Remote Workers: Coworking Is Not Only About The Space — It’s About Reducing Social Isolation

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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 even countries. Remote workers workers enjoy many benefits: flexible hours, saving money, no commute, and autonomy and control over how you work.  Plus remote work is certainly growing in popularity.

According to the 2nd annual Future Workforce Report by UpWork, the majority of companies already embrace remote work. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies have full-time employees who work outside the office. It definitely has its pros and cons. One of them, for example, can be keeping motivation up from the lack of social or human interaction.  

Sure, using tech communication tools (such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Slack, etc) has become the norm for many. However, in-person communication remains as important as ever. That’s because in-person and digital communication both follow the Allen curve.

remote workers

Coworking or shared workspaces may be a trend embraced by entrepreneurs, small companies, start-ups, independent workers and freelancers. In addition, it may cure the surprisingly lonely road trodden by remote team workers. Yes, telecommuting may be convenient, provide extra time to remote workers, and even help improve one's work-life balance. Nevertheless, the fact is, it can also cause loneliness and isolation.

Remote workers and social isolation

remote workers

According to this study by the Journal of Applied Psychology, remote workers may also benefit from coworking spaces. Besides, these spaces offer 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 their remote workers. For example, a Bluetooth speaker manufacturing company Trusound Audio rents on-demand coworking service Croissant for their remote teams. Often the policy is, “you can come in, but you don’t have to”. Of course, many workers welcome this option as way to network, socialize during and after work hours. It also allows them to expand their network and get new ideas from people working in the new space.

Other innovative resources to mitigate the isolation of remote work include virtual workspaces and immersive video chat.

Co-sharing office spaces not only relieve the pangs of loneliness but 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,” said the Harvard Business Review.

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

Coworking provides an opportunity to mingle and network

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. They also have 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 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. Besides, it helps to increase morale and productivity. Plus it contributes in decreasing loneliness and the sense of being cut off one from one’s peers.

Loneliness can be a serious concern

Loneliness isn't just a social problem but a contributor to a health problem, according to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Increasing numbers of remote workers 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.“ In fact, it's similar to the effects caused by “smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” Therefore, offering coworking options to remote workers could be considered part of a company’s health and wellness strategy.    

Another study 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.

Gallup likewise reports that despite some high profile cases of companies (such as IBM) ditching telecommuting, the number of corporate employees working remotely continues to grow. If we analyze Gallup’s data, it shows that 43% of Americans say they work remotely at least some of the time. This 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. It said 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, allowing 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. Clients get to enjoy 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 as Croissant, Desktime or Breather that partner with hundreds of shared workspace operators where you can pop in work from multiple spaces whenever you choose.  

More results from different coworking researches

Research from Small Biz Labs found very high satisfaction rates with regards to working from shared workspaces. We learn that 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%). Another key trend is that most paying coworking members are planning on continuing to be members two years from now. Only (4%) reported 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, 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.   

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. This arrangement increases productivity and decreases loneliness at the same time. 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 as far as to say that “coworking is not a workspace industry; it’s a happiness industry”.

Conclusion: remote workers can fight social isolation

Human beings are social creatures at heart. Therefore, the heart becomes more healthy with the happiness gained from working alone together. Reducing isolation at work, wherever that may be, is always good for business.

andrew of vab media digital agency

About the Author

Andrew Broadbent is the co-founder and director of Search Marketing for Vab Media Digital Agency. He has been interviewed and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, LA Times, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. He is also a contributor to Entrepreneur.com, The Next Web, Tech.CO, Econsultancy, Startup Grind, and Google for Education. Recently, he was featured as a panelist and speaker at Millennial 2020 event .

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