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The Social Workspace: Coworking

The Social Workspace: Coworking

The Social Workspace: Coworking

    Since I’ve been thinking about the spaces we work in a lot lately, I thought I’d talk a bit about the new approach to work that’s taking hold among many self-employed and telecommuting workers these days: coworking. There are several different approaches to coworking, but the basic idea is simple: create a space where a bunch of people can work comfortably.

    Most coworking facilities move beyond the idea of just providing a simple working space for a small fee to creating a social environment in which a community of similar-minded folks can get work done but also feel some of the camaraderie of a traditional office space. For instance, Launchpad Coworking in Austin offers “camaraderie, low workspace overhead, a chance for collaboration, and darn good coffee”; New Work City in NYC describes itself as “the gathering spot for a community of like-minded individuals who need somewhere to work that’s both creative and social, and professional and conducive to working.”

    How it works

    Most coworking facilities are more akin to a cool coffee house than an office suite. Some offer 24/7 access and a personal desk or workstation for a few hundred dollars a month; others offer a shared common room with tables or desks on a first-come, first-served basis. In most cases, you pay a membership fee based on your needs – you might pay $25 for a day pass or $500 for a reserved desk and your own set of keys.

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    For your money, you get not only a place to sit, but a range of business services and equipment at your disposal, including fax machines, photocopiers, printers, and wi-fi Internet access. Many coworking facilities also offer free coffee and snacks, lectures and workshops, and group activities. Some have conference rooms available, phone and receptionist service, mail delivery, and other amenities more typical of an office suite.

    Who coworks?

    The most important “resource” coworking facilities offer, though, is other people working alongside you. Freelancers and other self-employed people tend to be a) incredibly creative, b) very entrepreneurial, and c) very generous. Bring them together and you start laying the groundwork for a network of smart, creative, driven, and knowledgeable people who offer each other advice, collaboration, camaraderie, and “creative juice”.

    This philosophy is reflected in the fact that most coworking centers don’t “rent office space”, they offer “membership”. And those members might include commercial writers, graphic designers, journalists, novelists, web programmers, working musicians and actors, and solopreneurs.

    Why cowork?

    Besides the neat facilities, there are lots of reasons that people choose to cowork. Some just get a charge out of the creative energy of this kind of workspace. Others need a comfortable place they can meet with clients or partners.

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    For most coworkers, though, I think the biggest factor is the loneliness of working at home. Until you’ve left an office job behind, it’s hard to understand how enervating working at home can be. Some thrive at home, of course, but many struggle. I know I do – when I  don’t have classes to teach or another reason to leave the house, I can sometimes go for days without having a conversation with another person!

    Coworking facilities help ease this sense of isolation – even for people who never utter a word to their fellow members. Just the simple fact of being out and about can be a powerful motivator for many work-at-home types.

    Where can you cowork?

    Coworking is a new enough concept that it can be hard to find coworking facilities, even in major cities. (My own hometown of Las Vegas doesn’t have one, for example, although I’m strongly considering that as a call to action!)

    The Coworking Wiki lists coworking spaces and plans, along with tons of other information about coworking.

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    Another resource is the Coworking Community Blog, which has a Google Map showing the location of coworking spots around the world.

    You can also Google “coworking + [your city]” and see what comes up.

    If you’re travelling, check to see if your coworking space is part of the Coworking Visa group. If it is, you can use coworking spaces in cities all around the US for up to three days for no extra charge.

    If you can’t find a coworking space near you, don’t despair. There are a couple of coworking options that you might still consider.

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    The first is a Jelly, an informal coworking event held regularly in over 100 cities worldwide. Jellies don’t usually take place in dedicated workspaces; rather, it is a gathering of several people at a coffee shop, restaurant, or other place of business (and sometimes even in people’s homes!) that offers wi-fi and is amenable to hosting a bunch of creative workers. You can find a list of Jellies on the Jelly wiki. No membership is required, and they’re typically free. (You should probably buy something from the hosting establishment, though!) If there isn’t one near you, it’s relatively easy to start your own Jelly, too.

    Many cities also host coworking meetups, open to anyone interested in joining or starting a coworking space in their town. You can find a list on Meetup.com; meetups are sometimes free, but often the organizers ask for a small payment of a dollar or two to help defray the charge Meetup.com charges for hosting their group.

    Finally, you can start your own. The authors of I’m Outta Here, a book about coworking, have a one-page guide to starting a coworking group that will help get you started. The Coworking Google Group can connect you with interested people from all over for advice and encouragement, too. The key thing is to start building a community of people who want to be involved and to work out what kind of coworking situation will work best given that community’s needs and desires. From there, you can determine how to proceed – a full-fledge coworking location is a real business, and there is simply no one-size-fits-all plan for creating one.

    Is coworking for you?

    If you would benefit from being around other creative people, if your work keeps you on the move and you’d like to see a friendly face now and again, if working at home isn’t quite coming together, drop in to a coworking space or a Jelly near you and see if you like it. Since most of them offer one-day visits, you can check it out without making any long-term commitment. Maybe coworking is something that would be useful once or twice a month, just for a change of pace? Or maybe you’ll be hooked!

    If you’re already using a coworking facility in your town, let us know in the comments how you like it. If you run one, feel free to let us know all about it! And, if you live in Las Vegas and think we could use a coworking space, let me know – I might want to get in touch with you!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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