Co-Working Could Be the Future of Workplaces
As more Americans are working from home — in some cases indefinitely — co-working companies are at a crossroads.
Before COVID-19, co-working spaces were growing exponentially and according to real-estate company JLL, co-working offices were projected to account for 30% of the commercial real estate market by 2020. Then the pandemic sent many to their dining room tables for Zoom calls, leaving co-working spaces on shaky ground.
Now, in August, WeWork says it’s on track to be profitable by 2021, and Workbar CEO Sarah Travers said the pandemic simply accelerated the need for co-working spaces.
“The work-from-home honeymoon is over,” Travers said. “People are social beings, and we need human interaction outside Slack and Zoom. I don’t think a world exists where flexibility and mobility aren’t going to be keys. It’s up to the co-working companies to be trailblazers and be the ones who are customizing pilot programs for the larger companies that are new to this type of workplace programming.”
Workbar, a company with most offices in Boston, has remained open since March and boasts the wellness of its space — high quality air filtration, social distancing measures, cleanliness stations and thermal scanners. Travers says co-working spaces are concerned with the wellness of members.
The Centers for Disease Control has released employer guidelines for an office space, which include desk arrangements that ensure six feet between employees, increased air filtration, and staggered shifts and break times.
Travers said she’s seen more members come into the Workbar spaces recently, and large companies are contacting Workbar as they look to bring people back into an office safely.
Similarly, WeWork has recently signed contracts with companies such as Mastercard, Microsoft and Citigroup who are expanding their office spaces and socially distancing their employees. After laying off half of its workforce at the start of the pandemic, current WeWork chairman Marcelo Claure told the Financial Times this summer that the startup is seeing a rise in use of its flexible office spaces.
“We have companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon who have told their employees that they can work from wherever they are,” Claure said. “We have a lot of those employees who basically now come to a WeWork facility to use it one day a week, two days a week, three days a week.”
Regardless, some people are no longer working from their dining room table, but creating a permanent office space in their home. IKEA reported seeing a spike in sales for both residential and professional office furniture, as families try to work under the same roof and some kids prepare for schooling online this semester.
Travers said this sort of working dynamic isn’t feasible in the long term, and that’s when people will turn to co-working companies.
“No one is going to go back into their home office Monday through Friday, nine to five,” Travers said. “They’re going to require a couple [of] days in their corporate headquarters, maybe a day at home, and then they’re going to need a place to go to work that is as healthy as their home but as productive as their office and that’s where these co-working companies will really succeed.”
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