The coronavirus has not disappeared, but it is spreading much less frequently in many regions. Legal restrictions are being significantly reduced where the number of new infections has fallen sharply and an acute threat to the health system doesn't currently exist.
This development is certainly encouraging. Nevertheless, for the majority of the economy, the current situation is worse than before the start of the pandemic.
Why aren’t all (former) members returning immediately?
Regardless of whether they’ve reopened or never closed, coworking spaces in general are reporting an initially slow return of members after the strictest restrictions have been lifted. As each week goes on, spaces are filling up more and more.
However, it will take some time to return to previous levels of operation for at least three reasons:
The economic situation has changed
Despite the steadily improving situation in many regions, the health and economic uncertainties caused by the virus continue to exist and are disappearing rather slowly.
Many governments want to reduce the potential risk of another major wave of infections in a proactive manner. This risk also influences numerous investment decisions.
Coworking spaces can benefit from this to some extent as companies and self-employed people who are currently looking for new workspaces will prefer flexible options rather than traditional offices with long rental contracts.
However, the harder the state-imposed lockdowns were and the less they were compensated by governments in the short term, the greater the damage suffered by most of the economy. This will lead to reduced local demand.
Particularly long lockdowns have also had a major impact on peoples’ habits. Some former members came to terms with the new situation, changed their perspective or even withdrew socially.
Others have enjoyed the additional time in their private circle, especially those who feel financially secure or continue to be paid. They are happy to extend the lockdown situation with reduced professional and social obligations as if they were on holiday, as long as the common option to work from home exists for them and their partners.
Numerous external restrictions remain for the time being
Other restrictions continue to exist and prevent (potential) members from working in a coworking space. For example, if children are not allowed to return to school or nursery full time. Or if possible quarantine measures after border crossings continue to limit travel and therefore keep digital nomads or business travellers away.
Some members are returning more quickly, especially in those areas where working from home causes problems. For instance, apartments in large cities rarely have a space for an office. Too many distractions or feelings of isolation tend to mean there is also a greater desire to return to coworking spaces.
Not all users of coworking spaces decide for themselves whether they want to work there. The larger the companies and their rented office space, the longer they are likely to offer their employees the option to work from home. The reorganization of larger spaces involves longer decision-making processes and therefore requires more time. In other words, their employees will also return gradually.
If stricter usage regulations should greatly increase the need for space in the short term, these companies will probably continue to rely on working from home as the fastest and supposedly cheapest alternative before other possibilities are taken into consideration - such as 'work near home'.
Internal restrictions in coworking spaces
The continued operation of coworking spaces is often subject to conditions that can strongly influence the working atmosphere. Strict regulations, e.g. the wearing of masks for the whole working day, can make a space less attractive for (potential) members or customers. Likewise, physical distancing measures can considerably shrink the potential capacity.
Events or meetings with gradually increasing numbers of people are being allowed as the number of new infections decreases. In most cases, the requirements for this continue to be more stringent than for desk areas. The bans on very large indoor events, especially where alcohol is served, will probably be some of the last to be lifted.
All these limitations are not unique to coworking spaces. They also affect traditional offices, providers of other workspaces and millions of other businesses or institutions worldwide.
Welcoming back members
Coworking spaces are making it easier to return by informing (potential) members about what to expect before they arrive. The following examples can help:
- Recent photos or videos of the coworking space, which visualize the distancing and hygiene measures, e.g. by showing new distances between the desks
- Emails informing members about new policies
- "Welcome back bags" with necessary equipment (e.g. masks, disinfectants, conduct recommendations)
The current hygiene and distancing rules in coworking spaces are easier to introduce since high numbers of people are not expected immediately once spaces reopen. However, members not only want to feel safe, but also welcome and comfortable! This is another challenge when it comes to implementing all these measures.