What is Coworking? An Opportunity for “Wellness”?

Scott Colman writes in New Worker Magazine about “5 ways to kit out your shared workplace”. Given the placement in NWM, I assumed that this would be about “kitting out” a coworking space, or your own area in a coworking space. That would be an interesting topic, at least to get one man’s ideas.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a generic piece of HR puffery about “wellness” that has nothing to do with coworking, per se, nor with things a techie would consider to be “kit”.

What he is actually talking about is the notion that “[w]ellness is fundamental to productivity, and there are plenty of fun ways to bring wellness into the workplace.” Personally, I reserve judgment about this alleged causal link (“wellness” causes “productivity”?), but I’ll grant that wellness is good for people, and probably helps make them happy. And I certainly don’t favor torturing and damaging people in the name of “productivity”.

So let’s see what he is thinking.

His listicle includes:

  1. Get some space in your life
  2. A holistic approach to health
  3. Bowl of youth
  4. The mandatory ‘living plant’ policy
  5. Get Up, Stand Up

These recommendations are a mix of really broad and really  specific. Item 3 is a rather over stated version of “eat healthy stuff”. Item 4 advocates indoor flora. Item 5 repeats the trendy advocacy for stand up desks. These are reasonable ideas for any office worker to be aware of.

On the ohter hand, items 1 and 2 are very generic. The “holistic approach to health” appears to refer to trying to mitigate mental health, stress, and social isolation. The only technique mentioned is “As part of any collaborative work environment it’s important to check in with coworkers regularly to insure their workload is manageable and not overly stressing.” I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about the workload and stress of an independent coworker, but regularly talking to people is a good idea, and certainly the core idea of coworking spaces.

I will note that this kind of social work is something that “community managers” do in a coworking space. See Tony Bacigalupo, Covivation, and H+Office for much more detailed suggestions on this front.

Item 1 is pretty nebulous. Spaces should be open and flexible, yet also subdivided? Someplace to work undisturbed, while others are (noisily) interacting? With no permanent barriers? “Workplaces must work for employees, not the other way around” is a platitude, and doesn’t, in my mind, mean “maximising desk density”. Basically, he wants the space to be everything to everybody, which can’t possibly happen.

Anyway, as I said—whatever this all is, it is about “kit”. “Kit” is about technical gear, not fruit versus chips in the break room.

And what does this have to do with “coworking”, as opposed to just office work?

Independent coworkers are, of course, “in charge” of their own working habits and conditions, so it’s up to every freelancer to implement these kinds of “wellness” tips for their own work spaces. Colman also envisions coworkers helping each other, “supporting your coworkers while they learn to integrate these positive changes, and creating incentives within your workplace to continue this trend.”

Colman may also be addressing the operators of coworking spaces and community managers. Certainly his comments on the organization of the space and catering would seem to be issues in the purview of the space operator, not the individual coworkers (unless they are one in the same people).

In the end, I’m wondering if he is even talking about coworking, and if so, what coworking means to him. “Wellness” seems like a pretty long term thing, which coworking isn’t. Caring for plants or the workload of other coworkers would seem to imply a rather long term commitment to the space and the people in it—is this a common thing for coworkers?  For that matter, do coworkers get to reorganize the space, moving desks around, putting up barriers, etc.? Is this even possible in a small space with a few large tables?

Overall, this little article is harmless, but may be difficult to apply to a given coworking situation.


What is Coworking?


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