Much has changed for the workforce in the days which have followed the onset of COVID-19. Rush hour traffic is a fraction of what it used to be. Downtown parking spaces are much easier to find, and offices are nowhere near capacity in commercial buildings.
For the safety of their employees, large and small companies alike have found it necessary to implement remote work-from-home policies. This was received well by many people that had yearned to be able to do their work, at least occasionally, away from the office.
For some, it hasn’t been the panacea they thought it would be. Working in isolation for an extended period, even with the proliferation of teleconferencing meetings, has made even the hardiest of souls eager to be reunited with other people in-person.
What is coworking?
Today’s gig economy and the rapid growth of freelancers can be attributed in large part to the record unemployment rate that has been experienced since the coronavirus severely impacted world health. In the U.S, at its peak, over 10 million people lost their jobs and went on the unemployment rolls. Most were not prepared financially for this.
By not having an adequate emergency fund to draw from for an extended time and not being able to find full-time employment, many people have had to resort to doing freelance or part-time work. A large group has chosen to pursue their dream of entrepreneurship and have started their own businesses on a full-time basis; the majority of them working solo.
Coworking spaces are a viable alternative to working from home or a coffee shop for many of the newly self-employed. Not everyone has a home office from which they can work or a dedicated workspace in their home. Working from the kitchen table for a prolonged period of time just isn’t practical for many people.
Because of this, a growing number of people are resorting to using coworking spaces. The Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) projects over 30,000 coworking spaces accommodating 5.1 million members by 2022. This number continues to grow and will for the foreseeable future if current trends continue.
And coworking isn’t just for the solo entrepreneur or freelancer. According to WeWork, some Fortune 500 companies are utilizing their shared workspaces. Their website proudly boasts that companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer, Samsung, Sprint, Visa, and Zoom are clients.
Benefits of coworking spaces
If you ask someone that is using a coworking space how they like it, the majority will tell you that it’s the best workplace they’ve ever experienced. Even though there are pitfalls, such as the lack of privacy and people distractions, most find it advantageous. Why is that?
- Cost. Compared to renting an executive suite, a coworking space is much more affordable. A WeWork membership costs $45 per month, and a desk can be rented for as little as $50 plus the membership fee. Members can come in as often or as seldom as they wish. This is a much more flexible arrangement than those found through renting an office or executive suite.
- Comradery. We’re social creatures, by nature. Most people don’t like long periods of isolation. Separation from coworkers because of COVID-19 has caused anxiety and depression for many individuals. In a shared workspace, proximity to others isn’t seen as a drawback by everyone; it’s seen as a benefit by many. Many coworkers say they feel happier after joining a coworking space, and say it makes them feel less lonely.
- Corroboration. It’s not unusual to see app developers, website designers, and programmers sharing tools and techniques in a coworking space, even in the age of social-distancing. Workspaces are set apart at recommended distances, and even when wearing masks, communication isn’t thwarted.
- Creativity. Many people find it difficult and distracting to work from home. They cite numerous distractions as deterrents to productivity and creativity. Laundry, television, pets, and noise from neighbors are commonly mentioned as sources of distraction that stifle concentration and creativity. Coworking spaces have the occasional conversation, but for the most part, they resemble the quiet environment of a school library. Workers there are quite considerate when it comes to not disturbing their neighbors.
The future of coworking in light of COVID-19
Coworking spaces should remain as a viable and expanding option to the traditional workplace going forward.
An unknown percentage of people that have transitioned to full-time self-employment will remain entrepreneurs when their previous positions are offered to them. Some will have the financial resources to continue to work for themselves, and some will already have established their businesses and can remain self-employed.
Many large companies are also satisfied with the productivity levels of remote workers. According to the CNBC Global CFO Council survey, only 10% of respondents indicated workplace productivity had declined as the majority of their workers were operating remotely. The survey showed that a majority of remote workers would be coming back to the traditional office when it was safe to do so. The minority that is left to work remotely are candidates for remote workspaces.
All things considered, the future of coworking looks bright. Though the numbers may have peaked as a portion of the remote workforce returns to the offices they once worked at, there will still be a percentage that will remain working remotely and will continue to work from a shared workspace. Adding that number to those that were already coworking before the pandemic hit results in a net increase in people coworking. The landscape for many of today’s workers will never be the same.
Jack Wolstenholm is the head of content at Breeze.
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