Coworking Spaces During a Pandemic

Coworking spaces during a pandemic

At the height of popularity, coworking spaces are resituating themselves

by Carolyn Culbertson

Since the founding of the first coworking space 15 years ago in San Francisco, the more social alternative to working from home has slowly grown in popularity, blowing up in major and mid-sized cities in the past five years. But with a business model that’s built on face-to-face connection, what happens to these trendy working spaces when the majority of the population quarantines for months on end?

Coworking spaces offer infrastructure to support small businesses, start-ups, and the gig economy. Like hackerspaces—public spaces in the early days of the internet for people who shared interests to meet up and get online together — each coworking space has its own unique thumbprint meant to resonate with certain types of people. Femme x COLUMBIA, which officially opens in October in downtown Columbia will be a workspace for all kinds of women. CoCreate Lexington is a space for creatives with family flexible options. SOCO in the Vista draws in established small businesses and start-ups.

Social distancing in coworking spaces?

The appeal of a coworking space lies in its “alone togetherness,” independently running a business while still getting the benefits of a coffee break (or craft beer or yoga break) with coworkers. COVID-19 has made such a possibility dangerous. Like every other business that involves human contact, many coworking spaces have had to take measures to protect their businesses and their patrons. Companies like WeWork, which has had its fair share of management scandals, saw a drastic decrease in demand and subsequent membership during the early days of shelter-at-home orders.

Looking ahead

Even though coworking spaces are hurting right now, some journalists and business analysts see a hopeful outlook for them. Vox writer Rani Molla thinks that coworking is not doomed but destined to change, with safety precautions and social distancing measures becoming the new normal in their business models. Forbes contributor Dane Stangler predicts that coworking spaces will be key in COVID-19 market recovery because community support is central to any healing process.

Stephanie Isaacs, femme x co-founder, agrees with him. “What we want our environment to look like is welcoming, inclusive, kind,” she says. Self-care and healing are built into femme x’s stated values—work, cultivate, socialize, revive, and fuel—all of which embody the goal of giving women equitable access to social, political, and financial capital. Although the pandemic indirectly set their opening date back, Isaacs and co-founder Nell Fuller have stayed busy raising the buzz around their business, launching some services virtually, and taking a hard look at financials. “When we shift and things move, it gives us an opportunity to think more mindfully about how we do things,” Isaacs says. “I think that’s what we found through the pandemic.” When they officially open in October, femme x plans to use the outdoor space and reserve the indoors for safe, socially distanced use.

Needless to say, the pandemic has forced existing coworking spaces—let alone brand new businesses—to pivot in order to stay afloat. If they’ve prioritized their space’s community all along, then their patrons will easily pivot with them.

Photo by Sally Scott/Natural Images Photography