Marion Barraud for hbr

Working remotely has many benefits: flexible hours, no commute, and autonomy and control over how you work, to name just a few.

But as any remote worker will tell you, there are also considerable challenges. According to a variety of studies, isolation and loneliness are among the biggest complaints. Working remotely means missing out on the human interaction and social aspects that being in an office provides.

According to Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the United States, increasing numbers of remote and independent “gig economy” workers is one of the key reasons for the growing “loneliness epidemic”. Murthy also points out that loneliness is much more than just a social problem. It’s also a health problem, “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”

Our research on coworking spaces show that these shared, member-based workspaces where remote corporate workers, startup employees, freelancers, and others “work alone together” can substantially reduce the isolation and loneliness associated with remote work. Some of the key findings from our surveys of coworking space members show that:

  • 87% of respondents report that they meet other members for social reasons, with 54% saying they socialize with other members after work and/or on weekends
  • 79% said coworking has expanded their social networks
  • 83% report that they are less lonely since joining a coworking space
  • 89% report that they are happier since joining a coworking space

Our initial research objectives for these studies were not focused on the social side of coworking. In fact, the studies were developed to explore the role that work-related networking plays in coworking communities. The study results show that professional ties are strongly enhanced by membership in a coworking space:

  • 82% of respondents reported that coworking has expanded their professional networks
  • 80% reported that they turn to other coworking members for help or guidance
  • 64% said their coworking networking was an important source of work and business referrals

The research also showed a variety of other work-related benefits associated with coworking membership. Most members (84%) reported that working in a coworking space improved their work engagement and motivation. Most also reported being able to concentrate better due to fewer distractions compared to working from home or in coffee shops.

But despite focusing on the work aspects of coworking, our research found that it was the social ties of coworking that proved most valuable to members. When asked to list three words that best describe coworking, three of the top five words mentioned by coworking members — community, fun, and social — relate to social aspects.

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Remote Work