Can the concept of shared working space survive in this Covid era?

October 1, 2020 3:00 PM

By enforcing strict hygiene protocols and taking necessary precautions, co-working spaces present a practical alternative for businesses in need of a substitute workspace.

With start-ups mushrooming in numbers, the co-working trend is gradually moving to tier 2 and 3 cities.

As the number of cases globally touched a million, the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it several ramifications for both large and small-sized businesses. As supply chain sees a slowed pace and stock markets plummet to an all-time low, companies are resorting to emergency solutions to safeguard their employees from the virus by allowing them to work remotely. Several high-profile tech companies, including Apple and Google, have officially allowed their employees to work remotely in the foreseeable future in light of the coronavirus numbers that are rising unabated.

The operators in the co-working industry are now facing the question of whether shared office spaces offer a viable alternative for the global surge in remote workers. Currently, about 1.18 million people work from about 35,000 co-working spaces worldwide. Thus, it is undoubtedly an issue of concern that these collaborative spaces will be a breeding ground for the virus, given the shared amenities and utilities.

However, a pertinent point here is that not all remote workers have access to the amenities which they require to work productively from home. This makes the co-working spaces more appealing during this time of crisis. By enforcing strict hygiene protocols and taking necessary precautions, co-working spaces present a practical alternative for businesses in need of a substitute workspace.

Quite understandably, co-working spaces have been vacant since the outbreak all over the world. But that still doesn’t necessarily signal a broader and more prolonged slump for these workspaces in general. For a good number of reasons why the co-working industry should emerge from the Covid-19 crisis more robust, more vital and crucial. Instead, it can be one of the critical recovery assets now. These reasons are:

1. Remote Workers Have to Work Somewhere

Many experts believe that the pandemic should prompt employers to embrace telework. Various operators in India — which ranks as the second-largest market for co-working behind China — are enforcing preventative measures at their co-working spaces to contain the spread of the virus. Operators such as Garage Society and CoFynd have already sent out a member-wide mailer with health and hygiene tips.

Huge corporates will mostly look to de-densify their office spaces – to help their employees tide over the crisis and transition in the recovery and to avoid such disruptions in the future. Big companies of every kind already have some of their employees in co-working spaces. A lot of people are slowly adapting to telework, and many are becoming comfortable with it for the first time, figuring out ways to make it smooth. But not all remote workers are going to continue working from home forever.

After having operated from home during the lockdown, many people will look for different places to work from. So, they will be ready to use from somewhere else other than their home.

Co-working leader, WeWork India, believes that co-working spaces will thrive in the post-COVID era. Many companies, based on the nature of their business, will look to reduce their dependence on fixed office premises and will instead prefer going for flexible working as a business solution. This is where the co-working spaces come in. The demand is expected to rise among start-ups, entrepreneurs and small- to mid-sized enterprises.

2. Resources Coordination for Small Business

Co-working spaces cater to not just the remote workers but are crucial support structures for small and mid-sized businesses, sole proprietors, freelancers, self-employed and other entrepreneurs. They can be understood to be the lifeline for small businesses that operate on the periphery of local economies. For all these classes of working professionals, shared working spaces are a boon as they cannot always afford to work from home. The co-working spaces provide them with the amenities required to use effectively at a feasible cost.

It’s these peripheral businesses that will be the hardest to reach with the resources being channelled through the small business administration. Many face challenges in accessing capital or local business networks even. They also do not have the means to apply for new loans or grants. This is why the shared working spaces are their best bet. These spaces have all the necessary resources that make it easily possible for small businesses and lone workers to be productive.

3. Slow and Steady Shift to Tier 2 & 3 Cities

With start-ups mushrooming in numbers, the co-working trend is gradually moving to tier 2 and 3 cities. This has led to the influx of young working professionals into the semi-urban regions, which has given a significant push to co-working market in the area. Industry experts say that a lack of commercial space and growth in demand has led the real estate developers to focus on projects dedicated to co-working space in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. These workspaces further enable small- and medium-sized businesses to save on the capital cost while at the same time find a typical office working environment.

4. Proximity to Home

Another important reason that would contribute to the rise in demand for co-working spaces is the proximity that they would provide to professionals as well as the ease in carrying out business operations. Being close to home will cut down on the commute time and labour, in turn ensuring a work-life balance during and post-pandemic. Less rate of burnout means professionals will hit the ground running once industries reopen and start full-fledged operations.

5. Community is Key to Recovery

What many people don’t realize is that co-working spaces are local economic engines in their own right. As important as the economic impact is the community dimension. Networking thrives in co-working spaces, and this is critical for recovery and rebound from the ensuing crisis. We will be living in such times in the foreseeable future where social distancing is likely to be ever-present. As a consequence, community ties could loosen. The economic hit to small and mid-sized businesses will be felt the hardest, leading to their disintegration and decay in the organizational capital that can be hard to restore if not paid heed to.

This is why entrepreneurs, business owners and freelance workers will need local connections and social networks more than ever now to regain their footing. Already there are signs of some degree of communities rallying around local businesses through gift card malls and other similar sources of support. Hopefully, this trend persists.

Summing it up

Once the lockdown ends ultimately and economy reopens, it will not be like turning on a switch. Some businesses might not commence work again, and some entrepreneurial dreams might never see the light of the day. Community strength will thus be essential in helping professionals and companies reconnect, build new networks and support each other through these times of despair. That’s what effectively shared working spaces do. They function as community hubs, crucial sources of local connectedness and launchpads for many entrepreneurial ventures which will eventually help them tide over the crisis.

(By Kushal Bhargava, Co-founder, MyBranch)

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