A successful workforce is one in which employees are satisfied, productive, and engaged in creating a future—the company’s and their own. They thrive. What makes them do so?

Recent research indicates that co-working is a factor that significantly contributes to employees’ experience of thriving. Co-working can be defined as spaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals, work together in a shared, communal setting. These people thrive better than employees working out of regular offices!

Menlo Innovations, a software development company, offers a co-working space, that Walmart and Toyota are seeking to learn from. Here, programmers work in pairs that rotate every five days. They also allow entrepreneurs to work alongside the staff. There’s also WeWork, whose vision is to “create a place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’.”

These spaces are inviting, creative, productive, and build community. What makes them so unique?

People derive more meaning. Co-working spaces involve workers who don’t belong to any specific organization. As a result, they do not experience hierarchies, team politics or competition with colleagues. Hence, they do not have ‘work personas’ they need to keep up with. They report having stronger work identities, as they are able to do the work they want, in a setting that allows them to be themselves. This also leads to ideas being shared freely, without the fear of approval or assessment.

It offers control. Autonomy is an impactful driver of employee engagement. At co-working spaces, not only do people have complete control over their schedule, but also have freedom to choose the level of interaction with other workers there. However, too much autonomy is known to cripple productivity. Co-working spaces steal the cake here. Having a social community to work in creates structure, discipline and motivates people.

Conceptually such spaces seem more suited for startups or independent workers. But, what are the implications for established organizations?

  1. Alternative working spaces for employees. Since such spaces offer a break from routine, teams can be encouraged to use them by choice. Especially if companies have flexi-work policies. Or, just like organizations have retreats, they can choose to go off-site (to these spaces) for team meetings.
  2. Idea hubs. Co-working spaces by design are different from traditional offices. The complete change of scene offers some ‘out of the box’ thinking opportunities. That’s how Ricoh came up with their paperless meeting solution – Smart Presenter.
  3. Capture the essence of co-working spaces. The furniture company, Steelecase, redesigned its corporate office to include a work café, that resembles those at co-working spaces. It was based on the idea that employees may be stimulated and build friendships with people outside their work unit.
  4. Make cultural changes. The key lies in the work environment. Co-working spaces also click because they regularly offer networking/ social events, training programs, and even summer camps! People need to be able to craft their work in ways that give them purpose, and have a workplace where they don’t need to be someone else. They need psychological safety.

You don’t need to redesign your entire workspace to help people thrive, but do think of ways in which you can bring the values of co-working spaces into your office. What would those ideas look like?

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