Coworking and COVID-19: Will Shared Spaces Survive the Pandemic?

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Modern open office

States have started easing lockdown restrictions as part of their phased reopening strategy. In certain locations, this means people can return to their workplaces. The challenge now is adapting office spaces to the new normal of physical distancing and strict physical hygiene.

Workplaces with open office designs struggle with establishing distancing. There are no partitions to separate the employees, so highly contagious viruses can easily spread.

How about co-working spaces? They have a similar layout with open offices. Coworking spaces have shared workstations and amenities, with surfaces that need constant cleaning. Because of this design, many speculate that the pandemic has brought the demise of coworking spaces.

However, this isn’t the case. Coworking spaces still have a role during the pandemic, especially for small businesses.

The Changing Culture of Work

If they were lucky enough to stay afloat amid an economic recession, many businesses have transitioned to remote work arrangements to observe lockdown guidelines. A report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that 34 percent of Americans now work from home due to the virus. Before the pandemic, they commuted to their offices.

This number represents a dramatic shift in work culture. Working from home is the new normal for many professionals. However, the problem is that not everybody can work from home.

Some people don’t have a conducive working environment at home. Many struggle to balance household and family duties with their professional responsibilities. And others don’t have the necessary tools and technologies for a remote work arrangement, such as a computer or a reliable internet connection.

These professionals need somewhere to work. This is where coworking spaces come in.

The Role of Coworking Spaces Amid a Pandemic

Coworking space

Proponents of coworking spaces have argued that the coworking business model can weather economic downturns and recessions. The appeal of this model attracts a lot of funding. Many business owners afforded the cost of starting a coworking space through the help of investors.

The ability of coworking spaces to survive a recession comes from its flexible leasing terms. During an economic downturn, many businesses will be looking to downsize. Some will choose to exchange long-term lease contracts for more flexible terms, which coworking spaces offer.

This means that even if the clients of coworking spaces choose to let go of their lease, coworking firms would still be able to find new customers in the form of downsizing companies.

Of course, the nature of coworking will have to change. Coworking spaces will have to establish intensive cleaning and hygiene protocols. They can’t cram as many people as possible into one location as they used to.

Coworking firms also need to rethink their unique selling proposition of communal amenities and spaces. This means installing dividers and private offices to limit interaction and direct contact between employees.

These changes signify a dramatic shift in the nature of coworking spaces. But this doesn’t immediately mean they’re doomed.

In an economic recession, the new role of coworking spaces is to provide a space or community for businesses to recover from the financial fallout caused by the pandemic.  These small businesses are critical to restarting the local economy, which coworking spaces significantly, although indirectly, contribute to.

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