What is Coworking? It May Be Too Much

Raquel Baetz writes about the risks of coworking, which are the same as faced by every worker (e.g., repetitive motion injuries, poor ergonomics, and so on), except independent workers have no one but themselves to supervise their work conditions. She advocates for coworkers to understand and care for their own health.

This month she considers work-life balance, “When home sweet home is at work“. Coworkers value their autonomy, which includes the freedom to work their own hours in a workplace they choose. But this also means that a coworker can work long hours, and in unhealthy ways.

Baetz notes that many workplaces, including coworking spaces, create a “a more home-like experience”, including “rooms that accommodate different styles of working, spaces for fun and exercise, furniture for movement and relaxation, spots to rest and sleep, and free food and drink.” This makes is attractive to spend more time “at work”.

This may seem like a good idea, but it really isn’t good for workers.

Baetz points out the physical damage from long hours of digital work, which strains the body and may lead to debilitating injuries. (I gather she has experienced such problems, and I have too. I think we’d both like to give our younger selves a good talking to.)

As she points out, our digital devices make it possible to work everywhere, all the time—bent over a screen, stressing our body. I love her comment about standing desks:

“Just because you’re standing doesn’t make it OK to look down at your laptop.”

Even more important, Baetz asks “Is it good for the brain?” As she says, the ability to work everywhere all the time is a temptation that is hard to ignore. And it is bad for you, in many ways . Baetz argues that down time, time away from work is just as important for productivity and creativity as, say, “serendipity”.

This comes to an important point that Baetz only lightly touched on. Continuous attention to work, like other digital activities, takes you away from face to face conversation. This is ironic, because the entire purpose of a coworking space is to foster face-to-face interactions.

“So even though free beer after 6pm sounds like a great perk, you’ll likely end up mulling over work or scanning social media while you’re hanging out.”

Baetz says, “turn it off”.

“It’s great that design-led, living room workspaces are being created to increase productivity, collaboration and fun at work, but we shouldn’t underestimate the value of getting away from work and the workspace, both physically and mentally.”

I would add that coworking spaces that are designed to entice people to work longer, and “never go home” are undermining not only the health of the worker but the value of the coworking space itself.

It’s not so much that coworkers should be booted out and told to stop working, nor that coworkers should take care of themselves (though they should definitely do so); the important thing is that they spend time with their fellow coworkers.

During the day, or “after hours”, coworkers need to pay attention to each other. This is a “human engineering” thing, not a “designed space” thing.

This is why successful coworking can happen in the sparsest setting (e.g., in someone’s kitchen ), and may fail in the fanciest designed space.

  1. Raquel Baetz,  (2016) When home sweet home is at work. New Worker Magazine, http://newworker.co/mag/home-sweet-home-at-work/

(If this topic is interesting, please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming early in 2017)

What is Coworking?

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