Flexible, efficient, social: Bayreuth researchers investigate the benefits of coworking spaces
Coworking spaces are open-design offices in which teams of companies or freelancers work flexibly, largely self-determined, and often in a relationship of mutual exchange. In the project „Humanization of digital work through cowork spaces (Hierda)“, researchers at the University of Bayreuth have investigated various forms of design and use of coworking spaces. The research, led by Prof. Dr. Ricarda Bouncken, was funded over a period of almost four years by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) to the tune of 1.4 million euros.
„Even though the Covid 19 pandemic is currently largely preventing the use of coworking spaces, it is a forward-looking model for the design of working environments increasingly being shaped by digitalization. Coworking spaces make it possible to tailor the professional working environment to the specific needs and tasks of team members. In this way, they can make an important contribution to the humanization of work,“ says project leader Prof. Dr. Ricarda Bouncken, who is Chair of Strategic Management & Organization at the University of Bayreuth.
As the project has shown, successful work in coworking spaces depends largely on all participants finding a balance between cooperation, dialogue, individual work, and trusted distance. Of central importance is permeability, which depends on spatial and interior design. If permeability is too low, the exchange of knowledge and experience is unnecessarily restricted, and the advantages of the flexible working world remain unused. „But conversely, permeability must not be too great, otherwise the trust of users in each other suffers because the impression of mutual control is created,“ says Bouncken.
In detail, three groups of users can be distinguished. „Utilizers“ use coworking spaces mainly because they find the best possible conditions for achieving their own professional goals. “Learners“, on the other hand, focus on gaining knowledge and broadening horizons through exchanges with members of other work groups. „Socializers“ prefer coworking spaces primarily because they wish to escape isolation and combine their own work with social contact.
The principle of „sociomateriality“ is characteristic of coworking spaces. Social factors such as trust, team awareness, and material elements – for example, communal kitchens, telephone boxes, quiet work or relaxation spaces – are related to each other in many respects, and can increase the well-being and motivation of users in this interaction. The project comes to the conclusion that different types of coworking spaces have emerged. „Corporate coworking spaces“ are facilities of established companies that are either only available to their own staff or, in addition, can be used by external teams for a fee. „Consultancy coworking spaces“ are fee-based work environments offered by consulting firms to their clients. „Independent coworking spaces are characterized by being open to any user who pays a membership fee to the operating company.
Cooperation and research funding
The Hierda project started in April 2017 and was completed at the end of 2020 with a series of publications appearing in professional journals. The research groups Strategic Management & Organization and Marketing & Innovation at the University of Bayreuth, as well as Witeno GmbH based in Greifswald were involved. The research work was supported by the project executing organization Karlsruhe (PTKA) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Excitingly, the transfer of research results into practice is imminent. In the near future, the model of a coworking space at the University of Bayreuth, the „Mini-Digital Dialogue Hub,“ will be used for this purpose, as will an approximately 8,000-square-meter coworking space in Greifswald, which is currently under construction.
Prof. Dr. Ricarda B. Bouncken
Strategic Management & Organisation
University of Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-4840