Opinion: As offices reopen, coworking spaces should be part of the conversation, too

Originally published in The Colorado Sun – September 12, 2020

As the world continues to contemplate how to get people safely back to work, there’s understandable hesitation about whether coworking spaces should be a part of the immediate conversation – after all, in these spaces, every day you could see a different handful of coworkers. 

How we solve this issue, especially in conjunction with our multitude of other priorities, is still unclear. However, when we think about the long-term implications of these spaces ceasing to exist, they are an important factor to consider as we restart our economy.

Having learned software engineering at a coworking campus, I can attest to the fact that these spaces serve an incredibly important purpose.

Learning something as complex as software engineering was really challenging, and what made all the difference was being surrounded and inspired by like-minded individuals and experienced professionals to whom I could turn and ask for help.

I’m not the only one who’s done this, either; according to a study conducted by Small Business Labs, 80% of coworking members report turning to another for guidance.

This ability will become even more critical in the weeks ahead, and many expect to have no jobs to return to even after things start to improve. We will need to make sure there are places people can go – safely, of course – to quickly and effectively learn new skills outside of a two- or four-year university. 

Studies support the fact that coworking spaces, largely because they facilitate collaboration, are great places to learn. A recent Harvard study found that students engaged in active learning, which includes strategies such as discussing topics in pairs or groups, actually learned more than in a traditional lecture setting. And, according to neuroscientist Mays Imad, these educational capabilities are all the more important in times of trauma or crisis. 

They’re also a great place to stay connected, something we appreciate now more than ever. According to Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, remote work may offer flexibility and eliminate commuting costs, but it has also made employees more isolated, lonely and less committed to their teams and organizations.

Coworking spaces successfully address these issues, a study by Inc. finding that 83% of coworkers felt they were less lonely, and 78% that coworking helps keep them sane.

Again, having this option will be even more important in our post-COVID-19 world, as the loneliness many Americans are feeling may have an even deeper impact long term.

According to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 46% of adults who have experienced income or job loss due to the pandemic say this crisis has, unsurprisingly, negatively impacted their mental health. 

In the same way many private offices are finding ways to safely reopen, coworking spaces are, too. Galvanize, for example, is opening and staffing campuses in different phases depending on their local guidelines, implementing new standards like the prioritization of social distancing, increased sanitization and informative signage. 

We know that one of the best ways to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in it, ideally by traveling to a foreign country and surrounding yourself with individuals who speak it.

The same goes for learning just about any other new skill – and especially those that are super technical. 

All this is to say that there are certainly people who thrive in remote environments, and many more that benefit from its convenience. But for people like me, who do best in environments where they can work in-person beside their peers, we need to make sure that communal spaces for learning and doing don’t die with COVID-19.

They come with a myriad of benefits we need right now, and most importantly, many of the benefits that will help us rapidly prepare people to take on the jobs of tomorrow. 

Lizbeth Anaya Ramos is a Developer Evangelist and former enrollment officer at Galvanize.

To learn more about Galvanize, visit https://www.galvanize.com/.

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