Remote Workers: Coworking Is Not Only about the Space — It’s about Reducing Social Isolation

There are many startups that choose to hire and work with freelancers, sub contractors and have remote teams of developers and sales people in different cities or countries even.

Working remotely has many benefits: flexible hours, saving money, no commute, and autonomy and control over how you work, to name just a few.  And remote work seems to be growing in popularity. According to the 2nd annual Future Workforce Report by UpWork, the majority of companies already embrace remote work - nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies have full-time employees who work outside the office. But it definitely has its pros and cons, one of them can be keeping motivation up from the lack of social or human interaction.  

And while the rise of using tech communication tools (such as Skype, Google hangouts, Facetime, Slack, etc) may seem to imitate proximity, in-person communication remains as important as ever. That’s because in-person and digital communication both follow the Allen curve.

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Coworking or shared workspaces may be a trend embraced by entrepreneurs, small companies, start-ups, independent workers and freelancers but it may also cure the surprisingly lonely road trodden by remote team workers. Yes, telecommuting may be convenient and provide extra time to remote workers as well as the chance to help work-life balance, but it can also cause loneliness and isolation. According to this study, by the Journal of Applied Psychology, remote workers may also benefit from coworking spaces, in that these spaces provide local, convenient, the in-person social interaction that is missing when one is isolated and working from home.

Thus, many startup companies are adding coworking spaces as an option for remote workers, like a company called Trusound Audio, a Bluetooth speaker manufacturer that uses an on-demand coworking service, called Croissant to rent space for their remote teams.  Often the policy is, “you can come in, but you don’t have to” and many workers welcome this option as way to network, socialize during and after work hours, expand their network as well as to get new ideas from people working in the new space.

Co-sharing office spaces not only relieve the pangs of loneliness but according to the Harvard Business Review, it can help employees to thrive. “Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in.”

People feel that they can be more themselves with a mixed group from different companies and diverse industries. Coworking, according to some recent research from Small Biz Labs, not only combats loneliness, but makes people happier:

  • 89% reported they are happier
  • 83% reported they are less lonely
  • 78% reported that coworking helps keep them sane

In fact, many coworking spaces have a lively social component to their spaces for just this reason. The spaces have coffee bars and comfortable spaces to sit and talk, as well as scheduled events and meetups where members can socialize, network, gain new leads, and inspiration. It’s not surprising then that the same study backs up the social benefits of coworking spaces:

  • 87% report they meet other members for social reasons, with 54% saying they socialize with other members after work and/or on weekends
  • 79% said coworking has expanded their social networks.      

The study results show that professional ties are strongly enhanced by membership in a coworking space:

  • 82% of respondents reported that coworking has expanded their professional networks
  • 80% reported that they turn to other coworking members for help or guidance
  • 64% said their coworking networking was an important source of work and business referrals

Each coworking space has its own carefully curated atmosphere which definitely beats renting a nondescript office or working out of a noisy café. For example, one coworking space in New York City has furniture and the atmosphere of being in the country, with wood tables and hammocks. Another, geared toward creative types, has weekly figure-drawing art classes.

This may be why companies are starting to add a coworking option to their remote work strategy because it helps to increase morale and productivity, as well as decrease loneliness and the sense of being cut off one from one’s peers.

Loneliness is not just a social problem, but a contributor to a health problem, according to a  Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General, increasing numbers of remote and independent “gig economy” workers is one of the key reasons for the growing “loneliness epidemic”. He also notes that: “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” Therefore, reducing the loneliness of your staff by offering a coworking option could be considered part of a company’s health and wellness strategy for remote workers.    

Another study, Coworking Spaces: A Source of Social Support for Independent Professionals, reports that the main reason most members work in coworking spaces is for the social and actual human contact.  As a society, a growing number of people are facing isolation and the loneliness associated with the remote work - and people are working alone longer.

According to a report from Gallup, that despite a few high profile cases of companies (such as IBM) moving away from telecommuting, the number of corporate employees working remotely continues to grow. If we analyze Gallup’s data, it shows that 43% of American workers report that they work remotely at least some of the time, which is up from 39% in 2012. Gallup also noted that people who work remotely “at least some of the time” are spending even more time working remotely.

Another study from MBO Partners confirms the data mentioned from UpWork's study earlier, that the number of independent workers ( freelancers, developers, consultants, etc) is also only increasing with most doing work nomadically.  Even New York Times journalists such Kenneth R. Rosen offer productively tips for working remotely, which he does himself sometimes.

Coworking is the new water cooler

For companies, that are paying and allowing for some employees or freelance contractors to work out of coworking spaces offers many benefits. In addition to reducing remote work loneliness, coworking spaces provide terrific technology and business infrastructure, strong networking opportunities, and exposure to other innovative startups, products and services. Businesses will also benefit from having happier, more engaged and more productive workers.

Now if you are a freelancer or a self employed independent worker, you should also consider coworking. Independent freelancers often benefit even more than company employees from the social aspects of coworking and find that the professional opportunities help generate more business.  

While independents have to pay for memberships themselves, most consider the cost well worth it. There are a few choices with using spaces. You can purchase a membership one particular coworking company, which costs can range from $300 to to over $1,000 per month depending on the space and location.  

A growing trend is gig economy workers opting for these flexible membership coworking apps such Croissant, Desktime or Breather that partner with hundreds of shared workspace operators where you can pop in work from multiple spaces whenever you choose.  

Research from Small Biz Labs found very high satisfaction rates with regards to working from shared workspaces: 90% of respondents reported being either highly (79%) or satisfied (11%) with their coworking space; only 5% reported being dissatisfied. Even more to point, 94% reported the price they paid was fair (77%) or a bargain(17%). And a another key trend is that most paying coworking members are planning on continuing to be members two years from now, with only (4%) reporting that they will likely not be members over that time frame.     

The coworking industry has been growing at a rapid pace for the past five years. Small Biz labs current forecast is for this growth to continue, with the global number of coworking space members increasing from roughly 1.6 million today working from 13,800 coworking spaces to about 3.8 million in 2020.

According to Reuters, the  coworking space WeWork is “the largest leaser of office space in Manhattan for the last three years.” And this is expanding to include enterprise clients looking for presence in multiple cities without opening offices there.   

But in the end, the entire point of a coworking space is to give different people the ability to work alone when they want, amongst other like-minded entrepreneurs thus increasing productivity and decreasing loneliness. The early coworking trend trailblazers recognized this and focused on building supportive communities that included social activities. One of these early pioneers, Alex Hillman  founder of Indy Hall, went so far as to say “coworking is not a workspace industry; it’s a happiness industry”.

Conclusion

Human beings are social creatures at heart, and therefore the heart becomes more healthy with the happiness gained from working alone together. Reducing isolation at work where ever that maybe is always good for business.

 

  About the Author   I am a cofounder and director of Search Marketing for Vab Media Digital Agency.  I have been interviewed and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, LA Times and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I am a contributor to   Entrepreneur.com ,  The Next Web ,  Tech.CO ,  Econsultancy ,  Startup Grind , and  Google for Education .  Recently was a featured panellist, speaker at  Millennial 2020 event .   

About the Author

I am a cofounder and director of Search Marketing for Vab Media Digital Agency.  I have been interviewed and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, LA Times and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I am a contributor to  Entrepreneur.comThe Next WebTech.COEconsultancyStartup Grind, and Google for Education.  Recently was a featured panellist, speaker at Millennial 2020 event.