Why people thrive in coworking spaces

May 31, 2016

There seems to be something special about coworking spaces. As researchers who have long studied how employees thrive, Gretchen Spreitzer, Lyndon Garrett, and Peter Bacevice were surprised to discover that people who belong to coworking communities report levels of thriving that approach an average of six on a seven-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average across studies of employees who work in regular offices, and so unexpected that they had to learn more about these unique spaces.

What makes coworking spaces – defined as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting – so effective? And are there lessons for more traditional offices? In their research on several hundred coworkers from dozens of coworking spaces around the U.S., they found three primary reasons why coworkers are so likely to thrive:

1. People who use coworking spaces experience their work as meaningful.

Aside from the type of work they’re doing – e.g., freelancers choosing projects they care about– coworkers reported finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work. Working among a diverse set of workers from different organizations and professions removes any workplace politics. The diverse membership also helps members feel unique in what they did for work.

Relatedly, coworkers experience meaningfulness from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so; coworkers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members. Coworking spaces also often encourage members to contribute to the upkeep of the community, such as by cleaning the space or organizing community events.

2. They have more job control.

Coworking spaces are normally accessible 24/7. People can decide to put in a long day when they have a deadline or want to show progress, or to take a long break in the middle of the day to go to the gym. They can choose 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 meet a repair person or deal with a family member need.

3. 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 or renting an office. Indeed, fostering community is a core value of the coworking movement as stated in the Coworking Manifesto, an online document signed by members of more than 1,700 working spaces. Each coworking space has its own vibe, and the managers and members of each space work together to cultivate a unique social experience.

Importantly, however, socializing isn’t compulsory or forced. Members can choose when and how to interact with others. They are more likely to enjoy discussions over coffee in the café because they went to the café for that purpose – and when they need a break, it’s no problem. And while some people interact with fellow coworkers much less than others, they still felt a sense of identity with the community from knowing there is the potential for interactions when they desire or need them.

Learn more about their ongoing research on coworking spaces here.

Excerpted from Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review Big Idea.