April 18, 2019

Coworking spaces have positively shaped our professional identities

The Harvard Business Review conducted research with WeWork to find how coworking spaces have positive impacts on the workers that use them.

Coworking spaces then and now

Over 14,000 coworking spaces have opened worldwide since the first one appeared in 2005. They provided an environment with the amenities that most dedicated hospitality spaces couldn’t or didn’t provide such as at least power sockets and fast internet.

The concept caught on to the point that other types of businesses, ones that especially need to pay rent and deal with slow periods during the day, began converting to coworking spaces in some aspect. Today, these spaces support the needs of larger organizations, and not necessarily those launching coworking spaces as a retail estate play by providing a more economical location for their remote teams to meet, work and network.

Harvard’s research

Over the past several years, Harvard studied how amenities, branding, aesthetics, and unique cultures created from diverse people and companies working together under one roof impacted individual workers. They found workers benefit coworking spaces more than traditional offices, experiencing greater levels of flexibility and thriving (defined as vitality and learning at work), better networking, and a stronger sense of community.

Their latest study attempts to understand how highly curated coworking cultures impact the professional identities of members and their organizations and to what extent members of these more exclusive coworking spaces identified with the culture of their space and whether this changed how they identified with their company or employer. Here are some quick facts about that study:

  • Conducted with WeWork between 2017-2018 with 1,000 of their new individual members based in the United States
  • 71% worked full-time for companies either located in a WeWork office or used WeWork for remote teams and individuals
  • 29% were business owners, contractors, sole proprietors and part-time workers
  • The surveyed asked members to show their level of agreement with statements like “I have a lot in common with others at WeWork,” and “I have a lot in common with others in my organization.”

The findings

Overall, the study found that members still strongly identify with their work organizations and that the WeWork brand identity doesn’t dilute the identity of the organizations housed in their space. Instead, it suggested that workers are positively impacted when their work environment aligns with their company’s values and brand.

Further, coworking spaces gave some members a sense of community and legitimacy they might not have gotten from working at home or from a coffee shop. What’s more is those with company-subsidized memberships felt that their employers took their needs seriously and valued them as much as non-remote workers.

Devil’s advocate: could coworking spaces become the CrossFit boxes of productivity?

Like the open office layout heralded for breaking down the barriers cubicles built in the Yuppie era, we wonder if coworking spaces could eventually resemble little slices of the heaven we’d associate with massive millennial-friendly corporate HQs like the Googleplex: replete with amenities, an inspirational work culture, interior design from the future but also a potential honey trap in terms of work-life balance.

Like the CrossFit gyms that became popular for their supportive, if addictive fitness cultures, there could be similar consequences to coworking spaces that like gyms, are also membership-based spaces where cultures can begin. Where CrossFit “boxes” whipped tons of people in amazing shape, they also broke a lot of them due to overtraining and improper to downright unsafe exercise practices. Similarly, we know the obvious implications of an office that looks and feels much better than our favorite coffee shop or home.

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