Steve King, partner at Emergent Research, is an expert in the changing workplace. Emergent, is a “boutique research and consulting firm focused on the intersection of small business and the future of work”. Recently, Steve wrote an article for Small Business Labs, exploring the rise of social offices, so we caught up with him to learn more about the future of the social workplace.
Hi, Steve. Why did you decide to look at the Social Workplace as an example to highlight the changing nature of work?
For several years we’ve been exploring the increasing integration between work and life. We’ve also been trying to better understand the linkages between the social side of work and how it relates to productivity, work engagement, and worker wellbeing. Our interest in the Social Workplace is a natural outgrowth of this.
How would you define the “Social Workplace” and how is it representative a new model of work?
Our work in this area is focused on coworking spaces, which are definitely a form of social workplaces. Our most recent survey research shows that the social side of coworking spaces is a key reason people are members. Key findings on this topic from our survey include:
- 87% of members report they meet other members for social reasons
- 54% after work and on weekends
- 33% during work hours
- 89% reported they are happier being a coworking member
- 83% reported they are less lonely since becoming a coworking member
- 78% reported that coworking helps keep them sane
11% even reported they had dated someone the met at coworking facility. This is not to say that work isn’t getting done:
- 84% said they were more engaged and motivated when coworking
- 67% said coworking improved their professional success
- 69% said they feel more successful since joining a coworking space
- 64% of the respondents said their coworking networking was a very important (26%) or an important source of work (38%)
Our definition of the Social Workplace is that it is a place where the boundaries between work lives and personal lives are permeable and blending. As this data shows, coworking spaces fit this definition.
We study coworking spaces because we see them as a leading indicator of where work is going – and because of this we believe the social/work blending at coworking spaces is a strong signal that this trend will continue to grow.
How has the development of the social workplace influenced the culture of work? And what does social work environment offer that a traditional one does not?
We think the culture of work is slowly changing in ways that allow more workers increased levels of work autonomy, control and flexibility.
You’ll see these same words in other answers. This is because our research pretty much always comes back to these 3 attributes. If a worker has them, he/she is much more likely to be engaged, productive and happy at work than those who do not.
We think Social Workplaces tend to be places where people have these work attributes, and we believe as the benefits of the Social Workspace becomes better known they will spread.
A good metaphor is “casual dress”. The technology industry moved to much a more casual dress codes starting in the 1970s. Over a period of a decade or so it became clear that workers liked this change and productivity was likely increased. Over time – a long time – casual dress (at least part of the time) spread to pretty much all industries (at least in the U.S.).
We see the same thing happening with social workspaces.
Has your research shown that the social workplace becoming more widely accepted?
As mentioned above, we see coworking spaces as a leading indicator of general work change. This means it’s likely the type of work/life blending we’re seeing at coworking spaces will become more common in all types of work environments.
How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models? What has changed in the workforce over the last 5 years? What are the current expectations?
We’re seeing a shift towards more emphasis on working to live over living to work. Millennials are talked about a lot when it comes to this shift, but all generations are showing more interest in better work/life balance. Pretty much everyone is also looking for more work autonomy, control and flexibility.
Some people think that happiness in the workplace isn’t really important, but recent studies are showing it actually does improve productivity, would you agree? Do you have any examples to back this up?
It’s easy to dismiss happiness in the workplace as not being important, but too many studies show happiness and productivity is tightly linked. It’s also self-evident – who doesn’t think they are better at work when they are happy?
Our research on independent workers (the self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors, etc.) shows a strong correlation between productivity, worker views of their professional success and happiness.
Put more simply, those that are happy at work do a better job and consider themselves more successful.
Coworking has been a solid example of changes in attitude towards workplace culture, do you think it will continue to grow and improve? Do you think it is possible for larger corporate entities to integrate coworking into their business model?
There are no signs coworking is slowing down – if anything on a global level the growth is accelerating. Our forecast is for rapid continued growth out to 2020 and beyond.
Corporations are already integrating coworking into their business models. This is especially true when it comes to close partners and suppliers. We expect this to continue, to expand and to become more common in the early 2020s. Remember, workforce shifts tend to happen relatively slowly.
Do you think that changes in the workplace will also affect various business platforms, such as real estate?
We do. In particular the long term lease (10 years or more) doesn’t really work given the amount economic volatility, uncertainty and change that exist today. We think more firms will choose “workplace as a service” models that provide more business flexibility and agility. This will lead to major changes in commercial real estate. Again, these changes will not happen quickly – but they will happen. The rapid growth of firms like WeWork and Industrious are examples of this shift.