Why Coworking Makes People Happier and Healthier

Jamie Russo, founder of Enerspace Coworking, explores why coworking is not just good for work, but for well-being, too.

Coworkers at Enerspace's Chicago location. Image courtesy of Enerspace.

Coworkers at Enerspace’s Chicago location. Image courtesy of Enerspace.

In my previous life, I spent a lot of time in corporate offices that were just not good. Good, I suppose, in the sense that showing up resulted in a paycheck every two weeks; but not good for mental or physical health. Endless cubicles, no sunlight, low engagement, little sense of purpose, and chicken fried steak in the cafeteria. Seriously! Chicken fried steak. Convinced that our best selves shouldn’t be left waiting for us out in the parking lot while we punched the clock every day, I became passionate about creating a workspace where you are better off when you leave than when you came in.

I decided to start experimenting with making better workplaces and I opened Enerspace Coworking, where we give members a place and the tools they need to blend work and wellness. In this article, we’ll explore what I’ve learned since opening Enerspace.

My “why” behind Enerspace was not explicitly associated with helping people to grow companies. I really thought it was practically a Constitutional right for people to feel as good at work as they feel at home – and for some, even better. I thought others might want this too.

Turns out, my intuition was spot on (and that I was not the only person playing out this hunch). People DO want their workplace to add well-being to their lives. And it can! The data shows that coworking makes people happier and healthier. In a recent survey of 650 “coworkers” of shared workspaces, 89 percent reported being happier, 83 percent less lonely, and 78 percent maintain their sanity through coworking.

Chris Estrada, marketing consultant and the founder of the Operation Spot, shares a story of how coworking positively impacted the mental health of one of his clients:

“A client that I connected to a coworking space last year told me that he fell into a deep depression after working solely from home for the past six months. Being an extroverted person, his lack of human interaction took a real toll on him. After being in a coworking space for a year, his business has grown and he is no longer on medication to assist him with the social anxiety he had devleoped. This is an extreme example, but a testament to the premise that human beings need other human interaction and a true community of support.”

Relationships matter. Globoforce’s 2014 Mood Tracker Report reports that 89 percent of respondents say that work relationships matter to their overall quality of life.

GCUC Infographic

Image courtesy of the author.

So is coworking just the verb that describes what people are doing in any shared workspace? The debate around the use of the term “coworking” centers around the argument that it doesn’t matter the physical makeup of a space – open plan or all offices, but if the focus of the space owners and managers is not on the well-being of the members, then it is not “coworking.” Well-being, in this context, is represented by strong relationships among members, giving members the types of space they need to do the type of work they need to get done, and giving them a way to express themselves and identify with their sense of purpose. It also includes programmatic initiatives like Cotivate which is designed to formally facilitate community and accountability in shared workspaces for freelancers and corporate remote workers alike.

Well-being can also be about physical health. Relationships matter. A member of Link Coworking in Austin reported losing 100 pounds after getting out of the house (where he had close proximity to the refrigerator) and joining a coworking space.

Other coworking spaces such as Grindstone Coworking in Edinburg, Tex. reported events such as “sexy salad” day, and stocking the fridge with healthy snack options. We see shared spaces with plant walls, standing desks, yoga studios, full kitchens, private chefs, meditation classes, rooftop gardens, nap rooms, thinking rooms, libraries, Crossfit gyms, and more.

Now it’s the start of 2016 and it’s that time of year when we love to look to the year ahead and plot ways to make life better than the last. One very common area of focus is health. Typically, we associategood new year’s resolutions with getting more exercise and eating healthier. Given that we spend a whopping 36 percent of our days at work, lets talk about how our work environment can help us hit our 2016 get healthier goals.

According to Steelcase research, there are 6 dimensions of well-being associated with happiness in your work environment:

  1. Optimism
    Fostering creativity and innovation: “Optimism is … about being on a quest for discovery, eager to try new approaches versus being overly risk adverse. It means interpreting and remembering events in a positive light, as well as creating enjoyment in the present and seeing possibilities for the future.”
  2. Mindfulness
    Fully engaged: “Workers need physical spaces that help them manage the cognitive overload of their daily lives and be fully present in the moment.”
  3. Authenticity
    Really yourself: “Well-being, in contrast, is cultivated by personal expressiveness — the freedom to be who you are, at work as well as away from work.”
  4. Belonging
    Connecting to others: “A meaningful life means feeling connected to other people. Social connections at work are sustaining, and feeling useful to others is a powerful way to generate positive emotions.”
  5. Meaning
    A sense of purpose: “People need to use their strengths, understand their impact and see how they contribute to organizational goals.”
  6. Vitality
    Get-up-and-go: “When you get to the workplace, you need the tools and environments that are going to support you, whether it’s to work alone or have a collaborative session or eat a meal in a pleasant place or go outdoors,” says Arantes. “Providing a palette of place that supports frequent movement is fundamental for sustaining vitality.”

