled real needs within the work life realm. As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York, “The coworking environment offers a sense of community and camaraderie, shared beyond industry specific backgrounds.” Moreover, to some the experience can be described as a “Cheers” of office spaces – a place to call their own, connect and combat that feeling of “office homelessness”.

What you gain

Coworking spaces provide the basics, as well as some of the social-emotional benefits of an office community. Office essentials such as access to conference rooms, copy/fax capabilities and locked storage are often provided. But, other perks such as sponsored events like hackathons, pop-up shops for entrepreneurs and networking events really seem to make these spaces feel like home.

A developing segment of co-working spaces, such as Chicago’s  Enerspace, have cleverly combined other components that support or enhance work life. The brain child of University of Chicago’s Booth School alum Jamie Russo, Enerspace addresses key heath and wellness initiatives that might affect work life. With scheduled classes in meditation, an on-site fitness studio and a full-service kitchen – heath, wellness and work, combine in one unique space.

Old problems could still emerge

Of course, some of the problems you experienced when working at home, could still occur in another workspace. (Who could forget the classic TedX talk about offices?) As with any work environment, distractions do exist and problems such as interruptions, could still befall your time in a coworking space. Specific personal productivity issues, not impacted by a work space, must be addressed as well. For example, if you had a tendency to procrastinate at home, you may see the same issue reemerge. Be sure to utilize the tactics and routines that help you remain focused and on track.

I encourage you to visit the Coworking Wiki page for more information about coworking. Also consult sites such as LiquidSpace and OpenDesks, to help you book that space.

One last note: If you find that perfect place — be sure to share your good fortune with others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

6 thoughts on “The Evolution of Work: Coworking

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