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Coworking Experts Round-up: How to Run a Business after COVID-19

Helga Moreno

Coronavirus crisis is severe and the coworking industry is terrifically sensitive to social distancing measures. They actually cut the brands to the very core. However, you came here not to read another portion of "horror stories" about empty desks and vanishing income. Most of the coworking operators are recovering from the initial pandemic shock and start to think about what to do after the Covid19 crisis, how to ensure that the existing members will come back to their desks and that new customers will sign up regularly.

I believe that community and sharing experiences are keys to recovering. That's why we prepared a few blitz interview questions covering the urgent topic of coworking hubs reopen after the Covid-19 outbreak and sent them out to coworking industry influencers. You can find their answers in the round-up below.

Thom Wernke, Co-founder & CEO at StartDock Coworking

What are you doing to make sure your residents will return to your workspace after the outbreak?

What exact steps will you take right after your coworking space reopens?

  • We will open up with announcing a typical Dutch tradition (de VrijMiBo, which stands for Vrijdag (Friday) Middag (afternoon) Borrel (drinks)) towards all our tenants on our three locations.
  • All marketing channels will immediately be reopened with campaigns that we have prepared beforehand.
  • We will throw a BackToWork-party in Après-ski style (which was already prepared for the 20th of March, so the concept is already prepared.)

Christopher Hoyt, Owner & COO at The Pioneer Collective

What are you doing to make sure your residents will get back to you?

  • We're continuing to provide key services like mail processing.
  • IT support.
  • We're curating and creating online programming.
  • We're educating members on programs and resources like CARES and SBA EIDL.
  • We're delivering WFH gift bags with products from local small businesses.

What exact steps will you take right after your coworking space reopens?

  • Offer steep discounts for 6 months and 12 months prepaid memberships to build cash balances.
  • Market to companies that may have decided not to renew traditional leases due to uncertainty.
  • Once safe, we'll connect with our corporate clients who need to reschedule meetings that were missed during COVID.
  • Reinvesting in video conferencing solutions, production facilities for virtual content and podcasts.

Alex Linsker, Marketing Director at Collective Agency

What are you doing to make sure residents will get back to your space?

  • There are more events now than before, all on video chat: lunch every weekday, game nights, StoryShare dinners, crafting, book club, Pomodoro coworking... Events are all organized by members at the workplace democracy meetings and on Slack messaging.

About 40% of members are participating in the online video chat events sometimes, some more are participating on Slack messaging, and many are receiving emails, filling out surveys, paying, and otherwise not actively participating right now.

Friendships, learning, and in-depth open conversations with laughter make great days that help us be more productive and profitable.

  • Collective Agency members have asked for surveys and collaboratively written survey questions, which have made clear what members overall want. For example, members overall want the physical locations to stay closed until the Governor's order makes it legal to do remote work in offices again.

Collective Agency members' quotes:

I really like having contact with you each day. That’s the main reason I was wanting to join a coworking space in the first place. And I like how members are organizing the events: the game nights and virtual group lunches are helping create a sense of community for me at a time when it's needed. ~ Teija Stearns

The reason I joined Collective Agency in the first place is the same now: to be more productive working from home. ~ Lindsey Sanders

  • Our events, especially StoryShare, helped me shift my focus away from the news and more towards friends, and be more productive at work. I’m so appreciative of members asking for what they very much want and making that happen together. I’m much more motivated and happier working when I know I’ll be checking in with members.

What exact steps will you take right after the coworking space reopens?

  • Collective Agency will optimize our three locations to be fully within the new health laws: moving desks further apart than before, keeping up with the increased cleaning that we stopped before we temporarily closed, etc.
  • We'll have more surveys and rules than before, through the workplace democracy process we have here, focused on what members want for health.

Are you going to modify your pricing policy?

At Collective Agency, changing prices would require a member vote or at least a survey that passes the modified consensus process we have. No one has asked for that to be voted on yet. Prices are the same as they've been for years: $250 per month is the main membership option. It includes 24/7 unlimited access, whether in the video chat space or at a physical space.

Members each have the option of pausing or canceling, but the more that happens, the more likely it becomes that hard decisions to reduce costs or share risk will need to be made. As of last week, 80% of members continued paying the same as before.

What other possible strategies will you implement to get out of the crisis?

Collective Agency sent out a joint press release with another Portland Oregon coworking community today. Members started again newly signing up last week for the online-only experience and to support the community. I hope more new members sign up for the online-only experience.


Jerome Chang, Founder and Architect at BLANKSPACES

What would you recommend coworking space owners to do to make sure their residents will get back to them?

  • Marketing should remain on now, but perhaps shift focus to brand awareness than actually selling spaces.
  • Communicate to members and leads how you’ve prepared the office for returning: cleaning, wipes, less density, etc.

