Switching up your location makes you better (and more creative) at your job

Coworking spaces let workers choose environments to their liking.
Coworking spaces let workers choose environments to their liking.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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As a freelancer, I’ve found that where I work changes the kind of person I am. In coffee shops, I’m easily distracted by friendly chatter and people scrolling through Facebook. An office filled with serious-looking workers in suits, however, makes me switch into professional mode and buckle down.

The same principle has held true since I began rotating between different coworking spaces in New York City. The Farm, a Soho coworking space furnished with salvaged barn wood, is filled with high-energy startups. Whenever I’m there, I sit up straighter and type faster. The Yard, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has quirky art and a casual vibe. I feel more creative there, and am more likely to talk to the people around me. In other words, my environment shapes my workplace persona.

Thanks to the rise of the co-working space, many of my contemporaries are also experimenting with adding variety to their surroundings. Originally, independent workers and startups would invest in memberships to a single space. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to travel between multiple offices—a set-up that offers some unique benefits for employees.

“For some people, co-working provides flexibility of location,” workplace strategist Peter Bacevice says. “Place attachment is less important to these people. Rather, they value choice and the ability to work from a variety of spaces around the city—especially if they are on the go, running from meeting to meeting in various locations.”

 WeWork, a shared workspace startup with locations in 28 cities around the world, has 30 offices in New York City alone, along with spaces in London, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Seoul, and Mexico City. Croissant, a service that’s currently available in New York, Boston, and Washington DC, provides its New York users with 33 different office spaces and plans to add more. Grindspaces currently has four spaces throughout Manhattan, and one in Chicago. And Pivotdesk has spaces scattered throughout cities like Denver, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

These communal workspaces make many workers feel more relaxed than a traditional office environment, according to a 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review. Since there are fewer internal politics to navigate when you’re working alongside different combinations of people everyday, coworking spaces often allow people to feel more comfortable and authentic in their daily interactions. The freedom to explore multiple offices can also afford workers the opportunity to discover which environment they feel most at home in–whether that be a fancy, bustling space near Times Square or a shabby-chic office in Brooklyn.

Many employees find that it’s a refreshing change of pace to work alongside people from other industries who have no idea what they do—and are interested in learning more.

“I think working in different coworking spaces can be beneficial for stimulation and new ideas,” says Gretchen Spreitzer, a management professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business who is studying the effects of coworking spaces. “You can interact with more and different kinds of people who can provide new perspectives, networks, and resources for you.” A marketing professional seated next to a venture capitalist may well be able to swap skills and knowledge that others in their respective companies don’t possess.

Working among strangers can also benefit those who prefer to plug away at a task without interruption. Through services like Croissant and WeWork, both of which offer a bevy of alternative locations, members can easily rotate to a different space every day of the month.

“If you want to just put your head down and focus on your own work, it might be easier to be an anonymous kind of worker who puts their headphones on and gets work done,” Spreitzer says. When you’re immersing yourself among new faces every day, it follows that you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked by a half-hour conversation about a favorite basketball team or a coworker’s weekend plans.

Yet working in a variety of spaces also has its downsides. For most people, it takes time to get used to the rules and atmosphere of a new environment. For example, every time I arrive at a new Croissant office, I have to figure out who the manager is. This is always awkward, since everyone is wearing casual clothes. As a result, I have to float around for a bit and stare at people, trying to find the person who can give me a desk, tell me where the coffee is, and give me directions to the bathroom.

“Changing places can boost stimulation and creativity, but may have start-up costs of getting socialized in a new space,” Spreitzer says.

Depending on your personality, jumping from one coworking space to the next can also put a dent in productivity. We all need structure in our lives—and showing up at the same office every day to work alongside the same people helps us to create routines. So if you’re the sort of person who gets easily distracted researching new lunch spots or trying to find the seat in the office with the best possible light, it’s probably smarter to pick one consistent space and keep coming back.

“Coworking is not a one-size-fits-all experience,” Bacevice explains. “For some people, the most important aspect is the sense of community it provides. These are people who value some level of social consistency.”

For my own part, despite the awkwardness of venturing into new spaces, I love having a variety of locations to choose from. Whenever I find myself with a little downtime in a new part of the city, or feel like I need to jumpstart my creativity, I head to a new coworking space. The change helps me start coming up with new ideas—and the snack variety doesn’t hurt, either.