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 SamSpurlin.com 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).