In just a few weeks, people’s daily lives have completely changed. The coworking companies have been forced to make drastic changes to their operations in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and continue their businesses.
One of the world’s largest attempts at telecommuting has been forced on several countries, including Bulgaria, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland, with their governments obliging people to stay at home, with the exception of those dealing with urgent business.
The global pandemic has proven to be a particularly big opponent for the coworking industry, forcing them to close their doors to their members. To address this situation, coworking operators are forced to come up with newer business models and activities as well as flexible solutions.
All in all, space use is declining sharply as more people stay at home.
The survey, shared with all of the Coworking spaces and 14,000+ employees, was conducted in 172 countries worldwide between March 16 and March 18.
Consequences of COVID-19 for Coworking
The huge increase in home workers was one of the most striking consequences of the spread of the virus, which is why we would expect the number of people working in coworking spaces to jump. However, the survey showed just the opposite, with 71.67% of the spaces claiming a significant reduction in the number of people working for them since the outburst.
Together with staff reductions, 40.8% of staff have had a negative impact on membership and contract renewals since the outbreak. And the number of new membership applications fell to 67% of the premises.
The aftermath of the coronavirus has completely changed the way spaces conduct business on a daily basis. The survey asked the spaces what the top consequences were after the virus, to which they responded as follows:
- Event cancellations (71.04%)
- Meeting/conference room cancellations (65.99%)
- Meeting/conference room cancellations (65.99%)
- Changing behaviors of members (24.24%)
- Space closure (20.2%)
- Sick members (8.75%)
Dates for the moving in of new coworking tenants are delayed, and more and more people in the spaces are choosing to work from home, and every company has switched to providing services exclusively online, such as audio editing and recording. Their services such as Deskpass, Liquidspace and other external booking partners have been cancelled in several locations, suspended indefinitely with new enrollments and visitors.
Spaces Use Alternative Business Models
Despite the fact that these consequences are both threatening and destructive to coworking operators, they continue to try to come up with unique methods to deal with the outbreak in a positive way. Many companies have begun to adopt alternative business models in order to stop the spread of the virus and support the current needs of their community.
The survey found that the 14,000 spaces surveyed modified their business model or led to any new practices in response to COVID -19.
Here are some of the new model spaces that help them during the crisis:
- Adjusted cancellation policies to allow for more relaxed cancellation periods
- Lower pricing for new members and discounts to current members
- New student memberships for university students transitioning to online classes
- New “virtual plans” and offering virtual mail services, in which no physical presence is required
- Ability to roll over any unused days to future months for part-time shared desk members or pause membership entirely
- Single-person rentals of meeting rooms for virtual meetings
- Virtual member events and online workshops, including collaborations with video conferencing companies
- Partnerships with local businesses to assist members and their families, including additional services by food delivery companies
- Changing marketing strategies to reflect a new focus on selling private office memberships
Together, these business models demonstrate the adaptability of the coworking industry, as well as its ongoing drive to find flexible solutions in any emerging situation. While many of the spaces have decided to close temporarily, coworking operators continue to have a positive outlook on the new opportunities offered by the epidemic.
Many are optimistic that things will return to normal after the curve flattens out if everyone takes their part in preventing the spread, whether that be working remotely from home, increasing sanitation, or providing education about the outbreak. The survey asked the spaces if there are any long-term positive effects that they could predict in advance.
Here are some of their answers:
“Yes, in Portugal, we are on the verge of closing the country as Italy did. Many workers are now at home, as ordered by their companies. This experiment can be a chance to open peoples’ eyes and find new and more productive ways to work. Also, coworking is a much less expensive option, and companies are still beginning to feel the impact of this crisis. After the health issue is stabilized, then the financial storm will come and hit us hard. Coworking can be a good option for workers to feel safe, closer to their homes, be more productive, and save money, both for the workers and for the company.” – CoworkCascais, Portugal
“Companies are thinking about the decentralization of work, improving efficiency, and reducing costs. Compulsory work-from-home or opting for a nearby coworking space may be an eye-opener for corporates.” – Founders Cube, India
“Our members are all published writers, journalists, and podcasters who already worked alone and used our space to get out of lonely home offices. Our new virtual services will help for the duration and I think will prove valuable even afterwards. It makes community membership useful even when you move from the area or if you can’t come into the space itself if you are too busy.” – What Cheer Writers Club, Rhode Island, USA
“It could have a positive effect now that companies know that their staff can actually work outside the office and still be productive. The only reason now to go to work is to see other people and socialize. Maybe companies will invest less in offices and furniture, but more in the work environment quality and surroundings.” –La Station, Rimouski, Canada
What Can Coworking Spaces Do to Stop the Spread
As more and more people around the world become infected, unfortunately, none of the shared spaces is safe from contamination. If individual coworking spaces decide to remain open, there are certain measures in place to ensure the safety of members. The survey also asked respondents about what they did to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in their offices.
Here are the most common actions:
They decided to end community gatherings, including shared breakfasts and lunches, thus allowing a maximum of only two to three people in the kitchen. In order to keep the distance properly, some spaces have been rearranged for furniture and service points. As the situation evolves, more and more spaces are choosing the option of closing their doors or encouraging their members to work from home, making these measures primarily obsolete. Because shared offices, by their nature, gather spaces, it has become a social responsibility to stop personal operations in order to effectively reduce the spread of the virus.
The coworking spaces that chose to close came up with creative solutions to engage and support their communities.
Here are some answers from those who have temporarily closed their doors and reprogrammed themselves on virtual platforms:
“We utilize Slack Channels to maintain engagement, encourage community building, and avoid isolation/loneliness.” –Plug and Play Munich Co-Working Community, Germany
“We have created a PDF for the whole community, encouraging them to keep in touch and be creative. Coworking is not just wi-fi it is above all a community. We organize online breakfasts, yoga classes, and online mindfulness. Plus, each coworker is offering their services for free and are always available online.” – The Beach Factory Castelldefels Coworking, Spain
“We are now using the space for different business needs, such as storage.” –york_, Russia
“We offer online coworking on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in a Zoom room to fight loneliness, especially with the national curfew. If possible, we are transferring events to Zoom conferences as well.” –Rayaworx, Spain
“We are writing and sharing blog articles, making videos on how to work remotely, what to be careful of, talking about COVID-19, the news, decisions of the government, etc.” –Manistal, Belgium
As more and more people turn to the government and employers for guidance in such a challenging period, having an alternative or more flexible coworking solution may be the best way to proactively address the situation. While it would be too early to say that a coronavirus outbreak will force a constant work-from-home movement on us, it will be interesting to observe how the situation will develop in the coming months and how coworking spaces will respond to it.