19 . Oct . 2020
In the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced coworking spaces to answer many difficult questions. The result – it is now transforming the perception towards ‘workspaces’ and making them more safe, flexible, collaborative, cost-effective, and most importantly – equipped for the ‘new normal’.
During the COVID-19 crisis, one of the heavy blows came down to the coworking market when people coiled into the safety of their homes to work remotely for preventing community transmission. The first wave of the pandemic did cause coworking spaces to witness a bare minimum of footfalls as the standard practices of social distancing came into being; with the numbers showing a drastic fall across the world. About 71.04% of event bookings were canceled, 34.68% of coworkers taking back their memberships, and worse 20.2% of coworking spaces actually shutting down in the first half of 2020 itself.
According to an article by the Coworker, it was revealed that the reason was that the old SOPs (Standard of Procedures) were rendered useless in the current settings. Coworking spaces that immediately adapted to a hygiene-centric, more serious approach to physical distancing by provisions of private offices rather than shared spaces, everyday temperature checks, and blood-oxygen monitoring did retain portions from their original members. However, it’s not just the social distancing and hygiene scares that made people opt out of coworking spaces.
The UN reports that the COVID-19 isn’t just a health crisis, but has turned into an economy devouring machine that has thrashed the socio-economic systems of countries worldwide and is about to get worse in the coming fall as the virus gains momentum again. The stock markets witnessed the worst falls in recorded history as the shares stooped low, affecting thousands of savings accounts worldwide. Masses of workers got furloughed, thousands of enterprises shut down, and unemployment rates ran high. The majority of countries saw negative GDP and the IMF predicts that the global economy will fall by 3% which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s during the Great Depression. The economic turmoil has led existing companies to shrink and continue operating from their predefined fallback setup ‘safe square’; causing many to cancel their coworking memberships.
However, that doesn’t mean coworking is a thing of the past now. Instead, experts predict that the post-COVID-19 era will be brimming with coworking opportunities. The recent Coworking Resources report suggests that the coworking space numbers would cross the threshold of 40,000 by 2024. Backing the prediction, the Global Coworking Growth Study also revealed that though the coworking sector is on a slow-down right now, it would be up by 21.3% in 2021 and going forward. It may seem confusing right now, given the plight of things, but in reality, COVID-19 has re-established the fundamentals of work flexibility deep into the ground to the point of no return. In a post-COVID-19 era, as companies would slowly pivot to their full-operational mode, this time they would be more open to keeping workspaces super-hygienic, custom-made, and those which come with flexible leases to save them from running bankrupt come future pandemics. This is exactly the rocket-fuel current coworking spaces are adapting to and trying to win back its members as the lockdown eases in many parts of the world.
With the requirement that employees work from home, many companies saw how economical it is for them to not pay for office space and amenities while not losing out on productivity in a major way. This will lead to a great increase in remote working, which some people do not have the place for in their own home, or do not wish for isolation, meaning they will have to seek out alternatives like coworking spaces.
The flexible real-estate sector would become very much real, as more and more organizations (both large-scale and small) would seek cost-optimization and engagement of their employees in the workplace. Currently, the existing coworking spaces (mostly the major ones across the world) are adapting to a more transparent, private-space-oriented workspace with less social and shared spaces. In fact, many coworking spaces have canceled their meeting rooms operation and changed into a personal digital conference setup where only one person (mostly the host) is allowed into the room to connect to all others present in their personal pods, digitally. The Coworker survey also predicts that this may be the end of communal breakfasts, free coffee and meals as it was known previously, and into a social-distancing-based interior where the desks and furniture would be set apart by a minimum of six feet.
A HubbleHQ survey found that employees would need advanced hygiene measures and regular, elaborate cleaning systems to feel comfortable returning to their workstations again. Therefore, coworking spaces have prioritized personal and community hygiene by detailed cleaning protocols, installing air ventilation equipment with anti-viral properties, compulsory handwashing, supplying masks, hand sanitizers, and PPE to coworkers abundantly. Many coworking spaces have also changed their interiors by putting up plexiglass shields in between workstations, as well as enforcing visible cleaning as a norm to build trust and comfortability among coworkers.
Prior to COVID-19, coworking spaces focussed entirely on filling the desks and thus defined profit by occupancy. Currently, coworking spaces offer plug-and-play workability to their employees that is more lightweight on the pocket – thus serving as the driving force behind the smart building design. Such smart layouts can bring resource management, workplace experience, and sustainability under one umbrella giving organizations complete flexibility to personalize their ‘leased’ workspace on the principle of ‘for all well-being’. Contactless biometrics, a retractable roof to break the chain of air-conditioned zones when deemed necessary, are some of the many functionalities of such co-working spaces.
Since a majority of freelancers and office-goers, who have been active members of coworking spaces are working from their home for quite a while now, many coworking spaces have introduced the rolling over the unused credits into the coming months for retaining old members. They’re also providing massive discounts on daily, weekly, and yearly memberships to make things more affordable and effective.
For a coworking space, the automation and digitalization industry comes with unfathomable possibilities that can reduce staff as well as promote cost-effectiveness. There are many coworking spaces that have started to think inline with the adoption of automated protocols, while others provide a mobile, digital co-working space experience via their online app. For workspace management, such apps may help in several daily operations like customer management, communication, to accepting online bookings – thus limiting man hours.
As countries across the world slowly ease lockdown restrictions under heavy hygiene protocols, the shift in preference of fresh fruits, vitamin-rich beverages among the masses is vastly seen. The awareness of personal hygiene has significantly improved in recent times with people sanitizing their hands more frequently, coworking spaces have also started daily mini-challenges where coworkers are recognized for their self-hygiene habits, meditation and yoga practices, etc.
Once upon a time coworking spaces were referred to as ‘millennial hangouts’, today the entire scenario is changed with a more prudent space, resource, and technology utilization. It is no longer seen as a privilege, but as a work necessity for flexible, multi-location workstations that put employees’ physical and mental health in the epi-center. With coworking spaces offering more workability, the coworking scene is all set to bounce back on its feet, only faster to realign the idea of office spaces to suit the new normal. If you think that switching to such a sustainable and safe coworking space is exactly what you need, join us at Zioks, a multi-specialty business centre in Kolkata.