Years ago when I lived in DC, I would get off at Farragut North Metro Station every morning and pass by the WeWork on K Street. I would imagine myself sitting against the huge windows sipping a cappuccino, signing up for speaker events and book signings, and networking with fellow young professionals of all industries. To me, coworking spaces were lands of opportunity; symbols of working on my own terms, community, and collaboration. Flexibility at its finest. Lack of structure left room for pervasive creativity, and the flow of people breathed new life into each day.
Fast forward to 2020 and the realization that I could potentially be living in San Francisco after leaving Japan.
I was excited about having the opportunity to join a coworking space. In such a big city there was a variety to choose from; some dedicated to providing a space for female entrepreneurs to network, some marketed towards those in the arts who want to be in an interactive cultural hub, and some focused on becoming your one-stop-shop for morning coffee, conferences, lunch dates, and happy hour cocktails. One coworking space even had yoga rooms, nursing areas for new moms, and beauty counters! I promise I’m not the only one who was buzzing about these new spaces. Prior to the pandemic, coworking spaces comprised less than 5% of the market but were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate, said Forbes. In fact, they were expected to make up 30% of the market by 2030 according to JLL.
Here comes Covid-19! So what now? The pandemic that many of us thought would be over by now has changed the way we do life and business forever. A Stanford study found that remote workers are 13% more productive. A recent Gartner study suggested that 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. In addition, the whole reason people were told to work from home was to prevent them from gathering in one space, so I initially thought that COVID would be the death of coworking. However, after careful consideration, I have done a 180.
My prediction: coworking spaces will begin to thrive during and post-pandemic and here are the three reasons why:
People miss the social interaction and sense of community
I am a social butterfly. Too long in isolation and I am itching to see another human. Yes, I know we have these cool techy devices that allow us to FaceTime, but it’s not the same as striking up a conversation with someone next to you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility and that my commute to the couch takes two seconds. But I don’t think the pajamas and pancakes make up for the camaraderie I feel when I’m in an office setting. Humans are social beings. We are better together!
Now, you could make the argument that Zoom meetings and chat platforms provide just as much opportunity for social interaction, but 9 times out of 10 I am more engaged in a conversation when I am physically with the person rather than looking through a screen. An Inc. article stated that 45% of those surveyed said they specifically missed social connections at the office the most.
Coworking spaces provide a solution to this. We can be unsociable worker bees for three days out of the week and then get to interact with our team members in a rented space for a couple of hours on Monday and Friday to bond, brainstorm, and feel the sense of community around us.
People want to create more separation between their personal and professional lives
One of the difficulties with working from home is that there is no physical delineation between work and home. This makes it difficult to mentally draw the line too. Using the same space for our personal and professional lives causes work time and playtime to blur. Yikes!
While there is the perk of being able to do loads of laundry or prep dinner between traditional work hours, we are also answering emails and working on deliverables after six o’clock. For those of us who live on busy streets or with a roommate, it’s hard to get the peace and quiet we need to focus on the task at hand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who are trying to run a daycare or 3rd-grade classroom while working.
Bottom line — people are starting to remember some of the benefits of commuting to a secondary location where their only job was to do the job they were getting paid for! Coworking spaces could provide the perfect balance between going into a corporate office and working from our living rooms. You won’t be expected to show up at 8 a.m. sharp or take sick leave every time you have a dental appointment, but you will have a place away from the distractions of your home to work efficiently. Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too?
Conventional corporate offices are unnecessary and expensive, but companies realize employees need a place to work together in person
It’s no surprise that companies are thrilled that productivity is up and expenses are down. Fast Company stated long-term lease signing in NYC plummeted 72% in the second quarter of 2020. Companies are either relocating their headquarters or nixing them all together.
Companies are finding that “remote only” is not a sustainable long-term solution. Collaboration, onboarding, and team management are just a few aspects of work that are done better in person and affect company culture and profitability. Once again, it could be coworking spaces to the rescue.
Instead of wasting money on huge office buildings 365 days per year, coworking spaces allow for companies to make office space purpose-driven rather than obligatory. With the ability to sign short-term flexible leases for the month or reserve conference rooms by the hour or the day, companies can save goo-gobs of money and still provide employees face-to-face interaction when needed.
So what do coworking spaces need to do to become the future of work?
For one, safety is key. Remember, gathering in a space with a bunch of strangers is counterintuitive to being COVID conscious. Therefore, plans for sanitation and spacing are key.
Secondly, marketing might need to shift more heavily towards corporations playing into their desire to save money and have a flexible office space.
Thirdly, coworking spaces have to continue to innovate and maintain their personalities. Instead of being a skeleton for companies to fill, coworking spaces should still have their own theme or mission and attract companies and individuals based on that. As usual, it’s all about finding a happy medium.
Would you join a coworking space? Why or why not?