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.
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, which the Workbar team encourages.
“We’ve worked hard to create a culture where people feel comfortable introducing themselves to each other,” says Cole. “Because we have that culture here, people develop relations that start with a deeper, trusting personal bond.” Creating such a culture requires input from both the community management team, and the members themselves.
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.
Even for those who aren’t the type to spontaneously strike up conversation, coworking spaces provides value by the presence of other people. “I’ve talked to introverts who tell me that one of the reasons they come to Workbar is because they work from home, and if they don’t create this outlet for themselves, they could end up not talking to somebody for two weeks,” says Cole. The key is that coworking spaces offer the potential for interactions.
Coworking Spaces Are Still for Work
With all this talk about interacting, you might imagine that socializing is all that takes place in a coworking space. Looking around, however, you will still notice many members with their heads down. While it is true that socializing can interfere with getting work done, coworking spaces and their members can adopt several measures to minimize this risk.
At Workbar, the primary measure for segmenting work and social activities fuses space design with a behavioral code. Workbar’s spaces are divided into four neighborhoods, each with a different allowance for stimulation. At the quiet end, in the Study, there is negligible interaction since conversations are not allowed. At the lively end, in the Café, socializing is encouraged through music and frequent events. These different neighborhoods, each physically separated, allow members to choose how much interaction they are interested in.
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.
*name has been changed to protect privacy
About Tobias Froehlic
Tobias Froehlich is a workplace consultant. He applies design strategy principles to enhance the workplace experience with organizations in and around Boston. Visit his website to learn more.