How COVID-19 is Changing Coworking

Robbin Orbison owns CapeSpace, with locations in Hyannis and Mashpee. She pens the first in our series about the impact of COVID-19 on our members.

Even though coworking has been around for many decades, it experienced a dramatic boom in the last one, so in many ways it behaves like an industry in the early stages of its life cycle.  It’s been exciting and fascinating to be a participant and inside observer of an immature industry and to watch its movement along the growth stage curve.  Now we are faced with the question of what happens when an early stage industry is interrupted by a cataclysmic event like a global pandemic.  The answer, of course, is that no one really knows, but I can share some observations of my own and those of industry thought leaders.

As is typical of early stage industries, our model doesn’t neatly fit into a lot of society’s infrastructure, and the current example of that is the definition of an essential business.  So being unable to easily classify ourselves, we decided on the following course of action.

We are leaving it up to each individual member to determine whether their business is essential, but we are not locking our members out; if they want to use CapeSpace they are welcome to do so.  We have had to cut our staff hours back to part time, and they are working remotely, but fortunately we have technology that allows us to manage a lot of our member needs in the cloud.  The majority of or members are so far staying with us, and we are in fact experiencing an uptick in our virtual office business.  The biggest revenue impact has been our meeting room rentals which may not come back to previous levels for a long time.

However there are many in the industry who believe that for those operators who weather this storm, there will be an increased demand in the future as employers who previously did not have remote work policies have been forced to implement them and now see the benefits.  And during stay-at-home orders, more people than ever are realizing the disadvantages of the home office and missing the element that is ultimately the number one reason people come to coworking centers – social interaction.

So it remains to be seen what the new normal will look like and how it will impact coworking, but for sure it will require a lot of agility and adaptability on the part of the operators and the service industries that support us.  Stay tuned!

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