Here Coworking: our response to COVID-19

Like most businesses, we at Here Coworking are having to assess our industry and the immense impact that COVID-19 will have for the future. Like most businesses, we face uncertainty around what the future might hold, however we believe that the brightest of futures will belong to businesses that start their evolution today.

From now on, the Coworking industry will need to consider the responsibility we have to our communities beyond Coronavirus. Because ‘community’ will be key. The post COVID-19 world will be one where belonging and support will be central to everything we do.

We are heading into the unknown, where enforced self-isolation will become the norm, at least for a while. Isolation leads to loneliness, which in a time of fear can be devastating. Doctors predict that loneliness can be as hazardous to our health as smoking.

Coworking communities will need to remain connected more than ever.

So we need to prepare…

How Coworking looked yesterday

The need for Coworking was born as a result of the last GFC. A time when many people were forced to find work, freelance or start a business from their home office. Once the dust settled and the economy had stabilised, home-workers (suffering from cabin fever) needed human interaction. The honeymoon period of working from home had worn off.

A lack of human interaction (or community) was the #1 factor in people seeking refuge by ‘renting a desk’ in a space shared by others.

Fast forward eight or so years and Coworking (an idea founded on community), has become an industry driven by real estate. A race to monopolise the industry created workspaces that required ‘as many bums on seats as possible’. Community became an afterthought. Numbers became the game.

“Coworking manifested battery-hen environments that sacrificed individual space over population. The post COVID-19 world will demand a free-range approach to shared space.”

We created Here in order to bring community back to Coworking. Employing generous space and large work areas to encourage a sense of calm. We believe that human beings should work side-by-side, not on top of one another.

As our members are forced to self-isolate, we need to consider how we can help them ’survive and thrive’ by maintaining community as they face their greatest adversity to date.

This starts today…

How Coworking looks today

Our beautiful space will ring hollow for the next few months. Yet our community will continue to interact as we help them continue to connect online while in self-isolation.

“Genuine community will endure, even though our walls will change.”

The collective consciousness of Coworking must be supported by our respective businesses. We must offer ways to allow relationships to continue to thrive, reinforce and vitalise, no matter the geography. Many of our Coworking communities and friendships have taken years to build. Now is not the time to abandon them.

There are ways to ensure that our members understand this is a temporary situation. For our part, there will be no ‘conscious uncoupling’ Here.

We are implementing the following changes to help our members transition, (feel free to adopt them):

We are offering our members the following options of support:

Both of these options effectively mean our members will not pay for any time they are not Here, yet secure their desks and continue to be connected to their community.

We are also offering to support our members on a daily basis:

“Our COVID-19 mission: to ensure our members can remain connected to their community, no matter the distance. To remove the feeling of isolation during isolation.”

We can only implement this because we took a chance on creating a Coworking space that is designed to foster authentic community over transience.

Now, with COVID-19 threatening to pull us apart, our community is giving back to us as much as we have to them. We have received an outpouring of concern from our members. Just as concerned for us, the directors, as they are for themselves. Community at its finest.

How Coworking will look
post COVID-19

The corporate imperative to maximise shareholder return by overpopulating spaces at low rates has potentially damaged our industry. However, thanks to a more astute ‘Icarus era’ of investor caution and now ironically COVID-19, the bigger players have the most tenuous futures. This will leave space for Coworking specialists to emerge as the post COVID-19 industry leaders, together evolving the category in favour of member experience.

COVID-19 has accelerated an inevitable Coworking crash. Petri-dish environments where people work shoulder-to-shoulder in poorly lit spaces with recycled air will no longer be attractive. A four-person office should offer comfortable space for four people, no more. There will be greater awareness of hygiene: Hot-desking on a large scale will now be considered a health risk. Spaces will need to cater for 100 people or less in areas of 500sqm.

“Battery-farm Coworking will no longer be accepted. And it shouldn’t.”

Security should be better considered. How many of us know spaces who turn a blind eye to the sharing of security passes? It’s a practice that will have to change. Yet policing this discipline will be difficult for the larger players.

We believe that a myriad of new and established boutique Coworking spaces designed with community, fresh air and social distancing as a prerogative will flourish.

“Once people return to work, there will be a palpable need for human re-connection and belonging. ‘Considerate Coworking’ will thrive if this serves to be true.”

There may well be an entirely new purpose for Coworking beyond small business. The biggest shift that we foresee? The need for large corporate brands to offer their employees another, alternative place to work. A ‘third space’ to escape the intensity of the corporate office environment and the chaos of babies, dogs and neighbours at home. The opportunity to escape, focus, meet new people and be productive in a professional environment. Most importantly, to feel ‘a part’ of the human race again.

COVID-19 will disconnect our coworking communities. A problem that may be near impossible to overcome individually. Yet perhaps, collectively we can continue to work together with a common goal in mind: a stronger sense of community when we return to the ‘new normal’.

In the words of Sam Cooke, “What a wonderful world this would be.”

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Galvin, Jason, Karen – Here CoWorking.

Credits: Communications Design: Protein One, Visualisation/Illustration: Alan Chen