When my firm was looking at relocating from First Avenue in Cedar Rapids to Marion, we looked at several commercial spaces. As a business owner and contributor to my local ecosystem, I really love the concept of working where you live and avoiding long commutes. We are pretty spoiled here in the Creative Corridor when it comes to our commutes, but I don’t think you’ll find a person doing the daily drive down I-380 who wouldn’t trade it if it was possible.
While living in Atlanta, telecommuting became a popular option for employers trying to attract candidates who lived outside the area and ease the burden of the daily commute; they also received a tax incentive for it. I was one of those employees who benefitted from the shift. My company set me up with a home office, and I was in heaven – or so I thought.
At first, I found myself more productive at home. There was no time lost on water cooler chit chat, and I was able to stroll around the house doing random chores during conference calls. While checking everything off my to do list was rewarding, over time, I found myself looking forward to meetings outside the office, longing for human interaction. I started feeling like I was a lone survivor on an island.
It turns out I was not alone. Harvard Business Review reports, with 75 percent of businesses introducing flexible work arrangements for their employees, other professionals are reporting feelings of isolation as well. A recent survey or more than 2,000 professionals in 10 countries showed that telecommuters and sole proprietors are often lonely and fight productivity lulls. Another report by Gallup, “The State of Remote Work,” found that 21 percent of remote workers felt loneliness was their biggest struggle.
It’s all part of the emerging realization that humans need collaboration and interaction. We were not designed to be alone for an extended period of time – hence the use of solitary confinement as a punishment or torture tactic. While I was initially more productive, I soon realized the long hours alone behind my monitor were affecting me physically and mentally.
What’s the alternative?
Co-working space – essentially a shared work environment that brings together professionals of different stripes in an open-office style layout – has been an innovative, affordable solution for our firm. It’s a vibrant, shared workspace that is quiet enough to be productive, but has enough of a buzz to chase away any feelings of loneliness one might encounter. It also provides a safe, semi-private place for client meetings that’s popular with millennials and “mompreneurs” alike.
In the Corridor, options include MERGE in Iowa City, The Vault in Cedar Rapids and Loft Coworking in Marion, among others. These spaces represent a great way for small businesses, entrepreneurs and telecommuters to enjoy a shared work environment without the long commutes and the overhead costs associated with a commercial space. Forbes reports that there are more than 11,000 co-working spaces across the U.S. with projections calling for more than 26,000 co-working spaces hosting nearly 4 million people by 2020..
Is a shared space the right solution for your company?
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the drawbacks. One important unforeseen issue to the co-working solution, would be the lack of physical space branding. Marketers have used carefully furnished locations and prime real estate to openly display their brand and convey their culture since the beginning of time. We can all agree that an authentic brand experience is very important, especially in today’s highly competitive environment. So, companies will need to find creative ways to tag their shared physical space with their brand and ensure the vibe matches who they are even in the co-branded environment.
Organizations are offering flexible work environments and welcoming virtual office culture at rates never before seen, and for good reason. It allows companies to curate a more diverse and qualified workforce that might not have been possible before, due to family obligations, long commutes or geographic barriers. The shift is helping to solve tough workforce issues and positioning them for the future by fostering a spirt of collaboration and community. It can create a branding challenge, as noted, but not one that is far-reaching if one is purposeful and mindful.
That means promising things for the co-working trend, as people still need places to work and be productive. Using a shared work space can help solve the economic, physical, emotional and creative challenges companies and professionals are facing in the modern world of work.