Expanding Coworking Business at a Time of COVID-19
Twenty-twenty will be remembered for the year of COVID-19. The year when the world of work was turned upside down. The year when traveling to work became history and where hundreds of thousands of workers, especially the young, were plunged into unemployment or job insecurity.
But whilst there have been many articles on the death of the office and the challenges of running collaborative workspaces, there have been opportunities for small independent workspaces to innovate and grow, not just to survive, but to thrive.
“To win in a marketplace, you must first win in the workspace” — Doug Conant the former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company.
The Workspace I run in South London is one such example. Situated just outside the city center and next to dense residential homes and businesses, we have — whether by luck or by serendipity — managed to grow and indeed carve out a new model for Work-Hubs, one which I believe will be more relevant in a post-COVID world.
Housed in an old working club hall, like most workplaces we were fearing the worst.
Could we survive the lock-downs? Could we manage to break even if we opened up to with fewer daily customers, each keeping two meters apart? Could we retain existing customers who were now cost-conscious?
"Yes" was the answer but how?
Well, the answer has come first of all by intentionally but the trick was in curating a mixed clientele and a mixed program of work activities.
Think Community not Corporate, boutique not branded, think work and work plus but most of all think personal and authentic.
Yes, these things are easier to create if you are small, have low overheads, and have the autonomy to innovate and try things out, but here are our top five tips.
The word unemployed is such a stigma. Why should people who lose their jobs for no fault of their own have few spaces where they can re-group, learn new skills, and be nurtured in their job search?
At Hatcham House we have gifted 6 places to young people who have been made redundant through COVID-19. Yes, there is a cost to us but they bring energy and new ideas, and skills and because they appreciated the subsidized or gifted places are keen to give back in new ways.
Three of these young people we have now employed on a part-time basis and begun to design new employability training resources. The corporate workspace should have a Corporate Social Responsibility program and if every workspace was able to give guest places to young people they will remain loyal members long after they have set up their own businesses.
Many workspaces put on activities for their members, but why not give members their own platform to provide training and development opportunities. Every Friday in lock-down we have run the ‘Hatch Hour’ an hour in which a Hatcham House member runs a training session for other members and the general public using Instagram Live broadcasting.
We’ve had sessions on:
- unconscious bias,
- gut health,
- Instagram for business and the future of work,
- confidence building as well as good mental health.
These have been downloaded or watched by over 1,000 people which has helped these businesses raise their profile and give Hatcham House further exposure.
Teaming up with andcards has been the best thing we could have done in re-opening after lockdown. The Hatcham House app they designed with us allows members to book, and pay for their booking straight from their mobile phone in real time.
Furthermore, we have set up a Stream community feed that keeps them updated on the events we are running, changes to opening hours, or new offers.
In addition to this, we have employed one of our members to undertake our social media promotion across different channels. But instead of just posting photos of desk spaces we have a program to promote, talks, activities, Christmas decorations, and member’s profiles.
Like most workspaces, we have tried to recruit regular members who pay monthly even when they don’t use the space. However, we have found in a time of uncertainty and austerity customers need flexibility and affordability. Charging just £10.00 per day is working in keeping us full and ensuring that as a community workspace we are inclusive.
Some of our members have volunteered to pay a higher rate if that means we can cross-subsidize and provide cheaper or free spaces for young people. This activity brings very real benefits in terms of relationships and helping people feel that they belong to something more than a work-space. It’s truly become a work club and in the new year, we want to expand and create a youth employment exchange where members can employ young people for a ‘gig’ of work. Think research, think social media marketing, think the design of a website.
So many young people have skills which they can develop and can earn whilst they gain the confidence to set up their own business. Yes, they want income but experience and a network is the most valuable thing in times of great change.
In a time of uncertainty, people are longing for belonging. They want to join things that take them out of their homes, and insecurity. We have majored in making Hatcham House a place that welcomes everyone, that greets each member as they come in by their name, where we have provided table service for the free coffee and tea and introduced people to each other. We’ve tried to integrate the best parts of a community center into a professional workspace.
And from this, we are now spilling out into the wider community. Through our Christmas Community Connections program we are putting on storytelling evenings, Carol concerts, talks, and even a digital Santa’s grotto — all using our members and broadcasting safely through Instagram and Youtube Live.
As we approach the new year we are being asked to help other community organizations replicate this model so have created a series of resources under the ‘Hatch Local’ banner.
What we have is a work in progress, who knows whether post-COVID members will want something different, and revert back to a conservative, traditional workspace. My hunch is that they won’t!
The article was written by Stephen Carrick-Davies, a social entrepreneur who as well as education projects and employability training programs in other countries, is developing the Hatcham House project in New Cross Gate South London. See www.hatchamhouse.com