The spread of COVID-19 is currently wreaking havoc on several aspects of life, most especially working life. In particular, this disruption is raising some questions about the concept of coworking spaces.
Will shared office spaces and resources cease to be? Or will coworking become increasingly the norm long after COVID-19 has gone?
Possible immediate scenario
At least in the short-term, we could find ourselves avoiding coworking spaces or any space that encourages a number of people to gather in one place.
Due to its highly infectious nature, the new coronavirus easily spreads from person to person. And with coworking spaces encouraging users to share various resources with others (e.g. tables, chairs, mugs), there are just too many opportunities for the virus to exploit.
There is also a risk of new cases popping up if restrictions are lifted too soon — potentially wasting the costly efforts and resources we’ve already invested into curbing the virus.
Realistically, even if virus infections start to decrease, it’s hard to see people going back to business as usual right away. It could take months for businesses to start operating normally.
Throughout the US, coworking companies like WeWork have been seeing deserted spaces since the government implemented stricter quarantine measures. From downtown Orlando to Bay Area San Francisco, no shared office space is coming out unscathed from this global pandemic.
The long-term outlook
Looking farther into the future, however, we might see a more favorable outcome for coworking.
First, small to medium-sized companies could be more motivated to go for short-term lease options
The relatively low-cost and affordable options that coworking spaces offer helps these businesses save on much-needed capital. Directly renting out space would require businesses to spend more money and commit for a longer term, depending on the lease requirements.
COVID-19 has inflicted serious damage to the idea of long-term rents. Businesses that have gone down the rent path are now facing several months of non-utilization of office space. That could translate to hundreds of dollars — potentially thousands — of wasted investment.
Second, various industries were already exploring the viability of remote work before the health crisis hit and coworking spaces could help further convince companies to seriously commit.
For companies that have working staff dispersed across multiple geographies, it would make more business sense to encourage employees to work in a coworking space that is near where they live.
The vast improvement in digital communication and collaboration tools is making it more convenient to work remotely. While it can be preferable for some people to work at home, some people may also want to go to a separate space for work which is technically not the “office”. Coworking spaces can offer that middle ground.
Third, coworking spaces can become “recovery” hubs for many businesses and entrepreneurs.
Fast forward to months or a year from now, businesses owners will still be thinking and talking about COVID-19 and how to be more prepared for future disruptions. They will seek out input and advice from their peers and community of partners.
Coworking spaces can provide a place or platform for these people from various industries to meet and exchange ideas.
While it’s easy to see coworking decline during COVID-19, there are also reasons for coworking to rise above the current challenge and solidify its place in work life.