Eleanor Forster, managing director of Leesman North America, on how the workplace can be both an enabler and an obstacle when it comes to fostering social cohesion and improving productivity.
Human beings are social creatures. We have an instinctive need to belong to a group and feel included, accepted, and respected. While a part of this need is fulfilled by our social circles outside of the workplace, it’s important to recognize that majority of us spend most of our time at work —whether that be in an office, at home, a coffee shop, or in a coworking space. Work is not just a thing you do, it’s also a place where the things you do are carried out. It doesn’t matter how you work or what you do for a living; everyone needs a space.
Regardless of where “work” is, research has shown that we’re likely to perform better when we feel a sense of belonging. Teamwork relies on working together as part of a cohesive community with shared goals. Saying that, flying solo can come with its own set of challenges so sharing a space with like-minded individuals can play a part in inspiring and motivating lone workers. Everyone needs a support network of some kind. Without this sense of community spirit, successful results are unlikely to be achieved.
While it’s not the only contributing factor, the workplace is an enabler when it comes to creating unity within organizations. It can even be an instigator in this pursuit and, unfortunately, sometimes an obstacle. Spaces that encourage serendipitous social interaction also tend to fuel collaboration. This, in turn, has the potential to improve productivity and, ultimately, organizational performance.
Community spirited infrastructures
This perhaps goes some way to explaining the coworking boom, along with several other factors. According to Deskmag’s 2017 Global Coworking Survey, coworking has grown by 30 percent over the last year alone, and members are up by 64 percent. There is an abundance of coworking spaces out there; more pop up in the market every month. Five years ago, there were only 1,000 or so coworking centers worldwide; by 2018, experts predict that there will be closer to 37,000 to accommodate the anticipated 2.3 million professionals that will become members of the movement.
The commercial property and real estate consultants at Cushman & Wakefield report that Manhattan has a record 5.3 million square feet of shared office space, thanks to the presence of 70 coworking brands. In Brooklyn alone, there are 53 players; and this borough accounts for one million square feet. And these spaces are set to suck up even more square footage across the world in the coming years — let alone the Boston to Washington corridor.
Seventy-eight percent of the 2017 Global Coworking Survey participants state that “community building” is one of the main reasons they opt for these spaces. Even though 55 percent of members work alone, as opposed to in teams, 71 percent report that they actively collaborate with others. The figures don’t quite match up, which suggests that even people that work solo need to occasionally throw ideas around with others.
The people revolution
There’s no question about it: the coworking world is disrupting the commercial real estate market. These spaces are not only cheaper than renting a traditional office but they also fuel collaboration and interaction, and offer a highly flexible social setting to the modern day mindsets that are part of the ever-growing gig and shared economy.
These coworking hubs embody the fact that the way we work is changing, as is the way we communicate with others. Social media’s influence has made us more accustomed to openness; we are constantly creating and nurturing our online communities. What’s more, the line separating the professional from the personal is becoming even more blurred because we’re so used to sharing everything.
We post, we like, we share, we tweet. We self-publicize on a daily basis and this proves that, by and large, people want to gain access to a larger network so they can more efficiently connect with others. Organizations are slowly capitalizing on the idea that this natural urge can add value to business operations. This fundamental desire to engage with others can reap multiple benefits. And coworking spaces are riding on this need.
The spirited workforce
Outside of the coworking sphere, why should workplace professionals bother fostering a positive community?
We have surveyed 200,000+ respondents worldwide and the Leesman Index, our workplace effectiveness tool, has revealed the differences in employee experience between those that think their workspace contributes to a sense of community and those that don’t. These statistics, amassed over the last six years, can help us understand just how a lack of community spirit can negatively impact productivity and morale.
Only 58 percent* of respondents in our entire database report that their workplace contributes to a sense of community. However, when we look at the Leesman+ portfolio of certified buildings (quite simply, the highest performing workplaces that we’ve surveyed), that figure jumps to 72 percent*. This suggests that there is a link between community spirit and perceived productivity. Those that don’t experience a sense of belonging, if you will, are less likely to agree that their work environment allows them to work effectively.
Our research also suggests that organizations that foster a sense of community better support employees when it comes to collaborating on creative work and just taking time out to think. Other activities seem to benefit from such a community spirited infrastructure, including informal social interaction and learning from others.
A happy, productive community
Those that report higher levels of community spirit within the workplace are also more likely to agree that they work in an enjoyable environment, compared to those that don’t. In fact, there’s a marked difference; out of those employees who feel that their environment contributes to a sense of community at work, 84 percent* feel that their workplace creates an enjoyable environment to work in, compared to 11 percent* who don’t experience the same level of belonging.
With organizations placing more and more emphasis on the workplace experience, as evident in the emergence of roles dedicated to the cause (such as “head of employee experience”), the industry needs to take a holistic view and understand the workplace as a larger system where all the building blocks influence each other — and those building blocks are physical, virtual, and social.
*as per Q2 2016 figures