Why coworking spaces aren’t dead yet

Stock photo provided by Pexels

by Sherri Kolade

Felisha Hatcher, an owner of a shared office workspace, Co:ology on 18940 E. 9 Mile Road in Eastpointe, might as well be the face of resilience.

After battling the flu and COVID-19 for over three weeks in February, she faced mild to severe complications with breathing, congestion, a persistent cough, fatigue, and the unnerving possibility that she wouldn’t make it.

“Feeling helpless, all I could do was sleep, continue my regime of herbs and supplements, pray and allow my body to heal,” she told the Michigan Chronicle recently.

Before Hatcher was ill, she and her husband busied themselves planning events to end the quarter but they decided to keep the business closed for safety reasons.

“We didn’t want to risk any chances of exposing anyone. Thankfully my husband and daughter tested negative and did not contract the virus,” Hatcher, who is functioning at about 90%, said. “It’s been quite a journey.”

Working Together and Apart

It’s been a full year already for Hatcher, who opens up shop in April and she is hoping to recoup some of the losses her company’s experienced due to pandemic-related closures that caused them to remain closed most of 2020.

After originally opening their home office in 2016, it wasn’t until 2018 that they formed Co:ology and began to offer shared office workspace.

“After two years, we were finally building our client base, securing local and national contracts, expanding our community outreach and preparing to offer new services, and then we were hit with COVID,” she said, adding that events and contracts were canceled and all future plans were on hold with “no clear answer of what was next for us.”

Co:ology can have small intimate groups of about 30-40 guests typically pre-pandemic. Post COVID-19, with social distancing health regulations in place and capacity limits, their traffic has been “reduced drastically.”

“We stopped all private events (a main source of income) and focused solely on services for our meeting rooms with three to four guests at a time,” she said, adding that with the return to work happening she remains optimistic that people are still looking for amenities like hers.

“I remain hopeful that the upswing will bring in much-needed revenue for small businesses,” she said, adding that Co:ology, has a large community base that has been “amazingly supportive” throughout this ordeal. “We look forward to re-opening in April (2021) and getting back to serving our community. What we’ve learned through this: Resiliency is our greatest asset. .. 2020 was a great teacher.”

A California-based law firm, JD Supra LLC, reported that the benefits of coworking spaces in a COVID-19 world are huge, with numerous companies still having their employees come to work from a couple of times a week or month.

“This new working reality may lead many companies to eliminate much of their office space,” the article wrote.

The law firm added that coworking spaces allow for companies to “decentralize offices” and allow employees to access conference rooms and other services, “or simply to get out of the house” while still being closer to home.

The article added that there is, seemingly, a slight dichotomy to using a public co-working space during COVID-19 where social restrictions are in place. But with safety adjustments and changes made to these spaces, coupled with shifting employee/employer needs, coworking spaces and “the office sharing concept will likely thrive.”

According to

  • About 35,000 flexible workspaces exist in the world today.
  • The world market value of flexible workspaces is roughly at about $26 billion.

Office Space 2.0

Karen Burton, the owner of SpaceLab Detroit, a downtown coworking space, is all too familiar with the sting of having to close her company’s doors, like Hatcher’s, last year.

“It’s been a little difficult over the last year or so,” Burton said. “Some of the shared workspaces are struggling — people, they are used to working at home. They are hesitant about being around other people.”

Burton added that shared coworking spaces are all about being around other people and sharing ideas — and some of her clients range in coming in occasionally too on the daily, while others work from home.

She, too, has meeting spaces or meeting rooms at reduced capacity for people who want to get out of the house and in a “new environment.”

“We are getting some traffic but it is nothing like it used to be,” she said of her facility that opened in June 2017.

Burton also upped her cleaning and sanitizing protocol, added air purifiers throughout the facility, along with self-screening/reporting of COVID-19 symptoms upon check-in.

After shutting down last March and reopening, they never “really closed down” fully because they have a virtual office and mail handling business.

“A lot of people receive their business mail here so we were open for a few months just for a few hours a day,” Burton said for people to pick their mail up.

“We still have quite a few members — we’ve retained a lot of our members, people are just working from home,” she said, adding that there are still times when people need to get together to meet and collaborate on projects. “That is when we see people wanting to have meetings.”

Burton added that she hopes people will come back to the office and also use coworking spaces like hers.

“We’re hoping that while people are still working at home they will be using hour meeting rooms and conference rooms and using the offices,” Burton said. “That they feel safe enough to come in … whether they need to get out of the house for a day, get different scenery or … get some work done.”

Burton said overall, she and others are concerned about how workspaces are changing, but forging ahead despite the uncertainty.

“We as an industry are having to pivot and listen and learn how people are using workspaces,” she said, adding that she strongly feels there will be a permanent hybrid work from home option with employees coming into the office on a rotating basis. “We’re preparing for things like that.”

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