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As the year comes to an end, most of us start to plan our New Year’s resolutions. Many focus on improving their physical health after the festive period. But what about your mental health? It’s easy to neglect when you’re running your own business. It’s also a dangerous move for freelancers as this way of working is detrimental to your mental health due to long hours and a lack of human interaction. Coworking could be the tonic you need to see both your well being and business flourish thanks to the strong community of like-minded souls you can be part of. This, alongside a range of other surprising mental health benefits, is why exploring coworking in the New Year should be at the top of your list of resolutions.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the self-employed are more susceptible to burnout than the average employed worker. Professor Richard Sennett identifies a ‘corrosion of character’ when workers need to be flexible, constantly alert and active, and react to any change without stability. Perttu Salovaara, adjunct assistant professor at the Stern School of Business, New York explained:
“When this continues for decades, it is pretty taxing. While entrepreneurs and freelancers can be masters of their own time and enjoy more work-life balance, they, however, tend to work more per week than employees.”
A lack of human interaction is another dangerous consequence of freelancing, as Josh Gibson MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in San Francisco, explained:
“Humans are social mammals. We’re highly affiliative and our biology evolved over time to reflect that. The relationships that we form at work, where most of us spend the majority of our time and energy each day, significantly affect our psychological and physical health.”
Getting the perfect office environment and work-life balance as a freelancer is far easier said than done. That’s where coworking comes in. Coworking gives freelancers a new space, sense of community, and a new perspective on their work. Here are four ways coworking can help you achieve better mental health in the New Year:
A recent meta-analysis of 58 studies from fifteen countries showed that social identification at work, in other words feeling like a “we” or a part of a team, correlated strongly with a sense of psychological well-being and (to a lesser extent) with physical health benefits.
A sense of supportive leadership is also important for your mental wellbeing. The same study demonstrated how having a boss correlates with social identification and, therefore, psychological health. Josh added:
“Often freelancers are outside the direct influence of the leaders/managers of organizations they contract for, which means they’re garnering fewer benefits of supportive leadership. The nature of freelance work keeps people from forming the stronger social connections within which our brains and biology are wired to function best…Positive communities lead to a stronger sense of human connection and that’s great for people’s mental health.”
Coworking gives freelancers a community. It depends on the leadership/management style of the space, but most come with community managers focused on growing and helping their community from a work and social perspective. Perttu added:
“Coworking brings freelancers a more or less stable community, depending on the coworking space. They find people to talk to. Lots of people say that after two to three years of working from home, they just have to get out.”
Coworking helps you separate your home from your office. Sancar Ayalp, co-founder at The Farm Coworking, said:
“Many freelancers use our space to avoid the distractions of the home office. When they get here, they don’t just see improved productivity; their mental state improves as they can focus on their work and their work alone, or can enjoy interacting with other members using our space. It’s a flexible environment that can match the needs of your well being.”
Creating habits and routine help give your day structure. Getting out of the house for work helps you keep moving throughout the day, too.
“The sense of routine also helps,” Sancar added. “People take lunch and go to events to break up their day at our space. This, again, improves productivity and also gives freelancers a break from the desk – which can be difficult to do when you’re working alone.”
Freelancers also have a tendency to overwork because they work alone, as Perttu explained: “Even if that [decision to freelance] was your ‘own choice,’ there is often no choice, because no one else will do your job, you don’t have a colleague to rely on.”
Networking is one of the biggest benefits coworking brings to its members. You have the opportunity to interact and work with like-minded souls – whether you need to find someone with similar abilities to help out with your workload, or you need someone with a complementary skill set to expand your business.
When you cowork, you are not alone. This collaboration does not just help relieve psychological pressure, it will improve your business with more than two-thirds of organizations winning more contracts thanks to the opportunities offered by such spaces, research from NYC-based The Farm Coworking reveals.
The healthy vibe most coworking spaces promote and achieve is due to the people they bring together. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A study by Harvard Business Review interviewed several coworking space managers and surveyed hundred of coworkers from dozens of spaces around the US. It revealed three substantial reasons why people thrive in coworking spaces: they believe their work is meaningful, have more job control, and feel a part of a community.
In other words, freelancing and coworking enable flexibility in terms of the work we do and the people we choose to do it with. And this flexibility brings a sense of mental well being.
The coworking population is predicted to increase to 3.8 million members and 26,000 spaces by 2020. This surge in popularity means that both the number of venues total and the number of coworkers in a specific venue will increase.
But this will not dilute the sense of community. Further research reveals that the recent global increase in coworking has not led to a more isolated work environment. On the contrary, spaces with more members feel even more connected than they did two years ago.
Demand will be high but it’s reassuring to know that as the community grows in numbers, so will the sense of community that so many freelancers benefit from.
Coworking gives you the flexibility to try a space for a couple of weeks, without signing a restrictive rental agreement. It gives you the opportunity to meet useful contacts, form friendships and try a different environment. It makes sense from a business and–more importantly–a mental health perspective to make coworking your New Year’s resolution.
About the author
Gemma Church is “the freelance writer who gets tech,” a writer for the NYC-based coworking space The Farm SoHo and specialist blogger, journalist, and copywriter for the science and technology sectors. Find more of Gemma’s writing on her website and follow her on twitter @geditorial_uk