coworking

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.

 

Five best practices for coworking spaces

40, that’s the number of coworking spaces in Greater Boston today.

And the number is only growing. With so much competition in the space, how can a coworking space set itself apart to attract and retain members? Based on my experience at my own coworking space, I have identified five best practices to follow.

Best practices

· Ensure a desirable physical environment

· Create activity-based zones & matching behavioral guidelines

· Foster social cohesion & trust

· Cater to specific professions

· Ensure behavioral & cultural fit

In terms of space, it is important to allow plenty of natural light, to offer standing and sitting options, and to create spaces for people to socialize. For more depth on such physical elements, including personal storage, I recommend Usher’s The Elemental Workplace. Another key to success is to create activity-based-zones, each optimized for different types of work (e.g. focus, collaboration). Hand-in-hand with creating such zones is to create matching behavioral guidelines, and to actively ensure compliance. Such explicit guidelines help establish behavioral predictability, making it easier for members to choose a space that will maximize their productivity.

In terms of community, coworking spaces can drive retention by fostering social cohesion and trust. These desirable characteristics arise when coworkers get to know each other well. Hence, the key is to create moments to socialize. One way is to host social events, such as lunches and happy hours. The other is to create spaces away from workstations where people will spontaneously gather, e.g. kitchens and coffee machines. The effectiveness of such spaces grows as incentives to visit them arise. Hence, putting out snacks at specific times, or offering complimentary coffee goes a long way to foster social cohesion. Similarly, the effectiveness of social moments in creating trust can be increased by facilitating icebreaker activities.

Another key opportunity that coworking spaces should consider is to actively target specific user groups. Among several benefits, hosting a critical mass of a certain type of professional increases the viability of offering targeted services for a fee. We can imagine, for example, offering a workshop for copywriters on pitching content to prospective clients. Such content can be arranged by community managers, and delivered by external service providers, who are sure to be attracted by a group of target clients assembled together. The potential to make revenue is there. In my own efforts to launch a mastermind group at my coworking space, the majority of my participants were willing to pay a fee.

Another benefit of a coworking space tailored to certain professionals is member retention. Retention in this case is driven by multiple factors, one of which is a match in behavioral & cultural profiles. Hosting groups with similar working styles minimizes the potential for behavioral conflicts, in turn driving productivity. Another factor driving retention is the value of the community itself. As members of related professions get to know each other, they are highly likely to support each other. In my case, I have asked my fellow writers for advice on pricing a proposal, and have received help from visual designers on converting graphic files. Belonging to such a supportive group is a great incentive for members to stay at a coworking space.

Now, for many spaces it may not be financially viable to focus only on a specific type of professional. There may simply not be enough of such people to fill a space. Nevertheless, coworking spaces should actively build sub-communities of related professionals within their larger coworking ecosystem. Better not to leave this completely up to members. Not all people are naturally outgoing, neither will all immediately see the value of connecting. The true value of communities of professionals can be realized only when actively maintained, ideally by the community management team.

The best practices above have been identified through my experience coworking at Workbar, primarily from the Central Square location. In the eight months I have spent here, WorkBar has greatly contributed to my ability to get things done. Read more about my specific experience on Medium.

*This article was originally published on LinkedIn

BUILT, a new coworking space for growing firms

Are you a young firm outgrowing your first digs? I recommend you consider joining BUILT, a new coworking space in the Boston area. I had the chance to spend a couple days at BUILT, and it promises to be a good place to set anchor and develop the core of your business. Here’s how it lines up on my criteria for a great workplace.


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Positives

  • Physical environment

  • Ergonomics


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Room for improvement

  • Support for activity-based-working

  • Community & events

  • Location

  • Tools & amenities


Physical space

BUILT is an inviting space. It is well-lit and evokes the clean aesthetic of luxury retail. This white, black, and marble scene could leave some with a cold feeling, but BUILT is planning to bring in art to liven up the space. BUILT also has an outdoor space, which I love. It is well-shaded, providing a great place for eating lunch or having a chat in the warmer months.

BUILT provides some variety to support activity-based work, but can do more truly embrace it. There are effectively three types of workstations: white desks, kitchen tables, and phone booths. The many white desks are medium-sized, and provide ample space for a laptop and papers. I love that they are height-adjustable, although the slow manual crank presents somewhat of a barrier. The chairs at these desks are a solid rendition of the standard office chair, on wheels with several postural adjustments. The two phone booths are fantastic for placing calls. They provide good acoustic isolation, and despite being small, they don’t make me feel claustrophobic. The two round kitchen tables promise to be a good place to chat with a coworker, or to get some quick work done away from others.

