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Coworking: What do the Scholars Say?

Having just transitioned out of grad school, I was curious what scholars had to say about coworking. The study of coworking can be taken from so many different angles. Economists and planners can study it from an economic development perspective. At the same time, psychologists can approach it through the lens of workers’ mental health. For this blog, I found a study on the latter. The study titled Coworking Spaces: The Better Home Office? A Psychosocial and Health-related Perspective on an Emerging Work Environment is a 2019 German study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In this study, the authors compare coworking with the WFH and the traditional office regarding productivity, stress, and worker satisfaction/well-being.

An Academic Blindspot

A decent amount of scholarly research has been conducted on how WFH compares with the traditional office, but not nearly as much as coworking. Recognizing this gap in scholarship, the authors decided to investigate. Their research was conducted under the framework of stress-strain. They focused on developing an understanding of a workplace’s objective stressors and their impact on the subjective health of workers. 

The authors used a cross-sectional analysis, meaning all the data was collected at once. Data was collected via survey directly from coworking members.  The dependent variables are subjective health, worker complaints, and worker satisfaction and the independent variables include sociodemographic variables and features of the coworking space, like desk types and layout.

Participant data:

  • 61.6% female.
  • 38.4% male.
  • Mean age of 39 years.
  • 69.6% were in a relationship.
  • Interestingly, 69.6% were also self-employed.
  • 59.8% had a university degree.
  • 33% used the space for more than 3 months per year.
  • 32.6% reported usually being in the space 5 days a week.
  • 52.9% reported being in the space for 5-8 hours per day.

WFH vs. Coworking vs. Corporate

Before getting to the survey results, the authors took some time to compare WFH, coworking, and the traditional office. The benefits of WFH include childcare, no commute, and possibly work-life balance. Its disadvantages include isolation, loneliness, and the blurring of work and home, which may hinder work-life balance. During my first year in Florida, before I started school, I worked fully remote out of my living room. Since I had just moved there, I did not know many people, and I can certainly agree with the sentiment of loneliness. Being in a small apartment, having my desk in the living room hindered my work-life balance as there was no spatial difference between work and leisure.

…And the Winner is…

Both coworking and WFH trump the traditional office regarding flexibility. Since workers can work from any coworking space they’d like, it is common for spaces to offer shorter commutes than offices in the downtowns of major cities. Overall, the results of the study are promising for places like Groundwork. Participants prefer coworking over both the traditional office and the home office. Coworking offers a “best-of-both-worlds” structure. It allows workers to get out of the house, separate work from home, and socialize without being tied to the rigid schedule and geospatial arrangements of an office owned by an employer. All in all, coworking takes the crown! Workers can come and go as they please, get social exposure, and avoid long commutes.

This is one of the first scholarly studies comparing coworking to other work arrangements. Early data indicates coworking is the best structure for workers’ mental and social health. Lastly, this study took place in Germany and before the pandemic. It would be interesting to see how the results differ in a post-pandemic American context.

Dan Moriarty