One of the most consistent and interesting facts about coworking is that it seems to make coworkers happy. In addition to personal testimony from hundreds of coworkings, surveys consistently find that coworkers report extremely high levels of “happiness” and related positive feelings. The Deskmag annual surveys consistently find 80% and more coworkers are “happier” coworking , and other surveys give similar reports (e.g., Vareska Van de Vrande and Michiel Tempelaar  and The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) ). Spreitzer and her colleagues at Michigan report that coworkers report high levels of “thriving” (average rating 6 out of 7), far above workers in other type of spaces. This is “unheard of” in there extensive studies of workplaces .
I’m all in favor of making workers happy! But what is going on here?
Cat Johnson interviewed researcher Steve King , and finds some obvious social psychological explanations. First and foremost, coworkers are independent freelancers, who face isolation and loneliness. As King says, “You’re not going to be happy unless you have human relationships, and the coworking world provides that.”
I note that many of the self-reported positive emotions are actually comparisons to unspecified other workplaces, including working alone at home. So, reports that coworking makes you happier than working at home are, as Johnson puts it, “Not So Surprising”.
Coworkers also report improved work performance, including “productivity”. Johnson suggests that happier workers are more productive, though I would say things run both directions—being productive may people happy. In any case, coworkers seem to be both happy and productive, at least in their own estimates.
King comments that these effects show the critical importance of the community in the coworking space, and suggests that people, especially young workers, are starving for community. And, I would say, face-to-face, in-person, community.
King goes on to remark on how conventional organizations are trying to benefit from these positive effects, attempting to put their workers into such communities. Johnson and I have both commented on this concept as it was presented at GCUC.
This all makes sense, but I have to be a bit skeptical.
For one thing, the evidence is pretty weak, mostly self report. Also, coworkers are self-selected, and generally very short term. If dissatisfied coworkers just leave, as they generally do, then the residue should be “happy”, no?
If people are happy in the coworking space they chose, for a year or two, and then they choose another workplace, that is great. But for how long?
And if, for most coworkers, coworking is only better than working at home, does that make it a good workplace, or just better than nothing?
I will be considering this issue in more detail in the future posts and papers.
- Cat Johnson “Whistle While You Work: the (Not So) Surprising Happiness of Coworking”. Sharable, April 19, 2016, http://www.shareable.net/blog/whistle-while-you-work-the-not-so-surprising-happiness-of-coworking
- Carsten Foertsch, RESULTS OF THE GLOBAL COWORKING SURVEY, in Global Coworking Unconference conference. 2016: Los Angeles. http://usa.gcuc.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/presentations/DESKMAG GCUC GLOBAL COWORKING SURVEY PRESENTATION 2016 SLIDES.pdf
- Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice, and Lyndon Garrett, Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review, 93 (8):1-7, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-space
- The Centre for Social Innovation, Rigour: How-To Create World-Changing Spaces, 2016. http://socialinnovation.ca/sites/socialinnovation.ca/files/Rigour_How_to_create_World-Changing_Shared_Spaces_.pdf
- Vareska Van de Vrande and Michiel Tempelaar, CREATING COMMUNITIES OF INNOVATION. Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 2015. http://api.rsm.nl/files/index/get/id/1aabed80-8ebb-11e5-8275-c1f4f8ce46f7
What is Coworking?