The rapid outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) across the world has caused companies to completely readjust their operations in an effort to halt the spread and, quite frankly, to stay in business during these challenging times.
As governments in many countries — including Bulgaria, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United States — order people to remain at home, the world’s largest remote-work experiment has officially begun.
For the coworking industry in particular, the global pandemic has proved to be a menacing adversary to typical operations, requiring many spaces to close their doors to members. To weather this uncertain storm, coworking operators are under pressure to reevaluate their operations and come up with new business models, sanitation practices, and flexible solutions for their members as quickly as possible.
In general, space utilization has experienced a dramatic decrease as more people are being encouraged to stay home. In an effort to better understand how the spread of COVID-19 has affected the coworking and shared office community, Coworker carried out a survey between March 16 and March 18, which was shared with over 14,000 coworking spaces in 172 countries worldwide.
The survey ultimately gathered information related to the opportunities spaces have identified to support themselves and one another during these uncertain times.
Consequences of COVID-19 for coworking
One of the most obvious consequences of coronavirus has been the massive rise in the number of people working from home, which could have potentially boosted coworking operations in the short-term.
However, Coworker’s survey unfortunately found the opposite to be true — 71.67% of spaces said they have witnessed a significant drop in the number of people working from their space since the outbreak.
Along with a dwindling in-person workforce, 40.8% of coworking spaces reported a negative impact on membership and contract renewals since the outbreak. And, 67% of spaces have experienced a drop in the number of new membership enquiries.
For coworking spaces all across the globe, the consequences of coronavirus are far-reaching and have fully altered the way that the spaces carry out daily business. In the survey, Coworker asked spaces what the top consequences they’ve experienced as a result of coronavirus are, and they responded with the following:
- Event cancellations (71.04%)
- Meeting/conference room cancellations (65.99%)
- Membership cancellations (34.68%)
- Changing behaviors of members (24.24%)
- Space closure (20.2%)
- Sick members (8.75%)
Additionally, spaces have seen more members choosing to work from home, delays of move-in dates for new coworking tenants, and a shift to providing online-only services, such as audio editing and recording.
A number of spaces also mentioned that they have cancelled services like Deskpass, Liquidspace, and other external booking partners for the time being, with new enrollments and visitors suspended indefinitely.
Spaces adopt alternative business models
While these consequences are both threatening and highly disruptive to coworking operators across the board, spaces are finding unique ways to deal with the effects of the outbreak in a positive way. By reassessing their services and creating new solutions, many spaces have adopted alternative business models in an effort to not only stop the spread of the virus, but also to support their community’s current needs.
In Coworker’s survey, space operators were asked if they had adjusted their business model or introduced any new practices in response to COVID-19. Some of the new models spaces are integrating to help them navigate the crisis include:
- 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
These new business models showcase the adaptability of the coworking industry, which by its very nature, is dedicated to providing flexible solutions in whichever manner is needed most. And though many spaces have decided to close for now, flexible operators are remaining positive about the potential opportunities that may come of this pandemic.
As more people look to their governments and employers for guidance and direction during this challenging time, having a plan in place that includes alternative or flexible coworking solutions may be the best way to proactively address the underlying uncertainty. Though it’s too soon to say if the coronavirus outbreak could force a permanent work-from-home movement, it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves in the coming months and how the flexible office industry will respond.