The Benefits of Coworking – a Personal Perspective

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.

David Creighton

Locus Workspace’s early influences

With Coworking Day just around the corner, this is a good time to reflect on why I originally wanted to start a coworking space and what coworking means to me. There are too many influences for one blog post, so I’ll start at what I take to be “the beginning,” the first time that something akin to coworking seemed noticeably absent from my world and that its profound value became clear to me.

It started sometime around 2000-2001. I was working toward my Ph.D. in the University of Chicago’s Committee on Human Development (now the Department of Comparative Human Development). I needed to submit my dissertation proposal, the final step before doing my research and writing my dissertation (in my case, a cross-cultural field-study examining gamblers’ strategies and beliefs about winning). I was struggling to get into the writing groove (not for the first time). Once I sat down and got started, I would often sit for 10 or more hours without leaving my seat, but–maybe unconsciously aware that I wouldn’t be stopping for a long time–getting started in the first place sometimes took days.

Luckily, a few members of my cohort were in the same position that I was. We were all struggling to get our dissertation proposals finished and we needed other people working toward that same goal to give us that extra push. We formed a small group where we essentially met together to set goals for the week and talk about what we were working on and the challenges we were facing. Two of those friends would meet with me at a university cafe once or twice a week to just sit together and write for the day. Thanks Christine, Susan, Shana, & Jocelyn! I’m not sure I could have finished my proposal without you.

Unfortunately, after the year and a half I was away doing my research, I returned back to a vastly different department, as the students who came back from field work in our department usually did. We were free now to live almost anywhere we could sit and write up our dissertation, and most of us reached that stage at different times. At this point I was ABD (All But Dissertation, meaning that I was finished with all my Ph.D. requirements except writing the dissertation itself). I looked for a group to meet with early in the morning each day, just to get me started, but I couldn’t find anything in the classifieds or on Craig’s List. “In the city the size of Chicago, aren’t their enough people like me who work better with a social commitment to write alongside others?” I wondered.

This time, another friend in the department, one of the few who had the capacity to self-motivate year after year without external support, agreed to meet me for an early breakfast once a week at 8am near the cafe where I liked to work. Thanks Richard! As with the dissertation proposal, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I don’t know if I ever would have finished my dissertation without those morning breakfasts.

Until the weekly breakfasts, there seemed to be nothing that I could do from a self-motivational perspective to get myself going. Ironically for a department that seeks to understand the social and cultural factors that contribute to healthy development across the life span, Human Development provided very little toward the healthy development of it’s own graduate students at the time. Of course, we were not children, and it was our responsibility to manage our own lives, and I took that to heart. My initial reaction had been to focus inward and blame myself. I just don’t have enough self-discipline, I’m not cut out for this, what’s wrong with me, etc. As time went on, my sense of confidence in my own ability to succeed that I brought in to graduate school declined.

What partly kept me going was a strong belief from earlier experiences that my own success and ability to work productively had much less to do with me and much more to do with the social context than the popular contemporary ideal of the self-made person would have us believe. And in this particular case, the pattern was too wide-spread to be attributable to much besides external factors. I was surrounded by fellow students–most of whom had been over-achievers until that point–who were struggling to finish. Often for years. The students who did not struggle for years were the clear exceptions, not the rule. Everything was on our shoulders, most of us were working alone without the support of a lab or a collaborator, meeting with our advisers for feedback once every couple weeks if that. We were involved in trying to finalize our own first major writing & research project, the biggest task of most of our lives. These, I suppose, are the same challenge that most new freelancers or solo-entrepreneurs face when starting their own first businesses, or most undergraduates face when writing their first big paper. The scales are different, but so are the stages in our lives. For most people, social animals that we are, that’s a recipe for declining motivation, increasing self-doubt, and eventual under-achievement. We were a bunch of independent workers, thirsting for social support and some external source of motivation, feedback, evaluation, and validation, but without knowing where to find it. (As an aside, the following year, the chair of the department started a dissertation support group for long-time ABDs that saw five of the six participants finish within one year).

Those meetings, the early ones with the dissertation-proposal support group and with two members of that group to just sit together and write, and the later ones for early breakfast near my “writing cafe,” got me working productively. They were invariably the most productive days of the week. But they also made it easier to sit and get started working on the “off” days, breaking the pattern of avoidance and providing the social connections I needed to keep going on a very big endeavor day after day. We were all a bunch of coworkers, without yet having the concept.

There were several subsequent events that ultimately led me to want to open a coworking space and to a fuller conception of the potential of this kind of business, but those times in graduate school certainly planted the seed and gave me the sense that this kind of business could have real social value. They were also a big part of what convinced me that for most of us who decide to go out on our own as entrepreneurs, freelancers, or artists, the difference between success and failure rarely has as much to do with our own internal character as it does with finding and embedding ourselves within a healthy context of strong social support. So thank you most of all to the current community of coworkers who share Locus Workspace with me. Without being surrounded by your positive work energy and your incredible support and shared experience and knowledge, I would not have been able to last 5 months as a “solo-preneur” (not to mention three years and counting).

August 9th is International Coworking Day

Every year on August 9th–10 days from now–coworking spaces and coworking enthusiasts around the world mark “International Coworking Day” (and hopefully tweet about it using the #coworkingday hash tag). It was on that day in 2005 that Brad Neuberg first publicly blogged the word coworking, sparking the innovative trend that has seen the opening of thousands of coworking spaces around the world.

Neuberg’s original message–in the first few lines of his blog post–goes a long way in communicating my original motivation to start Locus Workspace:

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. 

Coworking has come a long way since this initial description, with dedicated spaces and recognition that there is a far more diverse group of people who benefit from coworking, but the basic idea is the same: working for a company and working for oneself have largely opposed costs and benefits, and coworking can provide much of the solution: coworking adds the community, shared knowledge, continuing education, and social support often provided by a traditional office, while enabling people to follow their own passions and do what they most want to do, a path that traditionally has required giving up the community and support that comes from working for someone else, often at the cost of long-term success.

This August 9th, Locus’s Krakovská location is hosting a Jelly (a FREE open day of coworking for anyone in the area who’d like to join us with their laptops and some work to do to spend the day working alongside others). Locus hosts Jellies in cooperation with some other coworking spaces in Prague through our shared Meetup group, “Coworking in Prague”. Join us for this special Jelly and help us commemorate the 8th anniversary of coworking. You can sign up for the Jelly here.

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 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).