Coworking vs. Coronavirus: Overcoming Challenges

Flex space providers enter an experimental stage and adapt to the new normal.

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The recent COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the worldwide economy’s boat, its effects taking a toll on various real estate sectors. The hospitality, entertainment and retail industries are already feeling the effects. The quickly spreading coronavirus has prompted commercial space landlords and operators to adjust and find alternatives in order to keep their businesses functional.

It comes as no surprise that the community-driven coworking sector is undergoing last-minute changes in order to stay afloat. Its volatile business model is untested, especially in such challenging economic environments. Space operators and providers are facing a massive drop in the number of people using their workspaces, with membership cancellations and even space closures, according to a survey from Coworker.

As we take steps as a community to flatten the curve by staying home, offices, whether they are traditional leases, coworking spaces or private, flexible meeting and office spaces, are rightfully being left empty with teams working remotely,” Breather CEO Bryan Murphy told Commercial Property Executive.  

READ ALSO: CPE’s Coronavirus Coverage

However, this doesn’t mean that coworking locations should shut their doors. Operators such as Tampa-based Office Evolution are striving to stay close to their clients by continuing to provide services including receiving commercial mail on behalf of the U.S. postal service while taking all the government-imposed precautionary measures. “Most of our office members are working from home. Dedicated office space members that do come in have their own private offices with more than adequate social distancing,” Office Evolution CEO John Przedpelski added.

Coworking through it

The coworking industry gained popularity due to its flexibility, a vital characteristic during the coronavirus pandemic. Working together with the government, landlords and the community should provide the necessary means for smooth sailing in these uncertain times. The most widely encountered solutions taken to prevent the spread include social distancing, statewide lockdowns and the implementation of the work-from-home practice.

The coworking sector chose to support its community’s needs through membership discounts and adjusted cancellation policies, as well as new marketing strategies and a shift toward the digitalization of its services, Coworker noted. “We also have reduced the capacity of our conference rooms by 50 percent to provide ample space for social distancing,” Przedpelski said.

According to Murphy, the most important solution consists of enhancing cleaning policies in order to keep customers safe and healthy. “We’ve now implemented an enhanced cleaning and disinfecting process following guidance from the CDC and using EPA-approved products that are considered to be effective for reducing the risk of the coronavirus, paying special attention to frequently touched surfaces. In addition, our operations software requires that cleaners check out of a space after cleaning, with photos, so we know that it’s been done,” he added.

In the spirit of togetherness, during the month of April, Breather will provide free private, furnished office and meeting space to essential companies and organizations that are working on the front line during the COVID-19 outbreak. These spaces will be available in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, Toronto, Montréal and London.

The waves ahead

Despite the current situation’s unpredictability, the coworking sector advances toward new horizons with cautious optimism. It’s hard to tell if the number of people working from home will increase or not, further stimulating the creation of new approaches and business models.  

However, some shared-space businesses have started evaluating the immediate impact of the coronavirus outbreak on their activity by taking into account companies’ reluctance to return to coworking spaces and signing long-term leases during a period of economic uncertainty. We’re already seeing companies take varied approaches to ensure their employees are safe and healthy. Many are expressing the need for private, flexible office space to split up business-critical teams, to delay signing a long-term lease and/or move teams out of a shared coworking space,” Murphy said.

The coronavirus aftermath will lead to a “new normal,” where “businesses may realize their large office spaces are not being fully utilized, and they’ll look into long-term, work-from-home or work-away-from-the-office solutions, including flexible workspace alternatives,” Przedpelski added. The new real estate landscape will include workplaces focused on efficiency, but it remains to be seen how the coworking sector will continue to react and adapt to the current situation.

According to Murphy, “many companies will find that while in-person communication and collaboration are key aspects for a successful business, they may now be comfortable with more people working from home and may no longer need such a large real estate footprint. Instead, companies can look to flexible space to only pay for the amount of space they need, when and where they need it.”

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