In 2018, The Possible — a digital magazine exploring the changing nature of buildings and cities — asked the question: “Every day, millions of people around the world go to one place: the office. Why?” Fast forward to 2020’s Covid-19 lockdowns which forced everybody to work from home and the answer to that question is just a bit clearer.
Much of the dialogue recently has been about how working from home eliminates generational differences and mitigates office politics. No traffic jams put workers at their desks sooner and promote productivity. On the flip side, some argue that there is less accountability, erosion of brand culture and a loss of creativity and innovation.
An emerging phenomenon that appears to offer the best of both worlds has been the rise and rise of the shared office space (coworking). Coworking is far more than a place where just entrepreneurs work together. Typically, coworking spaces include several companies, self-employed people and remote workers who come to the same building but are otherwise not connected in any way.
If everybody was happier working from home, why are shared spaces so popular? The answer, it seems, has to do with our need for experiences.
Dr Thomas Gilovich, Professor of Psychology, Cornell University, concluded after a 20-year study that our experiences are a more significant part of ourselves than our material goods. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
The ‘office’, with all its pros and cons (and variety of people), is an experience.
Blake Morgan, CMO Network and Customer Experience Futurist, author and keynote speaker, puts it another way. “No ownership, no problem. The focus on experiences is closely related to the growth of the sharing and experience economy. Why pay for a taxi when you can meet someone new riding in an Uber? Why climb the corporate ladder for a corner office when you can be a freelancer and have the freedom to work from anywhere in the world?”
Shared spaces do experiences very well. The Crate, for example, offers massage chairs, modern and exciting decor, espresso coffee, social drinks every Thursday (where there are always new faces), concierge services, networking and lolly jars to name just a few. We want to experience amazing spaces, and shared office spaces do it better than anybody else.
“Companies that previously had their own offices are discovering coworking in growing numbers,” says Dean Payn, founder of The Crate. “A shared space is an office that offers a great experience to them and their staff, and all the other benefits of working together, with the flexibility to work from home when they feel like it – minus the onerous cost of leases, maintenance and other issues that go with the responsibility for a building.”
Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice, and Lyndon Garrett writing in the Harvard Business Review take the concept of coworking being more important than either the home or the office a step further.
“There seems to be something special about coworking spaces. As researchers who have, for years, studied how employees thrive, we were surprised to discover that people who belong to them report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale.
“This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices, and something so unheard of that we had to look at the data again.”
The researchers say the combination of a well-designed work environment and a well-curated work experience are part of the reason people who cowork demonstrate higher levels of thriving than their traditional office-based counterparts.
“But what matters the most for high levels of thriving is that people who cowork have substantial autonomy and can be themselves at work. Our advice to traditional companies who want to learn from coworking spaces is to give people space and support to be their authentic best selves.”
The outcome of 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown working from home experience, and the questions now being asked about the traditional office, boil down to one single important idea – it’s now about working from home or the office, but the experience that coworking offers which makes all the difference.