When The Wing, a co-working space for women, opened its first location in October 2016, Nik Aliye immediately applied for a membership.
At the time, the now 27-year-old New Yorker worked in media — and her company had an office in SoHo where most of her coworkers spent their work days.
The only problem? She didn’t particularly like it.
“No natural light, super crowded, fluorescent lights, bros, the women’s bathroom didn’t have heat,” Aliye said, listing just a few of the problems she had with the workspace to MarketWatch.
Co-working spaces are typically seen as the arena of freelancers and startup founders, but now employees like Aliye are spending upwards of $300 a month on memberships to get away from their offices — and, in some cases, the people in them.
The Wing offers plans starting at $215 a month. A “hot desk” at WeWork can go for anywhere from $250 to over $500 a month, depending on what city you’re in. The lowest priced desk at The Farm, a co-working space in SoHo, starts at $199 a month for the first three months before rising to $299. Sandhouse in Los Angeles offers a “residency membership” that gives access to the co-working space for a monthly fee of $250.
The flexible workspace industry overall has grown at a rate of approximately 23% each year since 2010, according to a 2019 report from Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). By 2030, flexible office space will make up 30% of all U.S. offices, up from 5% today, the report added.
Gretchen Spreitzer, a professor of management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, told MarketWatch that she’s heard of some Fortune 500 firms with their own offices renting out co-working space. “They want their employees to be around startup types to generate new ideas,” she said.
Some offices are ugly and can be competitive
Aesthetics are a big reason.
The Wing has a “gorgeous space, tons of amenities, temperature regulation,” Aliye said. It has cafes, conference rooms, free coffee, lockers, beauty rooms, and even showers.
Co-working spaces are known for their sleek design, Spreitzer told MarketWatch. “They’re cool. They feel modern and energetic and make you think creative things happen there.”
Many co-working spaces aim to provide a sense of calm. That’s what made Jonathan Gardner, a marketing professional in New York, join one.
“I was working for a tech company and could work in their office 24 hours a day if I wanted,” Gardner told MarketWatch.
The enterprise software firm where Gardner worked was growing rapidly while Gardner was there. He loved the fast-paced startup world, he said, but the noise that came with it often prevented him from getting work done.
“I needed a quiet space for work, so I started going to a co-working space,” Gardner said.
Gardner told MarketWatch he has belonged to a number of co-working spaces, including Prosper Gowork and BKLYN Commons.
Prosper Gowork brands itself as an “affordable” co-working space, and at $99 per month, memberships are a little cheaper than the likes of ones at WeWork and The Wing. You’ll still get free coffee, but you won’t be able to shower there. It has locations in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.
BKLYN Commons offers a basic membership for $300 a month and a dedicated desk for $400 a month.
Others say they prefer working alongside individuals from other companies and other fields.
“No one is looking over my shoulder,” Aliye said.
“When you’re in your office, there is always a pressure to be on, to say smart things, to do your work,” Jeff Leisawitz, who describes himself as “a life coach for creative types,” said. “When you move to a co-working space, people aren’t judging you.”
He added, “The worker will open up in a lot of ways, and ideas will flow when they aren’t being watched. The fear of saying something dumb or failure goes away, so you’re more open.”
“I always feel super productive and calm,” Aliye said. “You’re around many people that are also working in a similar way, so there’s an energy you can pick up and carry forward.”
Co-working spaces can feel more like a community
Neil Carlson, the founder of Brooklyn Creative League, a co-working space that opened in 2009, said he’s found “that co-working spaces have emphasized community, and that’s something that traditional offices don’t always do well.”
He believes co-working spaces are attracting new members partly due to a decline in other community spaces.
“Particularly in New York, where you have a decline of other social spaces like churches, people are flocking here to find their people and build more non-work relationships,” Carlson said.
The percentage of Americans belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque hit an all-time low of 50% in 2018, down from 70% in 1999, according to a Gallup poll.
The ability to brainstorm and discuss ideas with others is another appealing aspect of co-working spaces, according to Spreitzer. “If your company has co-workers that are super competitive, it could be depleting to work in your office.”
Out of sight, out of mind
Despite its benefits, forsaking the office for a co-working space may prevent some workers from advancing their career.
Workers who are out of sight may also be out of mind, according to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2012. Remote workers are less likely to get promoted than employees with equal performance levels who hang around the office. They also get smaller raises and don’t do as well in performance evaluations.
The reason: Passive face time. “Familiarity breeds liking,” said Daniel Cable, a professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School and one of the two authors of the study published in the Review. “When you’re around someone more, you become more comfortable with them, you trust them, and you’re more likely to promote them.”
“As you go farther from corporate headquarters, you move up slower. If the boss is seeing you a lot and talking with you during lunch, you’re more likely to get promoted,” he added.
Besides passive face time, there are other benefits to working at the office. For one, “a well-structured meeting can lead to ideas, creativity, and innovation at a company,” Cable said. “This is more likely to happen when everyone is in the room rather than on the phone.”
Unplanned interactions between co-workers are also important, and they’re unlikely to occur if everyone is working remotely.
“Digital communication tends to be very good for planned interactions, like formal meetings. But a lot of the value of working with people comes from all those interactions that you didn’t plan,” Ben Waber, the founder and CEO of Humanyze, a people analytics software provider, told the New Yorker.
Mark Gilbreath, the founder and CEO of Liquid Space, a platform that helps workers and companies find flexible work spaces, says getting out of the office once in a while doesn’t hurt. “Routinely, there will be situations where an employee will feel they can be more productive in a co-working space,” he said.