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The Lure of Co-Working: How People Are Finding Ways to Thrive in the New World of Work

Illustration of coworking space
Gretchen Spreitzer

The world of work continues to evolve, and Michigan Ross Professor Gretchen Spreitzer keeps a close eye on the changes. She has studied three global trends in particular: the nature of work contracts, shifting from lifelong employment to more “gig” employment and temp work; the timing of work, with workers now constantly “on call” rather than a strict eight-hour day in the office; and the location of work, with the rise of home offices and other alternative arrangements.

Spreitzer’s interest centers on helping both companies and workers thrive in this changing world. One way this can happen: the rise of co-working spaces, which have the potential to benefit both workers and their employers.

“Co-working spaces are professional work environments where remote workers or independent workers can go and get their work done, for a monthly fee,” Spreitzer explains. “It’s a professional work environment where you get great WiFi, a copier, and a conference room that you can reserve, and usually in some kind of cool environment with exposed brick and natural light.”

The facilities, equipment, and other practicalities attract people to co-working spaces, Spreitzer says. But the thing that keeps them coming back is having “colleagues” around, even if they don’t really work together.

Spreitzer and her co-authors, doctoral student Hilary Hendricks and Pete Bacevice, director of research at HLW, have found that people using co-working spaces report higher levels of thriving than people who work in a home office, coffee shop, or corporate offices. They also may be more productive, innovative, and creative, Spreitzer says. Meanwhile, companies may gain flexibility and save money.

Recently, Spreitzer and her colleagues studied workers’ identification with their co-working spaces. “Members seemed to highly value the presence of other people and the interactions they saw taking place. Specifically, they saw common spaces and activities/events as creating community,” Spreitzer says.

Spreitzer will share research-driven insights like these in a presentation at the upcoming Positive Business Conference, taking place May 9-10 at Michigan Ross. She will present the conference’s opening session, titled “The Positive Business Possibility in Today’s Workplace.”

Beyond co-working spaces, Spreitzer has also been watching other promising developments in the changing world of work, including:

  • The rise of institutions like the Freelancers Union that offer benefits and other assistance to contract workers. “These institutions are trying to help independent workers with things like group healthcare rates, a retirement benefit system, or apps that help freelancers smooth out their variable monthly income,” Spreitzer says.

  • The creation of digital platforms like Upwork to match companies with independent workers — lawyers, programmers, designers, engineers, accountants, marketers, and so on — who can bid on particular projects. “It's like matchmaking for professional services,” Spreitzer says.

  • Companies like Costco exploring ways to increase wages and guarantee a minimum number of hours per week. “They attract better workers, the workers provide better customer service, and so people buy more,” Spreitzer says.

Learn more about the Positive Business Conference

Read more about this research in Harvard Business Review