Co-working and Leading Teams

The co-working movement may be considered the latest fad, but it has been around for decades under different names and forms.  Cross-organizational or cross-functional teamwork is the basis of many existing business processes.  Co-location of teams and matrixed organizations are also well known. Marketing, product development and innovation teams have long realized the benefits of working in multi-disciplinary teams to better accomplish goals.  Recently new research indicates it has a surprisingly strong psychological basis.

coworking-space

See WENDY MARX  07.14.16 5:00 AM http://www.fastcompany.com/3061515/the-scientific-reason-why-coworking-may-be-the-future-of-work

New cultural tactics such as working in pairs that rotate every five days, and company culture and social structure designed to help employees collaborate are more and more popular. Expanding offices and creating innovation centers to allow current clients or new startups and entrepreneurs to work with company teams generate strong connections and innovation in the process.

No doubt co-working is an established movement.  An of a new platform includes WeWork as well as other co-working platforms taking shape in a variety of forms.

How can you bring the benefits of co-working to your organization?

There’s no forced socialization. Team spaces that allow employees to be as friendly, or as reserved, as an individual wants work well.  Creating secure and accessible space for interaction with outside parties allows for learning and collaborative work.

And according to researchers who’ve studied the effectiveness of co-working, they’re all on to something. Wendy Marx explains why.  The following is an excerpt from her recent article in Fast Company cited above:

TWO BASIC HUMAN NEEDS CO-WORKING FULFILLS

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan’s Steven M. Ross School of Business led by business professor Dr. Gretchen Spreitzer, who also directs the Center for Positive Organizations, has spent the last four years studying co-working. In the process, they’ve interviewed the founders of co-working companies around the U.S. and surveyed more than 200 workers from dozens of co-working spaces; one team member spent six months as a co-working member.

Their research uncovered two key benefits to the co-working experience, both of which have been linked to improved employee performance. Simplified somewhat, it comes down to flexibility and autonomy without dispensing with meaningful community.

It turns out that co-working spaces’ hallmarks—like funky design features—are far less important than their social structures, where workers feel a sense of individual autonomy that’s still linked to a sense of collaboration, the Michigan team told me in interviews. Most co-working spaces, for all their variation, tend to strike that careful balance between those crucial needs—in ways that neither solo freelancing nor the traditional office experience usually provide.

Typically, coworkers pay a monthly fee in exchange for the freedom to work when, where, and how they want. Often open 24/7, coworking facilities let members come and go and sit wherever they like. There’s no forced socialization. You can be as friendly or as reserved as you want.

Co-workers also have the freedom to literally shape their environment—which some research suggests can significantly improve workers’ performance and productivity. In their research, the Michigan team found that some co-working companies have taken it upon themselves to redesign their spaces to better meet members’ needs, raising additional money to do so and inviting users to help design the new features.

Independence, adaptability, flexibility: These characteristics are fundamental human needs. So it isn’t surprising that they’ve been linked to positive outcomes in the workplace, too, from improved performance to higher rates of employee commitment and engagement.

They also help explain why more companies are embracing flexible work schedules—many of the same ones, in fact, that are exploring coworking. GE, Parades tells me, now offers flexible work arrangements for all its U.S. employees as long as they’ve got their managers’ approval.

COMMUNITIES THAT MINIMIZE INTERNAL COMPETITION

But this isn’t the whole story, the Michigan researchers found. Autonomy and flexibility may be crucial, but your work environment is hardly the only factor that can supply them. The other key benefit that coworking spaces tend to offer is a sense of community—not just any community, but one where people, as Dr. Spreitzer puts it, are “free to be themselves” because they don’t feel they’re competing with those around them. As a result, ideas are more freely shared.

People are “free to be themselves” because they don’t feel they’re competing with those around them.
Spreitzer, Garrett, and their third colleague Dr. Peter Bacevice, director of research at architecture and design firm HLW International, found that that type of communal spirit provides the necessary ballast to autonomy. While too much freedom can actually hurt productivity, grafting a community structure onto an already flexible one provides what she calls “the optimal degree of control.”

Typically, people join coworking spaces because they want to be part of a community while still doing their own thing. Members often share their thoughts and needs on Slack or some other communal platform. Everyone is usually expected to volunteer to maintain the facility. Lectures, outings, and other events are planned—but optional.

Here’s one coworking member that PhD candidate Lyndon Garrett interviewed as part of the research:

It’s really positively affected my work because it . . . makes me happier all the time, and having people around that I’m not in competition with but who can bring experience from different industries and different situations is really, really helpful . . . I’ve been able to come in contact with ideas I wouldn’t have normally come in contact with.
Traditional companies are trying to create that same sense of serendipity. AT&T has created coworking-like spaces where the company’s own engineers mingle with independent developers and startups in order to accelerate AT&T’s innovation cycle. The office furniture company Steelecase redesigned its corporate office to include a work café that strongly resembles those at the center of many coworking spaces, based on the idea that employees may be stimulated and build friendships with people outside their work unit.

So if more employers follow suit in the months and years ahead, they aren’t just jumping on a trendy bandwagon. Sure, they might be doing that, too, but they’re also trying to tap into the science that helps explain what makes people work well—alone and together.

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