The end of coworking spaces, the start of coworking spaces.

A survey by Coworker of more than 14,000 coworking spaces across 172 countries resulted in: 72% said they had seen a decrease in the number of people working from their space since the Covid-19 outbreak. 41% of coworking spaces reported a negative impact on membership and contract renewals since the outbreak. A further 67% of spaces have experienced a drop in the number of new membership enquiries.

I remember when we started working on the business plan of our own coworking we did what corporates did when they discovered the open space work environment. Squeeze as many people in the square meters you had to optimise the profit. As such nothing wrong (can be discussed). We saw many coworking spaces we visited doing the same, some with 2,5m2 for 3 coworkers. You better all take a shower before going there. Open space, small offices, meeting rooms and community building were the ingredients. The same setup of most corporates.

Covid-19 showed us that we were wrong. Social distancing, masks, extreme focus on hygiene and the increase in working at home was a serious wake-up call. As Urla Coworking we were fortunate in that way that we chose for our cinema/theatre and a big open space in Urla, instead of lots of desks and office chairs in the center of a big city. Of course, Covid-19 hit us hard as well as the cinema is closed and no workshops for the moment. But on the other hand, it gives us now the opportunity the think on how we will grow the coworking extension we planned.

Freelancers and small teams chose to work from home and with an economic crisis that goes in parallel they look at costs now as it are hard times. The numbers I found indicated around 40% of freelancers who stopped. Midsize and Large Companies introduced also working from home and are trying to find a balance between in the office and work from home. What we saw ourselves in our coworking were people working at big corporates leaving the big city and come to our place to work. Not at home where you have the kids, the household etc breaking your focus.

The community building, the glue and USP of coworking spaces is now totally upside down. In the end, you get tired of Zoom and House Party as we are social beings who want to see and meet each other in real life. I am sure this community building will find an escape route. The setup of the coworking will change and that will also mean FEWER people per square meter, more cleaning, considering droplets from a single sneeze can travel more than seven metres. Desks, chairs and any communal facilities — such as kettles and kitchen worktops — will need to be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Or even have the basics in each cube with your own cups. More Zoom means also more closed booths. This will result in a higher cost/price but at the same time a saner and a more enjoyable place.

I am very happy with this challenge. I never liked open spaces with too many people, hard to concentrate, too many triggers. And just like we finally acknowledge that the way we raise animals, like chickens, pigs and cows is blatantly wrong with a trend to small farming again. The same thing for people, working as an employee or independent, your environment should encourage you to work, hand in hand with happiness. The industrial chicken farm owners and the business owners were only concerned about reducing cost, not the well-being, and many coworking spaces think in the same way, fooling us with the community spirit. Covid-19 is a great wake-up call for all of us. I can see the coworking spaces being redesigned and targeting a new main target customer: Corporates. I can see distributed workforces increase as many white colours will move out of the big cities increasing their quality of work and life. The result will be more coworking spaces, not the big ones, in smaller cities, with a cost that is lower for the big companies than the m2 they rent in the big cities and more flexibility. No more 2 hours to drive to your work and 2 hours back.

Technology and the internet brought us first centralisation and globalisation. Now it is time we use that same innovation for decentralisation. Local/Global is the next big thing. There is no need anymore to be one of those chickens. Even they start now running free. Finally.

Patrick Bosteels

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Stage-Co, Urla Coworking, Now Sprint! Accelerator and Creative Academie co-founder, Facilitator, Accelerator Program Manager and Mentor

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