Is this the End for Co-working Spaces?

The government imposed lockdown has caused far reaching changes to the way we work...

As we entered lockdown in March, a monumental shift in the way we work began, one which could potentially see the end of the traditional working week, as well as completely revolutionise the way we interact and work on a day-to-day basis.

Never before had millions of people been forced to turn a tiny corner of their house into an office, sign up to Zoom and start working from a place usually reserved for wrapping the odd Christmas present or sewing on a button.

The whole endeavour opened the eyes of managers and businesses around the world – especially considering the high costs of offices and work spaces – making them question whether they’ll even ever need such a thing again.

Now, obviously people can’t and shouldn’t work from home forever, but the way in which workforces adapted, changed and invariably thrived after such drastic events has shown that the idea of the 9-5 working week in a centralised office may quickly become a thing of the past.

As we’ve all slowly started to come out of lockdown, it’s clear that we’re all currently taking part in an on-going global experiment – one which is looking to examine the viability of remote working in the modern workplace.

This experiment clearly brings into question the viability of the workplace itself, whether that’s the centralised office shared by many, or for smaller businesses – the co-working space – typically located within one of the pre-lockdown success stories like WeWork or Use.Space.

Are these options still applicable in light of the 3-month lockdown, and does COVID-19 spell the end of the co-working space as we know it?

Before lockdown I think it’s safe to say that co-working was experiencing a massive boom in popularity, as smaller businesses and creatives valued the increased flexibility of working on a desk, or small office within a larger work space.

Companies such as WeWork, Use.Space and Colony popped up throughout the city and were seemingly always busy as companies flocked to take advantage of more flexible contracts in a rapidly changing business world.

In light of lockdown – do these values still hold true and are they still a valid form of workspace for the post-COVID-19 world?

Well, the major issue that has arisen as a result of the pandemic is social distancing, something which co-working spaces, by their very nature, fly in the face of. The whole concept of co-working spaces is to “create communities” and, of course, promote co-working amongst people who typically wouldn’t be in the vicinity of each other.

With people working from home for the past three months, the ideals of the co-working space will aim to appeal to people once again – combating the loneliness felt while at home and helping to “create a home” in which to work from.

But none of this can stand up to the scrutiny afforded when it comes to considering social distancing – and the fact that in a co-working space you’ll be in contact with a huge number of people from different households, often for prolonged periods of time over the working day.

So, in this respect – is the ‘standard’ office better? Well, once again there are many factors at play here – and they’re not just COVID-related.

The main plus point of a dedicated office space at the moment surely must revolve around the fact that people will not be as willing to work in shared areas as they were before, where they’re in close contact with many other people throughout the day.

The apprehension and fear in play here is a massive factor stopping people from returning to work – so if you’ve got a self-contained office where people are interacting with the same colleagues each day – the perception is that this is much safer for all.

As people have seen the value in working from home, and communicating digitally, the workplace – be it co-working or not – has irrevocably changed – and the way we do work will have changed also.

As smaller businesses now realise that they can work from home instead, those that provide office space will invariably shift their attention to trying to secure long-term occupiers – and offer initiatives and benefits to entice them.

Offices such as Origin on Spring Gardens, who offer 6 floors of stylish office space all decked out with 1930’s inspired fittings and furniture. The office can’t just be an office nowadays and as such Origin offer their tenants a range of additional benefits to entice them away from the bigger co-working operators that have surfaced in the city in recent years.

They offer ‘The Park‘, a fitness and wellbeing facility with a gym and fitness studio, as well as a stunning rooftop garden with outdoor seating amongst greenery and with fantastic views of the city.

In direct response to the post-COVID world, offices like Origin are increasingly looking to highlight the clear benefits of such a space with regards to social distancing.

Many fears revolve around the amount of space people have in which to work in a centralised office – and as their focus has shifted towards larger, more long-term clients – offices from the likes of WeWork are much smaller (and more expensive) than what you can get in a traditional office space.

Origin have shifted their focus more towards wellbeing and the social distancing aspects that they offer, with more space for employees to spread out and even unique features like the ability for windows to be fully open (something that is rare in many city centre buildings) becoming much more important.

The ‘traditional’ office space has had to adapt and add more benefits for the people working there – as well as further blurring the lines between co-working and traditional working with breakout areas, co-working lounges and meeting areas – all available alongside the usual office setting.

It’s still yet to be seen just how much of an impact the COVID-19 lockdown will have on the city’s co-working spaces, but as more people and employers come to realise that working from home is a valid exercise in the modern world, there will undeniably be a shift in what people want from their workspace.

As a result, the co-working spaces that we saw before lockdown is likely destined to change – as their focus shifts more towards the larger companies and operators that require less flexibility overall. In this respect, we can see the co-working space shifting more towards a traditional office space – and all of the benefits that they afford.

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