Research published in the Harvard Business Review presents theories on why people thrive in coworking spaces. If you are working from home as a freelancer, entrepreneur or a mobile professional, let’s talk about how your daily work life plays out at home vs. in a coworking space:

Optimism

You’re having a tough day and need to deliver on a deadline. Your sources of creativity include:

At home:
Your dog and Facebook.

At a shared workspace:
A genuine greeting from the community manager immediately lifts your spirits and rekindles your creativity, or a lunch break with like-minded colleagues or a quick vent to a “coworker” who gets you refocused with some words of encouragement.

Mindfulness

You’re managing a small remodeling project at home, planning a family vacation, your mom is ill and one of your kids is struggling at school. You have two proposals to deliver to potential clients before the end of the week.

At home:
Constant reminders of your distractions – sticky notes from your spouse, contractors coming and going, and pictures of your kids keep you from getting into your flow.

At a shared workspace:
You’re surrounded by similarly-situated professionals – there might even be a “neighborhood” in the space for people doing focused, heads-down work. You can also set clear boundaries – when you get there, you’re all businessl when you leave, you can go home to take care of the rest of your life, comforted by a productive day at the office.

Authenticity

We have created an identity for ourselves that represents who we want to be personally and professionally. We feel best in situations in which that image is fairly close to reality.

At home:
You are sometimes showered, always wearing comfy pants, working from the kitchen table, talking mostly to the dog and the UPS man catering to your Amazon Prime addiction.

At a shared workspace:
You are showered, wearing a stylish outfit, meeting with a client, helping a coworker solve a problem. You are on your game and others think so, too!

Belonging

We feel best when we have meaningful connections with others.

At home:
It’s typically you, the dog, the UPS man delivering all those Amazon boxes, and a bad Facebook addiction.

At a shared workspace:
Just being in a shared space abuzz with other professionals making things happen makes you feel more connected. Opportunities to connect fall in your lap. You can attend a lunch and learn with “coworkers,” you can exchange marketing ideas with some new members at happy hour, or meet your running group for a training run. At the end of the day, you realize you didn’t really miss the UPS man and you never had the urge to check Facebook.

Meaning

We are happiest when we feel that the work we do has a purpose, and even better, when it is aligned with our calling.

At home:
It’s hard to tell – neither the dog nor the UPS man want to have a long talk about your life’s work.

At a shared workspace:
Our perspective of meaningful work can be enhanced through interacting with others – reinforcing our identity and passion. Shared workspaces give us the opportunity to share our work and offer up our skills to others on a daily basis.

Vitality

The sense of being alive, passionate and excited – influenced by physical movement as well as a sense of meaning and purpose.

At home:
You might move from the kitchen table to the couch… and back. And the dog might guilt you into a lunch-time walk. And then there’s the vigorous motion of transferring the laundry from the washer to the dryer…

At a shared workspace:
Today’s shared work spaces are likely to design for mobility, whether it’s a coffee bar that requires a walk down the hall, a phone booth on the other side of the room, a lunch time yoga class, or standing desks to get you through the afternoon lull.

If you decide to venture out of your home office or your spot at the local coffee shop, here are some indicators to look for if you want to join a shared workspace that is member-focused and most likely to deliver on these well-being benefits:

  1. The staff consists of “community managers” rather than customer service specialists or receptionists.
  2. There is a “member wall” with photos of members and a little info about each of them.
  3. There is an event calendar on the website with a range of events from educational to social in nature.
  4. The photos on the website include people, not just desks and chairs.
  5. You can see evidence of community spaces on the website such as lounge areas or kitchen with a seating area.
  6. You get introduced to other members on your tour.

The bad news is that well-being isn’t as simple as getting 10,000 steps logged on your FitBit or reducing your late-night refrigerator raids. There are more complex factors that lead to our sense of happiness and fulfillment. The good news is that shared workspaces focused on member well-being, or facilitating “coworking,” can provide a fairly comprehensive solution to your well-being needs.

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