The role of coworking spaces

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coworkingspaceLast week there was an interesting discussion on the eMint newsgroup around remote working.  It was sparked by a post made by a Pinterest employee advertising a new position for a community manager that required said candidate to locate themselves at the company’s Holborn office.  In this day and age, the argument went, is it right that people have to physically be somewhere when doing what is largely a digital role?

Anyway, the whole issue of flexible/non flexible working has been covered pretty extensively, but what perhaps hasn’t been given as much air time is the role of co-working spaces.  These reasonably modern inventions offer freelance and remote workers a physical location to go to and work alongside other people in a similar situation.

A new study published recently via the University of Michigan‘s Ross School of Business set out to explore just how useful these facilities are.

“If you give people freedom but not a mechanism to interact with each other, they’ll just be in their own little world doing their own task,” said the researchers.

This was famously the argument made by Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer when she cancelled all remote working at the company and demanded employees come into the office.

“So Marissa Mayer was right, in a sense. Without interaction, you’re going to have lower productivity and less collaboration. But I think there’s a happy medium. There are solutions that don’t require everyone to be in the office all the time.”

The paper goes on to suggest that co-working spaces are therefore crucial, especially in an environment where other social clubs are struggling to stay afloat.  Therefore, they suggest, co-working spaces can help fill that space.

Of course, that serves a very different need to that offered by physical location within an office.  It’s hard to imagine after all, that Marissa Mayer wanted Yahoos at the office so they could enjoy a better social life.  She wanted them there under the belief that doing so allowed better collaboration between employees.  Attending a co-worker space alongside people not directly connected to your employer therefore offers only a fuzzy likelihood of any collaborative benefits.

Such spaces also undersell the supposed connectivity afforded to us by the large number of enterprise social networking tools.  After all, there is no real excuse to be disconnected from peers, be they inside or outside of our official employer, even if that is just digitally.

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