To find out, the Harvard Business Review interviewed several coworking space founders and community managers and surveyed several hundred workers from dozens of coworking spaces. The survey revealed three main factors why coworking is so popular and how it can make a difference to you.
People who use coworking spaces see their work as meaningful. Aside from the type of work they’re doing – freelancers choosing projects they care about, for example — the people we surveyed reported finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work. They’re able to do this in a few ways.
First, unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger. Their respondents were given the opportunity to frequently describe what they do, which can make what they do seem more interesting and distinctive.
Second, meaning may also come from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so; the variety of workers in the space means that coworkers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members.
Lastly, meaning may also be derived from a more concrete source: The social mission inherent in the Coworking Manifesto, an online document signed by members of more than 1,700 working spaces. It clearly articulates the values that the coworking movement aspires to, including community, collaboration, learning, and sustainability. These values get reinforced at the annual Global Coworking UnConference. So in many cases, it’s not simply the case that a person is going to work; they’re also part of a social movement.
They have more job control. Coworking spaces, like ours, are accessible 24/7. People can decide whether to put in a long day when they have a deadline or want to show progress or can decide to take a long break in the middle of the day to go to the gym. They can choose whether they want to work in a quiet space so they can focus, or in a more collaborative space with shared tables where interaction is encouraged. They can even decide to work from home, without repercussion, if they need to.
And while coworkers value this autonomy, they equally value some form of structure in their professional lives. Too much autonomy can actually cripple productivity because people lack routines. Coworkers reported that having a community to work in helps them create structures and discipline that motivates them. Thus, paradoxically, some limited form of structure enables an optimal degree of control for independent workers.
They feel part of a community. Connections with others are a big reason why people pay to work in a communal space, as opposed to working from home for free or renting a nondescript office. Each coworking space has its own vibe, and the managers of each space go to great lengths to cultivate a unique experience that meets the needs of their respective members.