Social Contact in a Job
How Co-Working spaces Foster Connections
by MK Ward
One drawback of being a freelancer, or an entrepreneur in the early stages, is that it can feel lonely. There is no team of people to work alongside; no company office to hang out in. This means that these people miss out on a valuable aspect of work, which is the opportunity for social contact and social support.
Filling this need is where co-working spaces come into being. A co-working space is a shared workspace with multiple uses, often including some combination of: private and/or quiet spaces, meeting rooms, recreational/social space, phone-booths, shared reception, restrooms, mail and kitchen areas, reception, mail. Co-working spaces have become increasingly popular, with freelancers and entrepreneurs willing to pay to get the benefits.
Yet an open space with a kitchen, some meeting rooms, and lots of desks and power outlets does not guarantee a community….
To understand how you build a positive co-working environment, we observed the manager of one such space, Johnny, in action. Johnny gives tours of the space, runs events, and creates mentoring and advisory opportunities, all of which help to make it worthwhile for the freelancers and entrepreneurs to commute to the CBD to be in the co-working space rather than work from home.
But it’s what Johnny does informally that seems especially powerful.
“Banter is really important here,” advised Johnny. Ten minutes later, a member walks through for a meeting and Johnny made a joke about the member’s attire.
“You’re looking quite smart today,” Johnny says.
“What do ya mean?”
“You’re looking smart,” Johnny replies.
“I don’t have my hat.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re looking a little less socialist” Johnny states before explaining that the member usually wears a hat with a red star on it. Both laughed, and the person went on to his meeting.
It's informal and regular interactions like these that create a positive community.
In the end, it’s not fancy furniture or décor that foster connections: its people. We observed a difference in the conversation and energy on the ground floor, where Johnny was working and talking and giving people tours, compared to the beautifully-styled modern upper floor. In the latter space, despite the gorgeous and fresh-looking kitchen, four members ate lunch across from each other, all silently staring at their smart phones. There was no Johnny striking up conversations and encouraging banter.
Humans value social contact at work. Indeed, evidence suggests that the ‘need to belong’ is one of the three most fundamental and innate needs of humans .
As work changes – as we see technological infusions and digitization of our work – we need to ensure that basic human needs are met through good work design. Well-designed and well-run co-worker spaces can play an important role in this.
 Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.