Are you someone who likes to work in loud, busy environments where the music is blasting and you can eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations all day? Or do you need monastic silence to string together a coherent sentence? While we tend to think of ourselves as belonging to one or the other camp, our innate preference might actually be for mixing up our work environments and exposing ourselves to different set ups throughout the day, and depending on what we’re working on.
This is, in any event, the anecdotal story coming out of many of the co-working spaces that have popped up around the country in the last decade and that are opening their doors to writers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and anyone else who wants a place to get work done.
“I like to move around throughout the day, and I see some members move around too—from a desk, to an empty conference room, to the lounge space,” says Jennie Nevin, the founder of Green Spaces, a coworking space in Denver, Co.
The 5,500 Sq. Ft. space in downtown Denver can accommodate 120 workers and offers individual desks, standing desks, regular chairs and exercise balls, conference rooms, and a lounge area with communal tables. An expansion projected for January 2015 will include a cozy library-like area.
“Sometimes you want to sit on a cozy chair and work, but sometimes you’re not getting anything done, you need to move,” Nevin said. “This kind of space allows that flexibility. Instead of having a single office where you shut the door and work there all day, you actually have different places depending on your mood.”
Ken Bayliss is a 55-year old attorney who spends his days at CoCo, a coworking space operating out of the Trading Floor of the historic Minneapolis Grain Exchange. “I don’t need perfect quiet, even when I’m writing something like a brief,” Bayliss said. Although there are designated “intentional focus” zones at CoCo, Bayliss doesn’t often feel the need to go there. He rotates among the open work area, the phone booths for confidential client calls, and occasionally, an empty meeting room.
Music plays constantly at Indy Hall, a coworking space in Philadelphia. “It serves as a gentle reminder that it’s ok to have a little noise,” says co-founder Adam Teterus. “When it’s dead silent here, people are weirded out.”
Teterus says he poured over studies of what the right decibel level would be, and ran into multiple philosophies of what helps people work best. In the end, the founders decided on a volume that is “Starbucks-like, or maybe a little quieter,” Teterus explained. But there are a few designated quiet spaces at Indy Hall with no music at all.
The amount of light at Indy Hall also affects members’ choices of where to work at different times. The first floor gets less natural light, and has evolved into a quieter work area. “There’s a bit of an understanding that this is where you might sit and focus, and there’s a little less socialization,” he said. In contrast, the second floor is better lit, and tends to be the hub of conversations (it’s also where the kitchen is located). Management doesn’t formally push the distinction. “It’s just what happens,” Teterus said.
What does all this mean for you, the worker out there trying to find the environment where you’ll be most productive? You can read the research about ideal decibel level, blood alcohol level and light level for getting work done and follow the instructions, or you can experiment until you find what works for you, bearing in mind that what works might change throughout the day or week.
If you don’t live in a city that offers a coworking space where you can move throughout the day depending on your disposition and your current task—or if you can’t afford one—you can try creating different spaces within your home or office. Try a variety of sitting and standing scenarios throughout the day. Try listening to what your body and your brain are asking for. Notice where you’re getting work done (and what kind of work), and where you’re completely unproductive. Maybe you’ll need to spend a few hours a day at home, a few hours at a coffee shop, and also some time on your best friend’s super comfortable couch.
At a time when fewer and fewer people are constrained by a traditional office or cubicle, it’s incumbent on each person to create his or her own ideal work space—even if that means moving throughout the day.