“I was very sad about my job. I’m tired of working from my home and not having anyone to talk to but I feel equally disconnected when I have to go to the office for in-person team meetings. – Research interviewee, a UK project manager
Employees and employers face a challenge: how to optimize hybrid work policies to maximize the benefits of both sides, including reducing the debilitating effects of employee loneliness. Lone employees like the above tend to suffer even worse BENEFITS and below display — both issues affecting a company bottom line.
unfortunately, remote and hybrid work can make employees feel lonely. This does not, however, mean that employers should rush employees back to the office. Loneliness at work the pre-pandemic is getting worse when most knowledge work was done in offices. In addition, a complete return to the office will limit the flexibility and autonomy that employees desire, including how they fulfill their social needs during the workday.
A better option for employee social wellness is to think beyond office or home locations. There are “third spaces” where employees can also work, including cafes, hotel lobbies, friends’ houses, and co-working spaces. Our research shows that, among the options, job sites show special promise for solving employee loneliness.
We did a survey 819 employees working in office roles across the geographic and industry spectrum. result showed, to our surprise, that respondents experienced working from a third space such as a coworking site more socially satisfying than working from the office (64%) or from home (67%). A key factor is that a coworking space offers not only the flexibility employees crave in where they work, but also with whom.
The Value of Coworking Sites for Relational Job Crafting
Our survey and subsequent interviews shed light on the ways that coworking sites enable employees to make their jobs relevant – that is, adjust the people they interact with during the workday. These and other forms of doing the job positively correlated that resultincluding greater employee satisfaction, performance, and retention.
In our study, we extend the concept of relational job crafting to show how it can be done not only by office colleagues but also by other professionals – from different companies – working in the same physical location. In fact, our research shows that coworking can provide better opportunities for creating working relationships than office or home environments. Specifically, well-designed coworking sites provide:
Escape from co-workers
“Avoiding unnecessary interactions with colleagues” was a benefit cited by 52% of survey participants. This can be especially helpful for members of underrepresented populations, who often experience microaggressions and subtle exclusions at work.
Various available relationship partners
By nature, job sites bring together professionals from different jobs and companies. As a senior US analyst noted, “There is value in the diversity of experiences there. You meet people you wouldn’t in a regular office.” This diversity combined with independence allows for a wide selection of companion.
A break from the competitive and evaluative pressures of the office
Since the “colleagues” of a coworking site have no direct impact on an employee’s reputation or performance rating, it is safer to interact with them. As a consultant in the Netherlands wryly commented, “I don’t have to worry about every conversation that shows my accomplishments and professional growth.”
A set of community-derived rules and enforcement mechanisms
The co-workers we interviewed described feeling part of almost a social movement, a communal determination of the culture in which they work. Most sites build a coworking code of conduct and hire a community manager to ensure adherence to those values.
Pro-relationship activity options
Community managers also arrange formal (eg, workshops) and informal (eg, impromptu lunches) activities to facilitate relationship building and professional development. Employees in our survey appreciate these opportunities to regularly learn and socialize.
Because of these unique features, coworking spaces offer employees the opportunity to make the kinds of rich personal connections that can be difficult to achieve in an office or home environment. Relational job crafting helps explain why previous research has found that high growth rate among coworking site users.
What Employers Can Do to Optimize Coworking Site Use
We are not advocating for employers to abandon their efforts to create a sense of welcome and belonging, either in the workplace or in the office. Employers need to look beyond the home/office dichotomy, however, when it comes to improving work life for employees.
Here are five steps organizations can take to encourage and support their workers in using job sites:
Educate employees about potential benefits.
Even more than 3 million people working from a coworking site in 2022, there are still many who haven’t tried it yet. Employees may have little understanding of why and how teamwork works for them. In addition to communicating the opportunities to create a working relationship described here, employers can encourage cooperation by sharing information about potential gains in terms of productivity and work-life balance. There are other advantages as well, including greater data security (for example, most co-working sites have private, password-protected WiFi) and more ergonomic work setups.
Provide stipends to cover usage costs.
According to 46% of our survey respondents, a company stipend to cover co-worker fees would be a high-value incentive to use the spaces. Companies may face more pressure to contribute funds to remote worker benefits in the future. Meanwhile, other employers, such as Spotify, already offers co-worker stipends and has seen a surge in usage as a result. Others, like Remote, go a step further and highlight the “group work days” to encourage four or more employees to gather at one site for concentrated collaboration time. Employees can earn up to $30 per day to take advantage of such opportunities.
Reduce the convenience trap of working from home.
Companies can help employees overcome the trap of convenience to work from home by making the transition to coworking sites easier. In our interviews, we’ve heard that simple fixes like providing extra power cords and noise-cancelling headsets to keep on site can go a long way to reducing the nuisance factor. Parking and commuting discounts also help get people out of their apartments and houses more regularly.
Support participation in relational programming.
We’ve heard from some community managers that programs on co-working sites are underutilized. Employers can encourage employees to take advantage of these offers by providing incentives, such as per diems and continuing education credits. Additionally, employers can glean useful insights about which types of relational programming work best for their employees by collecting feedback on their experiences there. Co-working sites may be willing to partner with companies to test new community-building ideas.
Provide training and guidance.
Many employees, especially junior career professionals struggling with how to build strong relationships in professional settings. Employers can provide training and guidelines to enhance employees’ interpersonal skills, such as how to break the ice and turn the first contact into a meaningful connection. Coworking sites can provide a safe playground where they can practice these important skills and expand their networks.
. . .
As employers explore the possibilities of coworking sites for their employees, they don’t have to go it alone. Our investigation unearthed the business platforms to automate the process of purchasing memberships as well as the booking desk and meeting spaces. Coworking consultants have also emerged to facilitate the search.
One key to a successful coworker plan, however, is preserving employee flexibility. Simply signing up for a contract with a major coworking provider, for example, limits the sense of autonomy that is so important to creating a working relationship. Additionally, by funneling employees to the same narrow set of sites, employers may inadvertently recreate the same office dynamics that employees desire. avoid. For example, employees at a financial service firm in Australia were frustrated when their local coworking site turned into a satellite office with similar interaction patterns.
Another pitfall is matching a co-worker’s site style. For example, when a unique local coworking site in Spain was bought by a real estate investment company, the members felt that it no longer had the distinctive culture that made it attractive in the first place. To avoid these issues, we encourage managers to work with employees to determine how to effectively incorporate work into their hybrid policies.
Feeling connected to other people is important for employee mental health and well-being. For a motivated workforce, it is in the best interest of employers to help employees overcome any feelings of loneliness. Coworking spaces offer the possibility of relational job crafting to meet the social needs of employees while operating in a professional, work-friendly environment. A co-working site is not your organization’s office, but it can be a viable alternative.
Authors’ note: The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Elliot James Perry, formerly of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign, who was instrumental in the design and implementation of this research.