By Shelbie Huard
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
In arguably every industry, working from home, also known as telecommuting, has become a growing trend. This shift towards less conventional office spaces has been expanding since the explosion of communication technologies in the 1990s. According to Statistics Canada, in 2008 over 1.7 million Canadians worked from home. Yet, this does not account for the nearly 2 million individuals who are self-employed, of which up to 60% work from home. Additionally, these numbers today are most likely much greater considering the growth trajectory of this trend.[i]
As traditional office spaces become a thing of the past, working from home has created an increase in productivity and cut costs for employers. It has also improved work/life balance for employees by allowing them to spend more time at home, have a more flexible schedule and eliminate long commutes. However, with the increase of the number of people working from home, workplace loneliness and social isolation has become a growing concern.
In August 2014, Relate UK released a study suggesting that “42% of people do not have a close friend at work.” The study also found that individuals working from a traditional office space are almost as likely to have daily contact with their colleagues (62%) as they are with their children (64%). As argued in a 2016 editorial by the Guardian, this suggests that what happens at work factors heavily in our lives.[ii] Arguably, working from home may in some ways aggravate this workplace loneliness by disconnecting employees even more from their colleagues and making healthy workplace relationships and a healthy work/life balance even harder to achieve.
However, we also can’t disregard the benefits that working from home can have. Spaces like ECTO co-working co-op in Montreal, Canada are offering potential solutions to balance the benefits of working at home with the concerns of workplace loneliness and isolation experienced both at home and in traditional offices. Co-working spaces offer people who work from home, individuals who are self-employed, or budding enterprises with the opportunity to rent workspaces. At ECTO co-working, members are able to rent a desk by the month, the week or a la carte. They also offer the possibility for members to have a permanent desk available to them 24/7. Additionally, ECTO offers meeting rooms, private phone booths, creative spaces, completely operational office spaces and a fully stocked kitchen.
Co-working spaces like ECTO are increasingly common in urban cities around the world. These environments help alleviate workplace isolation by providing a space for people who wish to maintain the benefits of working from home but also feel a need for social connections. One special feature of ECTO that helps to increase social connectedness amongst its members is their weekly collective meals where each member brings one ingredient for a communal salad and everybody eats together. It is completely voluntary, and yet, according to one of the managers at ECTO, usually over 80% of members participate and the meals occur without the direction of management.
Spaces like this allow individuals to both maintain their independence and come together, meeting and learning from individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Feeling connected is an important facet of our well-being and this needs to be addressed in all of our living spaces.
As the future of work spaces evolves, there are lessons to be learnt from co-working spaces in how to tackle social isolation and foster a greater sense of connectedness. Visit one in your town today!
[i] Turcotte, Martin. Working at home: An update. Component of Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008-X Canadian Social Trends. December 7th, 2010.
[ii] See: Workplace loneliness is a real problem. For 45 hours a week I feel isolated. The Guardian. Work & Careers. Opinion. February 1st, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/01/loneliness-at-work-introvert-sadness-bereft-in-bustling-office