Whatever else coworking may or may not be, one of the most consistent observations is that it makes people happy.
We may be right to raise an eyebrow at this finding, wondering who this sample is, and just what are they comparing coworking to. Still, there seems to be something to this.
In an interview with surveyor Steve King, Cat Johnson comments that this is not really a surprising finding. One of the key benefits of coworking from the very inception is to deal with the loneliness of independent work, as well as other aspects of social isolation.
A pseudo-Marxist might comment that in the “gig” economy, responsibility for creating collegiality is yet one more bit of “infrastructure” that capital is pushing onto the shoulders of labor.
And a techno-pessimist might comment that, despite the frothy pronouncements about “connecting everyone”, digital colleagues aren’t anywhere as satisfying as face to face relationships.
But I digress.
Coworking is also about community, and often about “tribes”. A sense of belonging makes people happy in many ways, and also elicits many prosocial behaviors, such as sharing and helping each other. These behaviors make people happy, too.
Johnson discusses the rather tangled relationship between “happiness” and “productivity”. Each of these concepts are fuzzy and may have many meanings, so it is important to be cautious here. But it is certainly common to find that self-reported happiness and productivity are correlated.
Productive workers are often happy workers—success and rewards feel great and probably deliver economic security.
Many people argue that happy workers are more productive, too. This surely must depend on the definition of “productive”, and other circumstances. We’ve all known happy slackers who are the nicest, happiest people in the room—and utterly useless for many tasks.
So why does coworking make coworkers happy?
I think it is a combination of self-selection into like-minded communities, and conviviality of these communities. The self-selection is certainly an interesting feature—conventional offices are selected by “the man”, like it or not. Many of us have experienced the hell that is a “great job” that requires working with horrible people.
Bob’s (probably bad) career advice: It doesn’t matter what you are doing, so long as you are doing it with people you really like.
I think King is right when he sees the trend to “a natural segmentation is occurring, with different types of coworking spaces catering to different types of workers.” Actually, I would say that this isn’t a new thing, it was baked in from the beginning.
Perhaps self-selection into tribal enclaves makes people happy, but at what cost? Many people have commented on the lack of diversity found in a given coworking space, and how off putting it is for those of us outside the tent. “Tribes” exclude people, which is very unpleasant (and unproductive).
This is a good point to come back to in future posts.
What Is Coworking?