The coronavirus pandemic has impacted a vast range of industries. It would stand to reason that coworking spaces would suffer harsh effects from the crisis, given that many businesses have had to temporarily close and members with month-to-month subscriptions can terminate them without penalty.
But let’s analyze the ways in which COVID-19 is affecting coworking and how the industry can be resilient and come out of this situation stronger than ever. It’s time for the shared workspace market to pivot and lean on some of their biggest benefits, even if the number of people walking into the offices has dwindled.
Why is coworking going to overcome this period? In broad terms, people still need to work. The market segment that was so attracted to coworking is generally still operating, albeit in remote or untraditional circumstances. This means that lawyers, accountants, freelancers, salespeople, consultants, entrepreneurs and others who comprise a large part of the member base of coworking spaces, still have jobs to do. They likely have different tasks and workload, and possibly different hours, but many of these professionals still need space to work. While it’s possible for some to work from home, others are still choosing to avoid the distractions or loneliness of their homes.
Social distancing is also much more feasible in a coworking setting than a traditional office. With spaced out seating areas, unoccupied desks, phone booths and other options, social distancing is possible at a coworking space, especially when it’s not at capacity. Traditional offices that use cubicle setups and common break rooms make it difficult to avoid contact with others, a main reason why many businesses have recommended that employees work remotely. Some coworking locations are looking into temporary partitions between desks or reconfiguring layouts to allow more walking room.
Learning from examples
Operators are taking unique steps during this unprecedented time. LABS – a shared office company based in London, is enduring a rough patch where most of its locations are empty. They are a company that prides itself on more than desk or office space, but on community, high-end amenities and comfort for their members.
Because LABS puts together so many community events and meet ups, it’s critical to consistently keep in touch with members. They have altered their newsletter to contain relevant information for social distancing practices, work from home tips, business insights and motivational stories (who couldn’t use a pick-me-up right now?). LABS has also voluntarily turned their main event space into a common room offering vital resources such as meals, coffee and relaxing space to essential workers fighting this pandemic.
Another example of coworking spaces quickly altering strategy is Canvas Coworking in Australia. They introduced virtual coworking sessions when their space was forced to temporarily close. Members and non-members are sharing ideas, concepts and projects in Zoom conference settings. They are also invaluable for socialization and preventing feelings of isolation. Opening virtual sessions like these to the public is a great way to market your space and its community to prospects.
Use every service possible
Coworking spaces serve significant purposes beyond a desk and internet connection. They provide a professional address, meeting space, reception service, office amenities and other basic business requirements. These services could still be necessary. Operators may have to consider shifting space to more conference rooms or phone booths if they find that after the danger is clear, some people are still reluctant to use shared desks.
Virtual memberships will likely rise post-coronavirus. This gives members a location for mail service, usually provides discounts on meeting rooms and access to all the community events you host, whether its remotely for now or at the venue when it can open again. Facilitate communication between members via a member portal. This will help recreate the collaboration they were encountering while coworking in person. Community boards, shared calendars and discussion tabs are important to maintaining success. There are also options to forward desk calls to the members’ personal phones and members can update their contact information individually via a portal or app.
Make sure you provide updates internally and externally regarding operating hours and any closures due to COVID-19. Use all social media platforms, websites, apps and member portals to promote any relief efforts your company is helping with. Continue to engage with the community, both of members and locally, while we navigate this unprecedented global challenge together.