BUILT’s two phone booths on the ground floor. Great acoustic isolation without claustrophobia.

BUILT’s two phone booths on the ground floor. Great acoustic isolation without claustrophobia.

What I feel is missing are places for collaborating informally with others. While BUILT has three formal conference rooms, there is not yet a whiteboard in the open area to work out problems. BUILT is also lacking lounge areas that support informal exchange or individual reflection & relaxation. Not to be outdone, BUILT is planning to add these areas in the future. Altogether this forms my evaluation that BUILT is best suited for focus work.

One of BUILT’s three conference rooms.

One of BUILT’s three conference rooms.

Community & Events

As BUILT is still new, much of the feel of the community is yet to be determined. Current tenants at BUILT include an accounting firm, an architecture firm, and an urban planning firm. Freelancers and individuals form a negligible presence. As I observed, interactions between existing tenants are subdued. They work primarily silently, with some internal conversation here and there. When taking a phone call, people have been good at using the phone booths. This solidifies my judgment that BUILT is a good place to focus.

In contrast, BUILT’s events are much more lively. Every Tuesday, BUILT hosts a Founder’s Talk, focusing on a different topic relevant to entrepreneurs each week. I attended one of these talks in October, which focused on startup KPIs. The content was valuable, and the discussion was interactive and lively. This liveliness, however, has yet to carry into the day-to-day atmosphere.

This leads me to say that if you’re looking for a place to focus on building the core of your business, BUILT could be a great match. If, however, you’re looking a place to meet others, collaborate, and exchange ideas, I would look somewhere else. Note that this judgment is subject to change, since the culture will shift as more members join.

A Founder’s talk at BUILT. Bringing together a lively community of entrepreneurs over valuable content every Tuesday evening.

A Founder’s talk at BUILT. Bringing together a lively community of entrepreneurs over valuable content every Tuesday evening.

Location

BUILT’s location provides some advantages, but also presents challenges that cannot be overlooked. BUILT is located in Huron village, a primarily residential, well-to-do neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. BUILT’s immediate neighbors include a few high end furniture and design stores, as well as a Chinese restaurant. Presence of others types of businesses, such as finance and technology, is negligible. Food offerings around BUILT exist, but are sparse. In short walking distance I found a couple sandwich places, one pizza shop, and one Chinese restaurant. I could not locate a grocery store nearby. Altogether, this makes getting a healthy, inexpensive lunch nearby challenging.

The BUILT space.

The BUILT space.

BUILT can be tedious to access by public transit. You should plan at least 20 minutes to walk from the nearest equidistant subway stations: Harvard and Porter Square. Another option is to take the bus; BUILT is served well by four bus routes running from Harvard Square. This location can also make it challenging to travel from BUILT to meet others closer into the city.

A high-end vintage home furnishing store across the street from BUILT.

A high-end vintage home furnishing store across the street from BUILT.

Parking around BUILT is available, although is not the most convenient. There are more than a dozen 1- and 2-hour parking spots within a block, which tend to be occupied. For clients and collaborators driving to visit you at BUILT, this could be plenty. But if you’re spending a whole day at BUILT, you will likely be spending 10-15 minutes every couple hours to move your car, or risk a $25 parking ticket. If, however, you have a Cambridge Resident parking sticker, you are in luck, since there is plenty resident parking nearby.

Equipment & Amenities

BUILT provides a satisfactory, though limited set of equipment & amenities. There is an enterprise printer and standard office supplies, such as post-its, paper and staples. BUILT provides coffee, hot water, and a limited selection of tea, though no major snacking options. Beyond these offerings, it is up to each member to supply their own. For example, if you like to work with a secondary monitor, as I do, you’ll need to supply your own. This can be worth it if you work from BUILT multiple days per week and elect for a dedicated desk.

Leaving your belongings at the space is possible and safe. This is primarily for members with dedicated desks, since personal storage options do not exist yet. All entrances to the space are card-access-only, making theft difficult. Moreover, the space is small and members know each other, making it even hard for a would-be thief to act inconspicuously.

Conclusion

BUILT has the potential to be a great workplace for young, growing firms looking for a place to call their own, a place where they can focus on building the core of their business. For freelancers and individuals looking for strong community and a well-connected location, though, I would recommend a different workplace. BUILT has that “make it your own” vibe. You’re invited to bring your own tools, your own snacks, and make suggestions to enhance the space. So have a look and consider making BUILT the permanent address for your growing business. The space would be happy to have you.


