Winter is a beautiful time of the year; however, it is difficult to get the motivation to work when all you want to do is wrap yourself in a blanket, drink a warm beverage and binge-watch your favorite shows or movies. With winter coming upon us, what should we do to get our work done? Well, here are several tips to help increase your motivation and to trek through these cold months.
What is coworking?
Here is Brad Neuberg’s original conception (this blog post represents the first public expression of the term as it is used today), which we think captures the spirit as well as any other definitions out there:
Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community.
Coworking is a solution to this problem. In coworking, independent writers, programmers, and creators come together in community a few days a week. Coworking provides the “office” of a traditional corporate job, but in a very unique way.
Here’s one of our favorite definitions, from Coworking.com, managed by a team of coworking space managers and owners who have been central to the coworking movement from its early days:
The idea is simple: that independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone. Coworking answers the question that so many face when working from home: “Why isn’t this as fun as I thought it would be?”
Beyond just creating better places to work, coworking spaces are built around the idea of community-building and sustainability. Coworking spaces uphold the values set forth by those who developed the concept in the first place: collaboration, community, sustainability, openness, and accessibility.
How was coworking born?
Why join a coworking space?
One of the biggest benefits is improved work-life balance. Location-independent professionals often work from home or from cafes and face one of two common challenges. Either they spend too much time alone and miss the social proximity and social connections they used to have before they were independent OR they have a partner or children at home and have difficulty explaining to their partner or kids that they really do need to work even though it’s true that they set their own schedule.
Most coworking spaces also organize events that help facilitate both the social relationships, motivation, and professional development. Locus, for example, organizes weekly coffee breaks and lunches, and monthly pub nights and game nights to facilitate meaningful social connections. For motivation, Locus hosts weekly Work Jams, where members sit together at the same table and use a timer to work together for a half day with planned breaks, and weekly critique-free writing meetups to help provide a sacred time and place, and positive social energy, for focused writing.
Coworking spaces promote sustainability as key players in the sharing economy. They allow members to dramatically reduce commute times because they are often located in the neighborhoods where their members work, and they reduce operation costs and startup time by providing great office infrastructure to members who could never justify having meeting rooms, data projectors and other high-quality office equipment in central locations if that space was not shared among many other location-independent professionals.
Many coworking spaces also serve as a kind of landing zone, helping to connect global and local. About 70% of Locus’s members, for example, come from countries other than the Czech Republic (nearly 30 different countries), with the language of the space being English. This allows newcomers to Prague a ready way to form a community with other people like them, and also with English-speaking Czechs who are welcoming to an international community and reading to share local knowledge. Czech members, who make up about 30% of Locus’s members, get the complementary benefit of ready access to a friendly international community and a workplace where they can practice their English on a daily basis.
Some statistics about the impacts of coworking
- 74% of coworkers are more productive,
- 86% have a larger business network,
- 93% have a bigger social network,
- Over two-thirds feel more creative and collaborate more on projects
- A third reported an increase in income.
Still not convinced?
Much has been written about the psychological benefits of coworking and being with others. In my case, it has been personal experience that has convinced me of the advantages.
I moved to the Czech Republic from the UK in 2000, and started working as a freelance editor, journalist and translator in 2002. In my early days as a freelancer I worked from home and didn’t mind; in many ways there was no choice because no coworking spaces existed in Prague back then. Cafés are a favourite haunt of freelancers, but much as I love idling away the hours in Prague’s coffee houses, working in them didn’t have much appeal, because I associate them with relaxation rather than earning a living.
But when I started freelancing full-time again in 2011, after several years working for an employer or regularly for a company on an external basis, I found that working at home didn’t have much appeal either. I had learned to be more disciplined and less distracted over the years, but I had also become much more outgoing and sociable than I used to be. And while I have many introverted personality traits and am happy to spend time on my own, I missed the interaction with people in an office, and the structure and routine offered by such an environment.
Thankfully coworking had then become firmly established in Prague, and I spent time at a number of the city’s coworking spaces. I went through a particularly difficult period in 2012 and 2013, when work from clients dried up. The situation has turned around, but coworking was of enormous benefit psychologically during those challenging days. It was a huge boost to be with others, not sitting at home moping. I also made new friends from different backgrounds and countries. I get a buzz from meeting new people from different places, and coworking was a brilliant opportunity to do so. I also appreciated the fact that I could be with likeminded people, socialize with them and go to lunch with them – without any of the office politics that employees have to negotiate.
The positive environment around me also undoubtedly helped me raise my productivity levels and get more done during the day. I am certain that I would not have achieved as much by working at home. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could balance work and having time for breaks and chatting to other coworkers, and getting to know them.
It seems that many people who join a coworking space find the experience to be overwhelmingly positive. Much of the growth of this movement can be credited to the fact that people who partake in it are often the most vociferous proponents of its continued existence. How can this phenomenon be explained? What is it about coworking spaces that makes them so overwhelmingly positive for people?
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has developed a theory known as broaden-and-build which may help explain it. It’s easiest to explain broaden-and-build by contrasting it with what we experience due to negative emotions. In times of fear, our bodies react in a very narrow and focused way in order to help us escape or vanquish the threat (fight or flight). Negative emotions generally produce a very intense and narrow repertoire of actions and thought. Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Negative emotions are usually accompanied by things that could possibly kill us, generally something we are looking to avoid.
