There’s no doubt that the workspace sector has been, and will continue to be, affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Through chatting to workspaces both on the workspace accreditation pilot and in the wider community, we’ve seen how workspaces of all sizes are facing a multitude of ongoing challenges during this time. They’re navigating their way through immediate concerns of access to funding, rates, and relief, and are more often than not having to survive on reduced income. They’re figuring out how best to continue engaging with their communities and provide relevant support to the startups they house. Often, they’re simply working out how to keep many of their basic operations including security, post collection and admin work going whilst the physical space is closed. It’s a juggling act between reacting to the current situation and turning this reaction into action fit for their space. Many workspaces are now also starting to plan for post COVID-19, which is no mean feat when most have more questions than answers about what, once the lockdown is over, the immediate impact and expectations will be on and of how workspaces operate.
Will the rise in and new normality of remote working impact the value people place on working in a shared office? Will workspaces need to adjust their membership offers and/or physical space to cater for both changes in people’s working habits and any regulations set for keeping workspaces safe?
It’s hard to say exactly what it will look like for workspaces in practice when they re-open. However, it’s very likely that physical changes will need to be made in order to reduce the number of people in a space at one time, such as keeping the number of hot desks to a minimum and replacing them with fixed desks, or re-configuring meeting rooms to ensure they meet both social distancing requirements as well as potential changes in demand for multiple-person meeting space. Some have suggested we may even see an end to the open plan office model altogether, where workspaces prioritise and build more separated, private office space for individuals and small teams, rather than house multiple teams and large numbers of people beside one another. Workspaces may also consider a mixed, hybrid approach for their staff, incorporating both in-person and remote staffing practices, to accommodate for a continued need for face-to-face collaboration and support in the space alongside a growing trend for virtual community building activities and remote working patterns. We imagine the pandemic may also affect both how often businesses choose to use a workspace and what they will ultimately look for in a space they do choose, meaning workspaces will probably have to be more flexible in their terms and contracts with tenant businesses as well as in their expectations of the communities they house.
Whether it be changes to the physical layout of the space or revising the offer the workspace provides, two words sum up, for me, the impact COVID-19 continues to have on the workspace sector: disruption and adaptation. We know the pandemic is disrupting the way workspaces operate, and we talk of how workspaces (along with every other sector) will have to adapt to a ‘new normal’ once this is all over. We can imagine how there will be workspaces who, despite the disruption caused, will be able to seek new opportunities from the pandemic, whilst others may not be able to adapt so easily and may no longer continue operating.
Whatever happens, I’m confident that ‘workspace’, in whatever way, shape or form that might be in the long run, will continue to be an important and, more often than not, needed infrastructure for supporting startups and small businesses. After all, perhaps one of the greatest assets of a workspace is its ability to harness the power of community and to create conversations and build relationships over something as simple as a tea and coffee station.
To what extent these characteristics that we all value workspaces so greatly for will continue to drive demand in workspace use and outweigh people’s concerns or future priorities, can only wait to be seen. But it is exciting to see how innovation, in its ability to mitigate the effects of the disruption caused and be a source for adaptation, will be key to the solutions that will help workspaces survive this.
At least one thing is for certain; the impact of the pandemic will be felt on the workspace sector for a long time to come.
Gracie Jones, Project Coordinator for the Workspace Accreditation Pilot at Capital Enterprise.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the workspace accreditation pilot or in discussing some of these thoughts, please get in touch!