Photos courtesy of BUILT.

A great first week at Workbar

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I’m coming to the end of my first week at WorkBar in Cambridge's Central Square, and I’m happy with my decision to have joined this coworking space. In my previous article, I described that I joined Workbar for four reasons: its activity-based work zones, its inviting physical space, its location in a buzzing neighborhood, and its social potential. I’m glad to report that Workbar is living up to its potential to be a great workplace, and that there are a couple ways to make it even better. Here’s how:

Comprehensive activity-based areas

Workbar’s different working zones suit my working style well. I have been setting up my base station from a standing desk in the conversation-friendly Commons area, and have frequently hopped over to different zones for specific tasks. For example, I have used the whiteboard to develop a framework, and have organized my writing from a booth by the window. I’m now sitting in the no-conversation Study to write this article.

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Inviting physical space & bigger lockers

The quality of the lighting is excellent. The large vertical windows provide ample natural lighting and pleasant views of Cambridge and Boston. I also appreciate the abstract artwork spread across the office walls. There are some points for improvement. I have noticed the quality of the air dropping in the afternoon, but have taken advantage of the balconies for a refresh. I was also looking forward to storing my work items in a locker, to lighten my commute and to support mindfulness at home, but was disappointed to find the lockers were too small to fit my 15” laptop. So a tip to Workbar, arrange for larger lockers and I’m happy to pay for one. Perhaps others will be too :).

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Vibrant location

I very much enjoy the density of local businesses in Central Square. I have been satisfied with the quality of the local eateries, including Whole Heart Provisions and Mainely Burgers. I’ve also been happy to pop into Rodney’s Bookstore for inspiration, and to visit University Stationery to pick up my favorite colored pen. The buzz of the neighborhood energizes me, and I’m looking forward to exploring the surroundings further.

Social potential

Thanks to a couple key social events, as well as the general openness of the Workbar members, I have already made meaningful connections. At a career coaching session this past Monday, I met the founder and intern from startup Piccles, and accompanied them that same afternoon to lend a hand with a user test. At the Martini lunch on Tuesday, I met a software developer who gladly connected me with a co-worker who is also passionate about social psychology in the workplace. I have met several other members, and am looking forward to how we can collaborate.

Workbar at Central Square is proving to be a great home base for my workplace well-being practice. I feel well in the space, I’m easily able to find focus, and I already feel like I belong to the community. Maybe I'll even find a place to store my work items soon. Stay connected!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Why I chose Workbar

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With the knowledge I gained from my Master's thesis about what makes a great place to work, I visited several coworking spaces last week to find one to call home. After exploring the range of options from downtown Boston up to Cambridge, I decided to join the last space I visited, Workbar in Cambridge's Central Square. Here's why:

Spacious and inviting interior design

Workbar's 5th floor space in Central Square receives great natural light from its large windows, and is outfitted with carpet and sound absorbing surfaces to reduce noise. There are also enough standing desks and external monitors for enthusiasts like me.

Workbar provides ample standing desks and external monitors for members to use.

Workbar provides ample standing desks and external monitors for members to use.

Range of activity-based zones

With its no-conversation Study zone, its phone-friendly Switchboard area, and a range of spaces in between, Workbar provides great support for different activities and different personal preferences. I’m looking forward to using the phone booths, the large whiteboards, and the balcony!

Workbar's workspace is divided into three zones: the no-conversation Study, the quiet-conversation Commons, and the phone-friendly Switchboard.

Workbar's workspace is divided into three zones: the no-conversation Study, the quiet-conversation Commons, and the phone-friendly Switchboard.

Bustling neighborhood

Between two world famous universities and just down the street from several leading technology firms, Central Square promises to be a great place to explore opportunities as I build my future. The neighborhood also offers casual, authentic lunch options to satisfy a foodie like myself.

Workbar sits right in Central Square, a neighborhood with many eateries and small businesses. And the office is just steps away from the T, Boston's subway system.

Workbar sits right in Central Square, a neighborhood with many eateries and small businesses. And the office is just steps away from the T, Boston's subway system.

Social potential

With its active community managers, the networking website Wobbe, and a range of social and professional events, Workbar holds promise for connecting people who can benefit each other. I’m looking forward to getting to know others whom I can provide value to and learn from.

Workbar prominently display community events and members who are present, providing good opportunities to connect with others.

Workbar prominently display community events and members who are present, providing good opportunities to connect with others.

It’s my second day here at Workbar Central Square, and I'm eager to experience how this space meets my expectations. Stay tuned for updates!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.