Co-working is the practice of working independently, together. In other words, while many offices are owned by one company who fill their desks with company employees, a co-working office is used by those from varied backgrounds, companies and projects who happened to rent space in that building. It has become an increasingly popular option among workers who don’t need to be in an office building from 9 to 5, and freelancers who don’t necessarily want to work alone at the local coffee shop, alone in their homes or, worst of all, in bed under the covers.
According to research firm Emergent Research, as cited in an Economist article from December 2011, co-working in America reached a tipping point in 2010, with 760 facilities dedicated to co-working in operation. Given co-working’s increased popularity, how can people take advantage of the increased productivity to be gained from working independently from your laptop, but surrounded by a group of interesting intellectual strangers?
One benefit of working from your laptop in a co-working space is the network effect of collaborative work. Your unique skill-set gives you certain advantages over others, but you can’t expect to cover all your bases alone. That’s why traditional offices were needed, after all. But with co-working, armed with your laptop and your own unique skill-set, you can network with others who share your co-working space. You can seek out other members with complementary skills so that you can take on bigger projects together. This opportunity to make new intellectual, professional and personal connections is a benefit of co-working over a solitary work space. Conversation is encouraged, as is collaborative thought and the development of new ideas.
Collaborative working also means more good old-fashioned business networking as well. Your co-workers might not be the perfect complement to your skill-sets, but they may refer you to new clients, other partners or suppliers. As The Economist noted, even traditional businesses like the Australian bank Macquarie have started emphasizing the benefits of collaborative working, including hot-desks in its Sydney offices. You can take advantage of this network effect, too, with just your laptop and a co-working space. Try to institute a time for a coffee break to get to know your fellow workers better. Suggest drinks after work, or bring in a cake for the table—an almost sure way to make new connections during that 3pm slump.
Another way to boost productivity when co-working is to expose yourself to ambient noise. According to Desk Magazine, a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research concludes that background noise encourages workers to think at a “higher, abstract level and consequently exhibit higher creativity”. A well-designed co-working space should provide the right amount of ambient noise to boost your cognitive processes and increase your creative output. Instead of plugging into the mp3 collection on your laptop, you could consider just letting the ambient noise in your work environment wash over you the next time you’re confronting a difficult work task that calls for boosted creativity levels.
While being mobile and working off your laptop is generally loaded with benefits, physical comfort still has a big part to play in your overall productivity. It has become less important whether or not you work out of an actual office, but the importance of a good desk and chair can’t be overstated. Even if your co-working space doesn’t have proper ergonomic chairs, you can consider bringing your own chair for your personal use, or invest in supportive pillows, armrests, or laptop stands. Chairs at the right height for your desk are not only important for comfort, but for your health as well, as back pain becomes a more common complaint as an individual’s office hours increase. Focusing on making your physical environment as comfortable and healthy as possible is another way to boost productivity while co-working.
Watching others type away furiously at their laptops often kindles creativity and a sense of urgent productivity in all of us. While you can get this motivation in a library, a co-working environment has additional benefits including the possibility of networking, inter-project collaboration and an opportunity mid-day socializing which can give you brain the break it needs to work even harder. Consider a co-working environment the next time you are looking to get a boost in professional creativity and interaction.