What’s More Important: Social Space or Work Space?

What’s More Important: Social Space or Work Space?

I’ve been developing a distaste for many traditional coworking spaces lately. Let me tell you why.

A few days ago I wrote about what we lost when we moved from coffee shops to coworking. While we have certainly improved many parts of the experiences of working from a cafe, we’ve also lost much of what made them appealing in the first place.

When I’m at a coworking space, the environment is often distracting, which subconsciously gives me permission to check Facebook, check Google Analytics, message my friends, stress about the work I should be doing, make a to-do list, get distracted by Facebook again, yada, yada, yada and no work gets done.

Today I find myself writing outside a cafe a few blocks from my downtown apartment. It’s wonderful outside and I feel very relaxed, very inspired, zen even. The other people inside and outside are either working on some project, studying, or having light conversations. This isn’t your typical crowded, loud, college-kid laden cafe. It’s got a neighborhood vibe and is surrounded by tall, beautiful trees. I feel inspired, and I’m getting a lot of work done.

We know the reason we opt for the busy, open workspaces is to create what we all call “community.” But there’s a time and place for that, and there’s a time and place to write, design, record, ideate, strategize, and learn. These things rarely happen with much effect in a crowded, visually distracting, and loud environment.

I obsess over this because it’s very important. It’s very important because one of the key differences between well utilized coworking spaces and underutilized ones is this very point. People want to work where work is comfortable and easy to do.

People only want to socialize some of the time. Those that want to socialize all the time usually don’t get much work done of worth, so you probably shouldn’t focus your space on them (they are the distractors). Even extroverts need time to think and plan, to decide where their social energy will best be put to use next. And yet, socializing and social spaces are still very important for chance encounters and new connections.

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Without social space new, generous projects don’t get invented. Without chance encounters, that podcaster never meets that ex-Navy Seal who now devotes his time to rescuing abused animals. Social space keeps the community fluid and alive and impactful.

So which do you prioritize: social space or work space?

The only reasonable answer is both. A balance must be struck.

I see one likely response to this: we don’t have enough space for productive workspace and social spaces.

That is very possibly true, likely even. But you’re in luck because we live in a 4-dimensional world, which includes time as the final ingredient. If you don’t have the space for calm, inspiring, relatively quiet workspace and interactive, social, and fun space then set aside scheduled times throughout the day, at the end of the day, or on certain days where such activities are the modus operandi. In fact, time is probably the most underutilized resource most people have. Perhaps if you create productive times and social times, you’ll actually be doing your community a favor, in that they will get better work done and be happier at the end of the day.

Food for thought.

Ryan Chatterton
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