How Coworking Boosts Belonging

Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely. This has led US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to state that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. One of the contributors to this phenomenon is the growth of the gig economy and remote work, which has reduced the opportunities for people to interact face-to-face while working. Thankfully, the global growth of coworking is helping professionals address this issue. By joining a coworking space, remote and independent professionals can reverse the loneliness epidemic by boosting their sense of belonging.

This post is an excerpt. For the full article, visit Workbar’s blog.

Why Belonging Matters

Belonging ranks highly among our universal psychological needs. It takes the second level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and masquerades as Relatedness in Ryan & Deci’s Self-Determination Theory. The key to fulfilling our need for belonging is to be part of a community and to experience meaningful relationships characterized by trust. Joining a coworking space is a great way to do so.

Coworking can go a long way to enhance belonging. Recent research has found that 83% of coworking users report feeling less lonely since joining a coworking space. The relationships people form in these spaces offer social and professional support, and are a clear part of the value proposition. “We offer a flexible workspace that also enables you to build relationships with fellow members,” states Devin Cole, Workbar’s Head of Partnerships.

At the base level, coworking spaces create belonging by hosting a consistent group of people in a shared space. The resulting social interactions lead to an initial sense of community. “It’s just nice to be around other people,” says Jamie, a software engineer who works remotely from Workbar*. “I felt very isolated if I was just by myself at home working all the time.” Bringing people together already offers value, but coworking spaces don’t stop there.

Displays showing which members are present builds familiarity within the coworking community.

Displays showing which members are present builds familiarity within the coworking community.

Trust Among Coworkers Enhances Belonging

The key to achieving the full sense of belonging is to build trust among members. This is best achieved when coworkers get to know each other at a personal level. A coworking space offers two types of occasions for members to build trust. The first includes planned events put on by the community management team, like happy hours and lunch excursions. The second includes spontaneous encounters, like crossing paths by the elevator or sharing lunch in the kitchen. Effective community managers and members will create additional occasions by intentionally introducing members to each other.

For these occasions to be effective, members need to show a genuine interest in getting to know each other. At planned and spontaneous moments, members are encouraged to introduce themselves to each other. It is then effective to share a personal detail, and to ask for one in return. Understandably, this is not obvious for everyone, so it is encouraged to use icebreakers to get things going, especially at group events.

Smart coworking spaces also nudge members to get to know each other in more subtle ways. Workbar, for example, features signs created by members with fun facts about themselves. Several coworking spaces also commonly display profiles of members that are currently present. While these may not necessarily lead to a conversation, they do increase the familiarity among members.

Name plates featuring fun facts about fellow members allow coworkers to get to know each other at a personal level.

Name plates featuring fun facts about fellow members allow coworkers to get to know each other at a personal level.

The Takeaways

Joining a coworking space is a great way for people who would otherwise work from home to satisfy the psychological need for belonging. Coworking spaces offer a range of memberships that allow members access anywhere from a few days a month to 24/7. At the space, coworkers will get the most value by introducing themselves to fellow members, both at events, and through spontaneous encounters. The community management can facilitate this connection-building through events, introductions, and icebreakers. Finally, the design of the space can ensure work still gets done through smart zoning.

Advantages of a Flexible Workspace for Large Organizations

IBM, Microsoft, PwC. Besides recognizable names, what do these organizations have in common? They are among a growing group of companies that work from flexible workspaces. And they are doing so for several reasons. Joining such spaces improves a company’s ability to be agile. It also provides the added benefits of fostering new ways of working, enhancing innovation, and increasing visibility.

This post is an excerpt. For the full article, visit Workbar’s blog.

Strategic benefits to joining a flexible space

Adopting New ways of working

A flexible space can operate as a stage for organizations to pilot new ways of working. An immediately obvious trial is that of a new layout. Flexible spaces like Workbar have embraced the activity-based-working model, which provides different zones for different types of work. This model has been shown to improve health and job satisfaction. Beyond the benefits to those working in the space, offering modern layouts can also attract talent.

In addition, flexible spaces can give rise to organizational change. Physically separated from the rest of an organization, they provide a great setting to intentionally design and pilot a new culture. This culture can then be disseminated back to the parent organization, especially through practices like rotating teams.

Accelerating innovation

Flexible spaces are a great setting for stimulating innovation within an organization. Sharing the space with startups, freelancers, and other companies enables organizations to increase exposure to different ideas and ways of thinking. An organization can maximize the potential for such cross-pollination by intentionally selecting a flexible space based on the current occupants.

So how can such cross-pollination take place? One way is through serendipitous encounters in kitchen and coffee areas. Organizations should not leave it only up to chance, however. There are intentional ways to foster exchange of ideas. One way is to organize hackathons with occupants. Another is for community managers to connect related occupants.

Increasing Visibility

Working from a flexible space increases the visibility of an organization. This can have several benefits. Within the same space itself, it creates networking benefits. It can lead to meeting and hiring freelancers. It can be a way to meet candidates for hiring. It can also lead to new customers and collaborators. Here again, considering the other occupants when choosing a space can maximize the opportunities to benefit.

At Workbar, there are a variety of companies that work out of multiple locations in and around Greater Boston. At Back Bay, TravelPirates curates vacation deals, Univision creates spanish-language television programming, and Atiim develops a goal management tool. At Burlington, MongoDB offers data management solutions, and Neuro-Flash provides an AI marketing insights platform. And it doesn’t stop there.

Workbar also plays host to a range of freelance individuals and small companies. In Cambridge, I work next to writers, immigration lawyers, and sustainability consultants. Beyond Cambridge, there are graphic designers, marketing constants, and academic researchers. These can be valuable resources for a variety of objectives. Writers, for example, can be tapped to help build content. Similarly, graphic designers can be hired to build a visual identity.

Looking beyond collaboration, joining a flexible space is also an opportunity for brand-building. This can take place through several media. On the visual end, organizations have an opportunity to place branding materials inside the space. On the face-to-face end, companies can spread the word through informal conversations in shared areas, and by hosting events. The buzz created as a result is sure to make it out.


Reflections on Workbar Central Square

Takeaways from a workplace specialist’s experience

The first time I walked in, I knew this place would work for me. Now eight months in, I can confirm that my feeling about Workbar in Central Square was right. Since I joined in June 2018, I’ve made significant progress building my business, and have made great personal connections. Sadly, it’s time for me to take a hiatus, but not before sharing what I liked about this Workbar location and what can be improved.

What I liked

  • Office-like aesthetic & feel

  • Activity-based neighborhoods

  • Behavioral guidelines & great adherence

  • Balanced utilization

  • External monitors & standing desks

  • Ample daylight & outdoor space

  • Community of friendly members with similar personalities/character

  • Density of local eateries, drug stores, & art/office supply shops

  • Great location for accessing Greater Boston


What can be improved

  • Lack of visual privacy for focus work

  • Occasional disruptive behavior by members & guests

  • Few profession-specific groups/events

  • Lack of personal storage

  • Dropping air quality on busy days


This post is an excerpt from the full article, available at Workbar.

*Disclosure: I have not been compensated by Workbar for this review