With the rise of remote working, we’ve witnessed the birth of a new attitude towards both work and the workplace. Technology has freed us from having to go to the office, as traditional notions of the workplace no longer apply, and new exciting developments such as coworking spaces are flourishing. Well, that’s the theory. What about the reality?
A great many employers are still very much adhering to the office orthodoxy, i.e., if you’re not working where I can see you, you’re not working. Thankfully, this is not the case everywhere and may be on the wane.
But where unreconstructed management attitudes continue to reign supreme, you’ll find the most vehement opponents to practices such as coworking. On the other hand, there are those who are passionate proponents of the coworking space.
We’ll take a look at both sides of the story to uncover the merits and drawbacks of coworking.
What are Coworking Spaces?
In this context, the term coworking doesn’t just refer to more than one person contributing to the completion of a joint task. It refers instead to a collection of separate workers working on their own projects but sharing the same physical space.
This coworking space could really be anything, anywhere, but in practice tends to be an office-type environment. There are workstations with bring your own machine protocol, as well as kitchen areas and watercoolers, for those, well, watercooler moments.
Businesses pay to use the facility, but the crucial thing is that more than one business uses it concurrently. In this fashion, you can have an office space shared by employees from a couple of different TNCs, as well as a few SMEs, together with one or two self-employed freelancers. They’re all in it together, but they’re doing their own thing.
They’ve grown hugely in popularity over the last few years as they represent something of a halfway house between full-on remote working from home and the old everyone together in the same office framework. But that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone…
Disadvantages to Coworking Spaces
You’re Still Remote
So you’re in an office with other people, but you’re probably still remote from your line manager. As much as this might be welcomed by some staff, the bond of communication between employee and manager is a crucial one and must be kept in a healthy condition.
Those who favor the traditional office set-up will cite the ease of being able to pop next door to see your team members should there be a problem that needs addressing in a timely fashion. Equally, if you’re a frontline worker with a new proposal for training that you’d like to discuss, it helps the process along if your supervisor is just there, ready to advise.
Yes, all such encounters can be rendered via Zoom or Teams, but a lot of staff find these platforms distancing and no substitute for face-to-face. Even those staff who were amenable to these kinds of aids in the first place can declare themselves suffering from Zoom fatigue now.
If you’ve got a room full of people all involved in different projects, it might prove difficult not to be disturbed by the activities others are engaged in. This can especially be the case if there are any loud phone users in the room, especially if it sounds like the person concerned is engaged in some work that’s about a billion times more exciting than yours.
There will sometimes be conditions in place that prohibit any phone foghorns from reaching their preferred decibel pitch. But there’s still the chance of being distracted and totally put off your work by a few loose words in the kitchen about what somebody else is up to. Task envy then sets in, and it’s a motivational killer.
Company Culture Diluted
When you’re all employees of the same business in the same space, you all contribute and are shaped by company culture. At its best, that culture then impacts all encounters and spurs creativity.
If you’re removed from your business premises and, therefore, don’t see your colleagues near enough every day, your business’ culture can wither, or at best, become some artificial construct dreamt up by senior managers and then awkwardly imposed in your monthly video catch-ups.
Coworking spaces can struggle to generate much of a culture of their own. Although they are full of a diverse range of people, it might be said that culture needs a degree of commonality, at least to start with.
Advantages to Coworking Spaces
It’s Remote, Yes, But Better
There are problems associated with working from home. Rents being what they are, most staff members won’t have the space for a separate study, which often means there’s no or very little boundary between work life and home life. On top of this, there can be a great deal of social isolation, with no amount of connection via screen filling the gap.
Where coworking spaces really score is that they allow the benefits of remote working (such as flexibility and perhaps a shorter commute) but with an added office. Work-life balance is restored once location-triggering is established. And social contact is provided too, with professionals who might be engaged in similar areas of work to your own.
Having definite boundaries around your workspace, together with the opportunity for advantageous social encounters, can really aid psychological and emotional wellbeing, which in turn promotes productivity.
You Say Distractions, I Say Inspirations
People can be loud, yes, and they can be annoying. However, they can also be fountains of ideas and exciting revelations. Even that insanely loud person on the (mega)phone banging on about freelance templates may give you a few notions you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The most remarkable things can come of chance overhearing. It’s just a question of recalibrating distractions as possibilities. If you hear somebody describing something exciting, think about how you can use that in your own work.
And if the worst comes to the worst, you can always ask people to pipe down. Or change workstation.
Culture Loves Diversity
Yes, culture requires some commonality to start with, but it can go on to thrive courtesy of sustained and fresh injection of heterogeneous ingredients. This can definitely be the case with company culture.
There’s nothing more stifling than a company set it in its ways, employing the same kind of person and the same kind of attitude for years on end. The culture there will struggle to reach anything like its full potential and will probably be a force for ‘no’ rather than a nurturer of ‘yes’.
However, introduce elements from outside, and you have a lively set of attitudes and opinions that will result in a more vital and robust company culture. The encounters that staff have in a coworking space will inject fresh ideas into projects and invigorate company practices.
So, that’s those three negatives rebuffed. There are, in fact, more advantages still to the coworking space. Let’s briefly visit each one.
Offices can be hotbeds of political game playing, with jostling for petty position taking precedence over task completion from time to time. On top of this, gossip can hoover up hours of an employee’s working week so that the actual time spent on productive effort is left at a distinct minimum.
In a coworking space, there’s less of a pressure cooker environment as competition between colleagues is all but eradicated. Conversations will be more about work things like a PDF converter to Word rather than the forming of office factions.
To have a permanent office space occupied by varying numbers of staff represents a big, ongoing drain on your company’s finances.
To be able to use a space that flexes with your business needs, offering staff space and a productive environment only when they require it, is a cost-effective way forward. It caters to flexible working, with all the productivity enhancements this entails, without being an exorbitant expense.
Impress Your Clients
If your workers are home-based but need to see a client, they won’t necessarily want to have the meeting take place in their home or in the middle of a busy cafe. A coworking space provides an appropriate encounter space without requiring a permanent office.
Coworking for Change
Companies thrive on freshness. Those that reject change will fail. With this in mind, any approach that facilitates affordable, productive change has got to be worth at least investigating. No more stiffly stifled staff.
Instead, a team of enthused and energetic employees, keen to try diverse approaches to meet the challenges of the day. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?