But in general, I think the demand will surge on its own and the coworking spaces who can endure through this lockdown, will reap the rewards and get a lot of sign-ups.

In your opinion, what steps are coworking space owners going to take right after reopen?

There’s still a lot of brainstorm, but low hanging fruit options are...

  • Add wipes, cleaners, etc.
  • Remove seats to lower the density, although I’m not sure this is that effective. For example, people will still run into each other in hallways and bathrooms. For example, only 40-50% of the potential headcount every come in, so density needs to be that, vs. the seat density.
  • Add dividers where feasible, either financially or spatially.
  • Screen visitors, members.

Will coworking operators reduce prices or increase them instead?

They’ll mostly reduce prices to ensure sign-ups and revenue, but as demand surges, it may ultimately increase prices.

For example, there will initially be a lot of part-time requests, so the $/day may increase, but the earned monthly revenue may be lower per member.


Andrea Carayiannas, Community Director at Hera Hub

What are you doing to prevent mass members' drop off and to ensure their return after the end coronavirus outbreak?

  • We have a very robust virtual events calendar at this point, and members can still access the space to cowork or book meeting rooms while complying with social distancing protocol. Many of our members have businesses deemed essential - mental health, healthcare, finance, law, etc.
  • If we totally close down, this would impede those companies' abilities to operate. For the month of April, we are offering an events-only membership that is significantly reduced in price. Members can also choose to freeze for April.

Marko Ertl, Co-Founder/Marketing at Wrapstars & Herd - Open Kitchen

What are you doing to keep your members during the coronavirus outbreak?

The benefits of our Coworking Kitchen are obvious - sure we can always improve but to ensure they come back we have to help them stay in business in the first place. So our focus lies mainly on supporting our members by finding ideas to survive the crisis.

The reason we started our place was exactly for this purpose — to help food startups grow and prosper — we are trying to achieve this through brainstorming and sharing ideas to adapt to the new situation, helping with applying for government aid, general networking and promoting them through our channels.

What exact steps will you take right after the coworking space starts to work in regular mode?

Our Open Kitchen was never closed down as it is considered system relevant — some of our members need to be operating the whole time.

Are you going to modify prices somehow (increase/decrease) to make your workspace more profitable?

Neither — we offer good value — we cannot go down and as of now do not see the need to go up.

What other strategies will you implement to get out of the crisis?

We are closely monitoring the ways food startups are reacting to the new situation and try to anticipate changes to their business models, so we can adapt our kitchen equipment if necessary to be able to provide good value to a changing food landscape in the short to middle term.


Davide Dattoli, Co-Founder and CEO at Talent Garden

What are you doing to make sure your residents will get back to the workspace?

Our members must feel confident that when returning to our space, they will be safe, they need to know we have created a secure work environment that puts their wellbeing first.

This is done by implementing safety measures, reinventing the space and having open and clear communication channels. We also need to support our members while they are also still at home, making sure they can connect, learn and always have the advantages that come from being a part of our community.

What exact steps will you take right after the coworking space starts to work?

Right now, Talent Garden is focusing on three fundamental areas:

  • safety,
  • flexibility,
  • and community.

We want to guarantee that inside our spaces, we have high levels of cleanliness and that all safety measures have been implemented.

At the same time, the redesign and wayfinding support the necessity for extra space and distancing. But it is also about understanding our members need new ways to connect and share experiences. Hence, the need to be innovative when finding new solutions for replacing these interactions.

Will you reduce prices or increase them instead?

I don’t believe it is about changing prices but changing services. We need to adapt to the new normal that is emerging, and the unique demands that come with it.

What other strategies will you implement to get out of the crisis?

During these past months, we have really seen that the value of the office is not what it was perceived to be. It is not a place you come to simply work because you can do that from home. It should be a place that:

  • inspires,
  • builds relationships,
  • encouraging exploration, and continuous learning.

And this is what I feel many companies are questioning right now. If I don’t need an office, what do I need? And I think that a place like Talent Garden gives you that type of real value while allowing you to be flexible.


Conclusion

I hope you feel inspired and ready to brainstorm your coworking space reopen plan, new services, and pricing policy. But what is more important, you understand the role of coworking spaces in the local post-crisis economy.

Freelance entrepreneurs and small businesses are going to seek new connections, people who lost the job may consider remote contracts (which means they will need a space to work), big and medium-sized corporations will look for affordable office space. And of course, all mentioned prospectives will crave for a cheerful, supportive atmosphere of the coworking space.

How are you going to use new possibilities and address new demands that are likely to reveal after the COVID-19 outbreak? You are welcome to share your tips and recipes in the comments. And don't forget to share this round-up with your friends on socials as they also require some experts' insights and inspiration.

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