Why do people thrive in co-working spaces?

Nearly three quarters of start-ups in the UK believe that co-working spaces are the ideal environment to base their business. But what’s so different about a shared office?

Research carried out by Regus found that there was a strong preference from small businesses for sharing office space to help fledgling firms thrive. When asked about the benefits of co-working compared to other workspace options, more than 80 per cent of respondents claimed that it was a more cost-effective alternative to a fixed office.

Regus canvassed the opinions of more than 2,600 UK-based small businesses and 70 per cent identified meeting other entrepreneurs as a major positive of shared offices, 63 per cent believed that a co-working space would provide more inspiration than a traditional office, and 61 per cent said that a shared workplace offered a more creative environment than other offices.

“Meeting other entrepreneurs is critical to creating lasting business relationships and expanding your business,” Richard Morris, UK CEO at Regus, said.

“Co-working is a great way to expand your network of professional contacts, access invaluable advice and inspiration and raise the profile of your business.”

More than half of the respondents (54 per cent) said that co-working provides more stimulus to keep skills fresh and 62 per cent believe that co-working will provide new business and project opportunities. Nearly half also thought that co-working helps in keeping up-to-date with industry news.

Clearly co-working spaces are popular – many have reported that they’re struggling to keep up with demand – but what makes them so special and why do small businesses expect to thrive if they’re based in one?

Research from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business identified that people who work in co-working spaces report levels of thriving that approach an average of six on a seven-point scale – at least a point higher than those working in regular offices.

To find out why this is, researchers interviewed co-working space founders and community managers, as well as several hundred workers from co-working spaces across the US. They found three predictors of thriving:

Meaningful work

The people that they surveyed reported ‘finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work’. Co-working spaces consist of members who work for a range of companies, ventures and projects. There’s little direct competition or internal politics so they don’t feel like they have to put on a work persona to fit in.

Meaning may also come from the fact that they’re working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out. The variety of workers in a space means that co-workers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members and there are always opportunities to do so.

Job control

Co-working spaces are general open 24/7, which allows workers to decide whether they want to put in long days in the run up to a deadline or if they want 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, if they need, or to sit in a more collaborative space with shared tables where interaction is encouraged. But, there is also a need for some structure.

“While co-workers value this autonomy, we also learned that they equally value some form of structure in their professional lives,” the researchers write in the Harvard Business Review. “Too much autonomy can actually cripple productivity because people lack routines. Co-workers reported that having 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.”

Community

Connections with other people and businesses are one of the big reasons why people pay to work in a communal office. Each space has its own vibe and the managers of each space go to great lengths to create a unique experience that meets its members’ needs.

But co-workers don’t want to feel like they’re being forced to socialise – they should be able to choose when and how they want to interact with others. For example, people are more likely to enjoy discussions over coffee in the café because they went there for that purpose. The research found that even the people who interact much less with others still felt a strong sense of identity with the community, which they believe comes from “knowing there is the potential for interactions when they desire or need them”.

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