Entrepreneurs are vital in society as they may create new business, generate wealth, create social change and develop the community. However, when it comes to mental health, entrepreneurs are more likely to experience a range of challenges including depression (30% higher), ADHD (29% higher), substance use (12% higher), and bipolar disorder (11% higher). Overall, entrepreneurs face an increased chance of experiencing psychiatric disorders, personality disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, physiological aging, and cancer. But it is not all doom and gloom. There are important strategies that can have a big impact on mental and physical health. 

Entrepreneurs are renowned for spending hours alone working on their innovative ideas, but is all that time alone really good for them? The Social Brain Hypothesis suggests that all social animals including humans, need stable social groups for personal protection, support, and safety. Having allies you can rely on keeps you and your kin safe. As the author of this theory, Professor Dunbar explains; “Friendship is the most important thing in life: It has more effect on your happiness, health and how long you live than anything else – including all the medicines, exercise and anything else”. Friendship also increases the chance of gaining important human capital factors such as companionship, having a confidante, emotional support, an opportunity for information exchange, material assistance and self-esteem. They may seem very technical, but these well-established theories highlight the importance of social interaction for everyone, including the innovative ones among us. This begs the question, if you are an entrepreneur, accustomed to spending large tracts of time alone, how can you find ways to interact with others during the working week?  

A team environment can allow for the exchanging of information and tips between business specialists. By working amongst others from different backgrounds, entrepreneurs can stay updated and receptive to new insights that can have a positive impact on their business. It is also important to remember that it is difficult to be your best creative self when you are time pressured and stressed. It could be worth adding an administrative or marketing support person (even part-time) to your team if it allows you to ultimately get your idea off the ground faster.

In our increasingly physically disconnected society, a feature amplified by COVID-19, it is more important than ever for socially isolated workers to find ways to safely connect. Spending some days in a COVID-safe shared workspace may be an effective way for workers to enhance their mental health and address issues such as depression and disconnection. 

Coworking Spaces from a Psychological Perspective 

Due to their arrangement, coworking spaces can offer the opportunity for affiliation, a shared vision, synergies and practical things like a healthier work structure and beneficial infrastructure. We all know how important it is to feel like we belong – it’s hardwired into us as human beings. The desire to belong to a group by seeking friendship and social security is known as affiliation motivation and it determines the effectiveness of our communication and the closeness of our relationships. Psychology theorists such as Maslow and Herzberg have sought to understand where affiliation stands in the basic priorities that determine how human beings are motivated. Needs lower down in the hierarchy, like food and shelter, must be satisfied first before individuals can attend to needs higher up, like the ability to achieve our full potential, coined “self actualization’. Belonging or ‘affiliation’ is defined as a ‘psychological need’ or a ‘Hygiene factor’ and it is a prerequisite higher needs such as self esteem and self-fulfilment. This means it is difficult to achieve your full potential if you are not surrounded by a strong support network that allows you to feel fundamentally that you belong somewhere. Recognising the importance of social affiliation can allow you to meet your own fundamental needs and also helps you understand how to be a better leader of a cohesive team.  

Feeling part of a community and contributing to a team bigger than oneself is also deeply rooted in the human psyche. Reciprocity is a social psychology theory, based on the idea that we respond to a positive action with another positive action. At its core, this social norm is about restoring balance to our social interactions and human beings are very good at detecting cheating in social situations, such as when you receive a favour and don’t repay it. As social beings, we are adept at combining our efforts when we feel there will be long term benefits for all of us. 

The nature of an entrepreneur’s work has its advantages such as autonomy and freedom to work according to your own schedule and objectives, but such freedom can also have some drawbacks. Long hours, loneliness, isolation and a lack of  facilities can all take a toll on the creative capacities of an entrepreneur. A more defined work structure can ensure innovators and entrepreneurs maintain some balance and ultimately this can increase productivity. 

Coworking spaces can offer an opportunity to work on a more time limited basis but still maintain the scope to choose work arrangements. People can decide whether to put in a long day or take a long break, work in a quiet space or a shared space. This helps address work-life balance and ultimately allows for a balance between structure and flexibility during work time. Coworking spaces also allow us to tap into our basic psychological needs for affiliation and reciprocity, whilst still allowing the individual to control how they experience the environment. In recognition of the diverse needs of their community, coworking spaces are often designed with collaboration spaces and areas for individual work. This allows for networking, gaining feedback and collaborating with others but also provides a space for quiet individual reflection and focus. Practical facilities such as gardens, gyms, coffee shops and games rooms also have the dual benefit of facilitating casual social interaction and creating the opportunity for the serendipitous collisions that are so much a part of innovation lore.  

Studies have also found that coworking spaces can allow people to harness social capabilities such as community building and creativity through collaboration and knowledge sharing. Community building in coworking spaces, rather than just sharing space as a matter of convenience, can create an environment where individuals work together because they share common values and beliefs. For example, a green coworking space can facilitate collaboration between environmentally conscious individuals who want to work in a more efficient and sustainable workplace. Green spaces are often more economically viable by using energy-saving equipment and tend to focus on health and wellbeing for the people who work there. These spaces can allow individuals to meet both their individual needs to work in an environmentally sustainable way to but also to meet their psychological needs to belong to a community and share resources in an affirming environment. It has also been noted that start-ups and young entrepreneurs may benefit the most from coworking spaces where self-confidence and entrepreneurship-related skills can more easily be acquired. 

So how much will all this community building cost?

There are many ways to be a part of a coworking space. A permanent desk guarantees the member a space, however there may be significant costs associated with this commitment. A ‘hot desk’ may provide you with all you need to work effectively. In Sydney the average price per month for a hot desk is around $420 with a range of $350-$650. The average price for a permanent desk is $890 with a range of $600-1200. It really depends on how much you plan to use the space and the onsite facilities that are important to you. When making your decision about a space to join, also consider if you might prefer to balance your working hours between your home office (or a library or other quiet space) and time spent in a coworking space. While being surrounded by other people can provide great motivation, it can also mean being distracted. Distractions that are not in your control such as other companies meetings, other people’s music and people talking on the phone can create more stress for an introverted individual who needs time alone to recharge. 

Ultimately, every individual must weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of a shared workspace based on their work style, personality and the available facilities. However, if you are an entrepreneur or startup founder who is struggling with the social isolation of constantly working alone, there is strong evidence to suggest that forming a strong social network could be a critical factor in both your wellbeing and your business success. Being a part of a group that is flexible, sustainable, collaborative and creates a sense of community may help you adapt, grow or stay afloat. Enabling the synergies that come from working with like minded individuals may be more important now than it has ever been in these challenging times. 

Author: Sam Malone, Macquarie University

Editor: Shireen Bernstein, Insights Manager, North Sydney Innovation Network