Industry research reveals how teleworking is essential for business today. Research suggests nearly one quarter of workers in the USA engage in telework and a majority of employees would change jobs if the change allowed them to work more from home. Yet, even with this growing interest in remote work, scholars have overlooked a key issue facing teleworkers: Role-related communication and role identity negotiation in the use of third spaces such as coffee shops and joint rental offices. Role identity shapes how individuals behave and self-express. Through peer communication at work, individuals learn what is expected of them and recognize how they can better contribute to an organization. The author of the current study draws upon a communication-based framework to consider coworking office members’ perceptions of their roles in the office and the ways in which they communicate their role expectations to fellow office members.


The study design included participant observation, in-depth interviews, and membership in a coworking office to generate a deep understanding of participants’ lived experiences. Specifically, the author interviewed 22 members of “SunSpace,” a coworking office in the Midwestern USA and Miranda, who was a site administrator at the time of the study. Miranda provided an overview of the office’s operations and introduced the researcher to its members. Interviews covered four topics: Individuals’ use of the office; sharing professional accomplishments; seeking feedback on projects; and coworking space members’ interactions. Additionally, participants’ online and in-person interactions were observed.

Key Findings

  1. Self-verification and self-enhancement considerations function in concert to prompt an individual to join the coworking office and to maintain their presence in a series of interlocking groups that are affiliated with the office.
  2. Telework gives individuals greater freedom to choose their own schedules and to develop work routines that meet their personal needs.
  3. Teleworkers face obstacles when it comes to socialization and informal peer communication. Coworking offices—which are low cost, shared rental offices with a membership—are viable venues to support teleworkers.
  4. Compared to home offices and third spaces such as coffee shops, coworking offices encourage and facilitate direct and ongoing peer support.
  5. When teleworkers from a multitude of backgrounds and professions are co-located in a single space, navigating expertise and network boundaries becomes critical to developing routinized use of a space.
  6. Role conflict with coworking does not come from a meshing of separate domains in one’s life, as is common with home-based teleworkers. Rather, it develops when coworking office members experience role-related pressure to offer technical assistance to non-team members. Using cues (such as working with headphones on) and engaging in ritual (sitting in a consistent space each day) allows the individuals to communicate their role expectations.

Implications for practice

Communication managers should 1) help their teleworkers find and vet suitable workspaces and remind them that they are not obligated to support individuals who are outside of their organizations, 2) engage in supportive and consistent internal communication with their teleworkers to empower them to only collaborate with outsiders when they have time or when they see a clear benefit, and 3) provide periodic training opportunities to their teleworkers.

Author(s), Title and Publication

Walden, J. (2019). Communicating role expectations in a coworking office. Journal of Communication Management, 23(4), 316-330.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Justin Walden, Ph.D., associate professor at San Diego State University, is an interdisciplinary scholar with interest in employee communication and work-related technology use. His organizational communication research explores the ways in which individuals communicatively manage the boundaries between work and non-work domains such as home.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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