The Hygge-ification of Work

The Hygge-ification of Work

Hygge, the idiosyncratically Danish term for cosiness and candlelit moments in the soothing company of good friends and family, became one of the most hyped-up life-style trends of 2016 and 2017. Is this peculiar ideal gradually also entering what is normally thought of as the very antithesis of cosiness – the realm of paid work?

While a growing portion of coworking spaces (from Work.Life and the Impact Hubs to Second Home and the Soho Houses) certainly pay attention to the well-being of their members, if there ever was a “frontier of hygge-ification” in the sphere of work it would be found in the experimental world of cohoming.

Built on the realisation that residential spaces, often unused during the day, can be utilised as mobile offices for freelancers, entrepreneurs and others, cohoming is emerging as a credible alternative – and complement – to coworking facilities. Cohoming platforms such as Vrumi appeal, in particular, to those who seek to work in friendly, like-minded company without having to pay (often hefty) monthly coworking membership fees.

Certain underlying features of cohoming make it a stimulating lens for thinking about work in the entrepreneurial era.

First, cohoming shows brilliantly how affective, aesthetic criteria are increasingly informing our choices about paid work. The key question is not “how much money can I earn here?” or “will this job accelerate my career?”, but “is this a place I want to work at?” and “do I feel comfortable in this environment today and with these other people?”

Convenience plays its part here as well: many are interested in leveraging cohoming to better combine work and various family duties and to simply work, well, closer to home.

What we are witnessing here is hygge – or ideals of cosiness, like-mindedness, social and aesthetic well-being and convenience – emerging as a new principle shaping the world of work. Sure, resource constraints and the availability of digital platforms also play a role in the development of cohoming (who doesn’t like free or affordable workspace accessible at the touch of a button online?) but these are only part of the story.

Cohoming does also offer a neat example of how various conventional boundaries between “work” and “life” or “leisure” are changing. That such lines are being re-drawn isn’t news, of course. What seems novel, though, is the articulation of comfort as a key principle that informs work choices and that, if anything, is making work more home-like. This is a refreshing twist in the story of work vs. home after so much emphasis (by researchers and others) on how digital devices have allowed work to invade the sphere of home life.

There is certainly a potentially nastier edge to ideals of hygge and working with a small in-group of friends or like-minded others. At worst, this is a recipe for a homogenous, exclusivist working world. Horie Takafumi, the Japanese maverick entrepreneur and immensely prolific self-help writer, echoes this tendency in advising (in his latest book on ‘how to be multi-active’) that we should aggressively shut out people who annoy or bore us, for they waste our time and teach us nothing new.

Perhaps the fluidity and flexibility of cohoming in large cities will help ameliorate these darker sides of comfort-driven work, though our tendency to gravitate towards others like us remains strong. And perhaps new varieties of cohoming will be invented that intentionally mix up people who would otherwise be unlikely to meet. What seems clear, at any rate, is that the hygge-ification of work is already in full swing.