Research to Be Done

All of us in the coworking movement realize this is still a very young phenomenon. As we continue to grow it will be important to have justification for the decisions made about how we run our spaces. A base of research can be very helpful in making those decisions as well as convincing a sometimes skeptical public about the benefits of this movement. Deskmag has kicked off the effort in the right direction with two Global Coworking Surveys. These surveys have collected a myriad of demographic and descriptive data that has helped us better understand what coworking spaces are like, who coworkers tend to be, and some of the habits and characteristics of both spaces and people. As we move forward as an industry, though, more nuanced research will have to be undertaken. As I see it, here are some of the main areas where future researchers will make major contributions to coworking.

Characteristics of Spaces

What characterizes a great space from a mediocre one? Are there physical characteristics of a space that makes it more conducive to work? More conducive to community building? What is the optimal density of workers? What amenities have measurable impacts on the well-being of the people who work in the space? Are there certain aesthetic choices that are important in designing a space? Where should spaces be located? What are the differences between urban and suburban spaces? Are these important differences? 
There are answers to the questions I just posed (and by no means is this an exhaustive list). There are “rules of thumb” and “hunches” that guide many space owners but very little actual research addresses any of these questions. With good research into the characteristics of spaces perhaps certain amenities, design decisions, and physical characteristics of the space will emerge as the most important. When dealing with a limited budget this information will be very helpful to the space owner who wants to have the largest positive impact on his or her coworkers as possible. What if specific characteristics of coworking spaces can be identified as vital to worker well-being and then transplanted into corporate entities? While this could be viewed as cutting the pool of possible coworkers I prefer to see it as improving the lives of our fellow human beings that are not in a position to take advantage of a coworking space. Regardless, better understanding of the characteristics of coworking spaces can only lead to better spaces.

Characteristics of Workers

Are there certain personality types that benefit more from coworking? Do personality types and coworking space types effect each other? Are there certain types of work that will benefit from coworking spaces more than others? What style of productivity is best suited for coworking spaces? Is it possible to pre-screen prospective coworkers and make helpful suggestions about the type of coworking space they should seek out? How can the dynamics within a coworking space be improved? How can positive interpersonal relationships and a sense of community be stimulated within a space? Do certain types of spaces fit a certain type of worker better?
Better understanding the people who utilize coworking spaces will give owners and managers the information they need to improve their experience. This is the area that I think the Global Coworking Survey (especially the first one) really helped to shed light on. What else can we learn from and about the people in coworking spaces, though?

The Psychological Experience of Coworking

Does coworking increase well-being? Are coworkers happier than their counterparts in more traditional work environments? What aspects of coworking do coworkers like? Dislike? Is motivation affected by coworking? In what way? Does working in the vicinity of other people working on their own projects affect passion, motivation, well-being, happiness, etc.? What do coworkers tend to think about while they are in coworking spaces? Is that different for people that work in office buildings or coffee shops? Is it more or less focused?
These are the types of questions that really fascinate me as a positive psychology student. The psychological make ramifications of coworking seem to hold the most promise for expanding coworking to more people. If coworking is shown to have a net positive impact on people psychologically then there is more of a reason for people to investigate it. If coworking has measurable effects on happiness or well-being then we should strive to better understand why.
Obviously, there are lots of other types of non-psychology research questions that are relevant to coworking as well. Work needs to be done on the economic impact of coworking on the communities in which it is situated. Does coworking positive impact the surrounding community? How? Does coworking effect the productivity of workers? Does it have positive economic outcomes for workers? Where does coworking thrive and where does it struggle? Can we predict where successful coworking spaces should be established?
There’s a whole lot of questions that should be answered about coworking. I don’t see it as a daunting list of incompletes, but as an opportunity to better understand this thing we all love and to provide the information and facts to relay that information to the public.

Have you done or are you doing any research into some component of coworking? I’d love to hear more about it.

Sam Spurlin is an American graduate student studying the intersection between developmental and organizational psychology. He writes and coaches at and is spending the summer in Prague working in Locus Workspace. He’ll be sharing his thoughts and observations about coworking here for the next couple of months. You can follow him on Twitter (@samspurlin) or send him an email (samspurlin AT gmail DOT com).

Locus’s Community Workspace Reconceived as Stalin’s Communist Workspace?