On the other hand, broaden-and-build posits that positive emotions like contentment, joy, interest, and love, allow us to have a broader thought-action repertoire which leads to increasing physical, personal, psychological, intellectual, and social resources. For example, Fredrickson looks at animal research which shows activities exhibited during play by young mammals, such as throwing oneself onto a sapling and being catapulted in an unexpected direction, is only ever shown in adults faced with threat. Building these important resources can lead to better outcomes in future threatened situations.
What does this mean for coworkers and coworking spaces?
Coworking spaces can, and should, be environments where positive emotions are cultivated and shared. Interacting with positive people, building relationships, being in an aesthetically pleasing environment, and doing good work can all lead to positive emotions. These positive emotions, in turn, lead to important adaptations like increased creativity, being more open to information, being more flexible, and increased efficiency. Most independent workers would argue that these characteristics are important to doing good work.
Not only do positive emotions lead to better outcomes, but the better outcomes can lead to more positive emotions. It is a cyclical process that can “build” on itself in what has been described as an upward spiral. For example, a member of a coworking space builds relationships with her fellow coworkers which leads to an increase in positive emotions, these positive emotions allow her to think more broadly and creatively on a project she’s working on, her client is very pleased with the quality of her work and recommends her services to a friend which leads to another well-paying job for our fictional coworker. This obviously elicits more positive emotions which in turn lead to more positive outcomes. It’s a reciprocal and self-feeding cycle that can lead to very high levels of well-being.
Coworking spaces can provide excellent environments for this positive upward spiral to begin. By providing a pleasing environment to do work, opportunities to meet interesting new people and collaborate on new projects, and by providing a way for an independent worker to feel like he or she belongs to a group, the stage is set for increasing positive emotions and the positive outcomes that accompany those emotions.
Reference: Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: the Broaden-and-Build Theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
I throw around the term “coworking as a hub of positive psychology” a lot when I’m explaining to people why I’m interested in this concept of coworking. I’ve always had a rough idea of what I mean when I say this in my head, but I’d like to explore the idea a little bit more deeply. I think this article will expose me as the complete idealist that I am — but I’m okay with that. A movement as young as coworking has not even come close to meeting its full potential. Here are my thoughts on where that potential might be.
First, the rest of this article is built upon a couple assumptions that I should probably get out as soon as possible. I’m assuming that the growth of independent work is going to continue. According to everything I’ve read about the economy and the shifts it’s experiencing worldwide, I think that is a safe assumption. More and more people are either going to find themselves working independently (against their will) and more and more will choose to embark on a career of independent work. Secondly, as independent work becomes more normal, I think the idea that personal development falls under personal responsibility will become more normal. For a long time, personal development outside of a job context was not something people spent a lot of time thinking about. Jobs provided opportunities for you to grow as a person because your continued promotion through the ranks required this growth. Jobs also provided the structure for extracurricular activities like volunteering as a company for various causes or retreats that focused on something such as team-building or creativity. Less and less people are working in jobs that feature this kind of security and support nowadays and I think taking a more direct interest in personal development and philanthropy will become much more normal.
With those two assumptions out of the way, here’s what I mean when I describe coworking as a hub of positive psychology.
Coworking spaces can become spaces in the community where events, activities, and education can happen. Obviously, the primary use of any coworking space is going to be for the members completing their work. However, I don’t think coworking can, or should, end there. The people who are members at coworking spaces have a wealth of knowledge that many other people can benefit from (even beyond just other members of the space). I’d love to see coworking spaces create regular workshop series that introduce topics of interest to the general public. I know many have already done this but I think even more can be done. I think more membership plans that allow people to be involved in the extracurricular and community aspect of a coworking space are needed.
Secondly, my utopian view of a coworking space involves a sense of belonging to a team that is interested in more than just each individual’s business. I’d want to be a member of a space where each member feels like their work is contributing to a larger purpose. Where it feels like each of the members is doing something that can be beneficial to society as a whole. That doesn’t mean a space has to be filled with entrepreneurs trying to save the world, but it does mean that there is a certain level of focus beyond making a buck. It’d be completely possible to have a normal job (if there is such a thing at a coworking space) and still be interested in volunteering, as a team, for good causes or creating something positive together as a space in our collective free time.
I’d love to see coworking spaces become centers of collaboration, communication, and education for the general public. A place where someone who is interested in bettering themselves in some way can go and be surrounded by people who are interested in the same thing. Where someone who has a normal 9-5 job can come after work and spend a couple hours working on a personal project in the company of people who are supportive and willing to share ideas.
When I first started thinking about the idea of coworking, before I even knew what coworking was, I had a different phrase stuck in my head: “personal development gym.” I wanted to find, or create, somewhere I could go and work on improving myself as a person. If I want to become physically stronger I could join a regular gym and if I wanted to know more about a specific topic I could take a community college class or find some kind of tutor. But where could I go if I just wanted to find other people who were passionate about doing something to improve themselves and the world? Where could I go to work on a project around other people who are also doing interesting projects?
I think coworking spaces can be that “personal development gym” I envisioned several years ago. Many spaces already seem to be moving rapidly toward that description. I understand that not every coworking space will become this. There will always be people who are mostly interested in a cheap space to rent where they can do their job in peace and then go home at the end of the day. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants that kind of coworking experience and there will always be spaces that will cater to that type of person. I think, however, there will be a growing niche of coworking spaces that cater to this desire to be a part of a team that has a focus outside of itself. A growing niche for spaces that are interested in personal development as a general concept and not just a place to get free coffee and a good Internet connection.
I’m not 100% sure how to create something like this, but I think it’s worth the effort. I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you have a similar vision or ideas for how to make it happen, in the comments below.
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).