Culture is everything, and I mean everything!

people socialising in a coworking spaceWritten by Josephine Palermo, Doctor of Culture and Co-Creator Higher Spaces


I realised how important the ‘right’ co-working culture was when I opened my own co-working space with Shu Tan, . Creating an environment where people feel safe to explore and the challenge themselves is a primary aim for myself and Shu. We want to challenge some of the stereotypes of the entrepreneur as young, single and male.

In fact, from the very beginning, we were aware that our community were people who were more mature, in their second or third careers. They were likely to be coming off corporate careers, seeking inspiration to work and live in a more human-centred way. Human-centred work means work practices that align to the three things that motivate most people: autonomy; competence; and belonging (see self-determination theory). Most people will feel happiest and more motivated when their needs are fulfilled in at least one of these domains. Our goal was to create a co-working culture that fulfills the needs of our members for: autonomy (I do it my way); for competency, mastering skills and knowledge; and belonging, feeling we are all in this together. This last element of our culture is particularly something we have thought a lot about at Higher Spaces.

Creating an environment where I belong

Co-working or shared workplaces are becoming an attractive option for many local business owners who struggle with adopting digital technologies and the overhead costs of their office environment. For many, working from home at first seems like a good option, but then leaves people feeling isolated and unsupported. Many venture out to cafes or libraries, but that experience falls short of expectations too as they end up sitting alone, staring into their third or fourth café latte. I ask you? How much coffee can you really drink!

We need social interaction to feel happier

Social interaction at work doesn’t have to be about forming deep relationships with all your colleagues. That would be kinda weird, and far too time-consuming. Even weak social ties with people you don’t know that well can do the trick!

In an experimental study that tested the power of our daily social interactions, researchers found that even weak social ties, (ie. interactions with people we would consider more acquaintances than friends), were enough to increase wellbeing and happiness (see Sandstrom  & Dunn,  2014).  Social interactions help us to feel we belong to a community and make us aware of priorities and goals outside of our own. It helps us gain perspective in our own lives, and builds resilience, especially during tough times.

Yet gaining entry to a co-working community may not be as easy as you would think. Co-working managers will often interview potential members to find out whether they are a good fit.  This can mean that not all applications for co-work spaces will be accepted.

Pick me, pick me!

Before coming to Higher Spaces, one of our clients said of his recent experience of shopping around co-working spaces, “I run a business, I don’t have time to answer 100 questions”! I myself have been a bit taken aback by the “rejection slips” I got from some co-work spaces. The feeling I got was that I was being excluded from a community I wanted to join, and that can never be a positive client experience! Worse still, it reminded me of childhood memories of rejection in the playground. Waiting in a long line while two kids got to choose their basketball teams from the group was never fun. I wasn’t very good at sports as a child, so I would wait in line, knowing they wouldn’t pick me. Being rejected by a co-working community reminds me of the humiliation of those childhood days. Whilst there may be some benefits for members, the experience for non-members is elitist rather than inclusive and leaves me wondering “what’s wrong with me?” and “why am I a bad fit for your team or community”? At Higher Spaces, we wanted to create a culture where you feel like you belong, and where members can say “ it’s my co-working space” and mean it. We started by being open with our invitations to the space rather than trying to curate the environment. We wanted to trust people would self-select as they discovered synergies between themselves. This has worked for us to date and our members feel the openness of our culture the minute they enter our space.


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