I came back to Locus a couple weeks ago after my second long trip away (10 lovely days in Devon, UK). The return after my first long trip away was entertainingly traumatic after walking into a well-played practical joke (see this blog post for details), so I admit I was alert to potential dangers when I first walked in to the workspace. And I was a little disappointed when there seemed to be nothing. No pig’s blood dumping from the rafters? Don’t my members love me anymore?
Turns out I wasn’t being observant. After a couple days back I noticed something a bit different that had been there all along. I was walking around the 3rd floor space to say hello to members and see how things were going. [A diversion: Locus is divided into two separate floors, a workable solution to the fact that the membership outgrew the space on the original 3rd floor. I usually work on the 4th floor for now.] We have a big bulletin board on each floor where things can be posted of possible interest to members. Here’s a picture of it from Locus’s early days:
When I looked at the now-much-busier board, I saw a photograph of a mustachioed man just above the ‘Locus Rules’?” The Locus Rules are a set of expectations more intended to communicate to new members the culture of the coworking space than anything else. At this point–a couple days back from holiday–I was no longer expecting a practical joke, but I was curious as to just what the picture was about. Not sure how long it took me to recognize the person, but no doubt longer than it should have. Here’s a close up:
That’s me. Sporting someone else’s military uniform and someone else’s mustache, but me all the same (turns out it’s an authentic Stalin mustache and uniform, if you didn’t recognize them).

Nice. “How long has this been up?” I wondered. 

The caption brought my attention to the Locus Rules directly below the picture, which themselves caught my eye because the headings were somehow off (a little more red than normal). Here are the original rules (or here’s the website version for clarity):
This is the “new and improved” version:
You might wonder after comparing the two versions what kind of coworking space this is. I like to think it’s all in good fun. But then I also take pride in Locus being an ideal place for productive work. This inspired work demonstrates Locus can be as good a place as any for creative procrastination. 
Thanks Chris and Martin for making sure I don’t go on holidays without a little fear as to what I’ll come back to!
PS: The same update of the rules was also on the bulletin board on the other floor. It took me an extra day to notice it. Clearly Locus Rules have a profound impact on the day-to-day functioning of the workspace.


Coworking, Positive Psychology, and a Better Way to Work

My name is Sam and I’m obsessed with coworking. It’s a strange thing, really, to be obsessed with a concept like sitting in a room and working together. I view it as a little more complex than that, so let’s see if i can shed some light on why I keep telling people about it, why I’m currently living in Prague, why I’m sitting in Locus Workspace as i write this, and why I’m in graduate school (they’re all related, I promise). 
During my time as a substitute high school teacher I had a 4 month block where I was writing full-time. Each morning I would wake up in the complete joy of having control over my work schedule and would happily skip to the local Starbucks. At least, for the first week or so. Then, I noticed myself thinking in the morning, “Crap. Where am I going to work today? The library is too quiet and the wi-fi sucks. I don’t feel like buying coffee all day to justify the 8 hours I’m likely to spend in Starbucks. And the last thing I want to do is sit in my crappy apartment by myself.” There had to be a place where I could go where other people would be working on interesting projects, where I could feel free to talk to other people and not receive the death glare of a librarian. Free coffee wouldn’t hurt, either. I eventually realized that such a concept existed and it was called coworking.
Fast forward a couple months and I’m going to graduate school to study positive developmental psychology. My focus is on understanding what it means to optimally develop. How can people fulfill their potential, utilize their strengths, learn to be engaged with what they’re doing, etc. I want to figure out ways for people to achieve high levels of well-being and psychological health. A huge part of that psychological well-being is determined by our work. The work we do, the way we do it, the people we do it with, the meaning we place on it — it’s all incredibly important. To that end, coworking as a concept fascinates me because it can be so much more than just a place to rent a desk and crank out some work. Getting passionate, intelligent, and motivated people together and then not doing anything with that human potential seems like a missed opportunity. How can coworking and coworking spaces help their members become healthier? How can it help them feel better about their work? How can it affect the way they think about and approach their work? On an even grander scale, what effect might coworking spaces have in the communities in which they’re situated? Can coworking spaces become hubs of something greater than just a shared workspace? Big, but exciting, questions.
I think coworking is the beginning of something big in terms of how people work and how we can work better. It has ramifications far beyond shared desks and an Internet connection. For that reason, I jumped at the opportunity when Will invited me to Locus Workspace this summer. I have the opportunity to spend a few months in a top-notch coworking space learning how it’s run, observing, bouncing ideas off of people, and developing my own plans and thoughts. This blog will serve as an outlet for this experience as I share my thoughts, observations, and general musings about coworking as viewed through the lens of a positive psychologist in training.
Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions — I’d certainly love the feedback and conversation. How can we make coworking better, together?
Sam Spurlin is an American graduate student studying the intersection between developmental and organizational psychology. He writes and coaches at and is spending the summer in Prague working in Locus Workspace. He’ll be sharing his thoughts and observations about coworking here for the next couple of months. You can follow him on Twitter (@samspurlin) or send him an email (samspurlin AT gmail DOT com).