Why flexible workspace will emerge stronger from COVID-19

Stone Soup is taking part in the discussions about the future of coworking and has frequent conversations with coworking operators and community managers from around the world. It is a collective effort to tackle the best way we can the current crisis and emerge stronger. The fight we are up against needs a united front. 

The change will obviously happen

While things are slowly getting back to (the new) normal, one thing is for sure: Coworking as we know it will have to change to survive. Coworking spaces are known for their communal areas and shared amenities. However, keeping a coworking space safe in a post-coronavirus world will probably lead to more dividers for personal space and private offices. 

Despite this tangible setback, industry professionals believe that in the long run, the coronavirus outbreak will not hamper appetites for “real-estate-as-a-service” models. In contrast, the belief is that the recovery from the crisis could serve to drive up demand for flexible office space.

Local or Global: Who has better chances to survive?

Each country has what we call a Local Champion: a homegrown player which competes with the international incumbents in each country. The local players are in a better position to handle local inquiries and manage their financial stability according to CEO of FlySpaces, Mario Berta.

Can we foresee the future using industry data?

The future of coworking

The answer is no, unfortunately.  Most economic forecasts, for the most part, are just guessing.

The problem is, there is very little data to go on. That’s because we are experiencing a black swan event. The term was popularised by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book, The Black Swan: “The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. It talks about very low probability events that have an extremely high impact if they occur, like the CoronaVirus. So basically we’re in uncharted waters. There is no historical data to make forecasts, as we haven’t experienced anything like this. There are too many unknowns.

Exploring new behaviors

What we can do to draw some conclusions is to observe and understand 4 emerging behaviors of companies and individuals.

  • Companies are investing in remote work infrastructure and learning how to do it. Remote work is an example of a trend that has been amplified by the CoronaVirus crisis. The growth of remote work is teaching companies that it’s easier to integrate independent workers into their teams.
  • Companies will increasingly take advantage of the flexible terms of a coworking space rather than taking on long-term leases. The need for flexible terms will continue, perhaps even more rapidly. If anything, this crisis highlights why flexibility is valuable for companies.
  • These behaviors are also happening on a personal level, as people have been seeking to reduce commitments and ownerships. There has also been a steady rise in independent work, with more freelancers and independent contractors.
  • Similar to the “first time online shoppers” via e-commerce platforms, the crisis will generate a new number of tenants that will experience flexible office space and its benefits for the first time. Those tenants will most likely prefer flexible spaces over their permanent office in the future.

The pandemic is amplifying these trends and making them more powerful than they were before. The good news is that all of these trends – the reduction in long term commitments, the rise of independent work, and the desire for more flexibility and agility – will eventually push more people into a flexible workspace.

#3 reasons why flexible workspace should emerge stronger

 

Reason No. 1: The Need for Flexible Leases 

Once the lockdown period ends, companies will lay more emphasis on cost optimization. Especially if the recovery is slow and halting, companies will probably look for options that will allow them to easily exit if they are forced to send employees home once more.

They will be seeking alternatives to traditional long-term office leases and there is an undeniable market demand for flexibility and enhanced tenant experience, which we expect to continue beyond the near-term negative economic impact of COVID-19.

flexible office lease

Reason No. 2: Remote Workers Have to Work Somewhere

Many people are now just becoming comfortable with remote work for the first time and figuring out ways to make it efficient. That could mean more employees and employers become comfortable with it. But that doesn’t mean all those remote workers will work at home forever. After a couple of months of lockdown and working from a home environment – with distractions, not enough usable workspace, or reliable Internet access – our guess is that people will be eager to work from somewhere else.

Shared workspaces, nearer to a home location, may actually be the ideal solution for many in the future months. They will give workers a flexible workspace to work and have the essential social contact lockdown has robbed from so many, yet affording non-crowded, quiet and easy to use facilities.

Reason No. 3: Community is Key to Recovery

Entrepreneurs, business owners, and workers will need social networks and local connections more than ever to regain their footing. Community strength will be essential in helping people reconnect, build new networks, and support each other.

Coworking was an idea that was founded on community, however, it had become an industry driven by real estate. A race to monopolize the industry created workspaces that required ‘as many bums on seats as possible’. Community became an afterthought. Stone Soup was created in order to bring community back to coworking. Employing generous workspace and large, flexible work areas to encourage a sense of calm. We believe that human beings should work side-by-side, not on top of one another.

 

Protective measures for a safe coworking space

Our coworking life and our safety at work were disrupted about a month ago. Since then we started working from home and avoiding social interactions to protect ourselves. Is it too soon to start thinking about the end of this social distancing experiment and imagine that our lives are going back to normal?

I guess one thing we all realised is that physical distancing really sucks! And that we take our social life for granted.

End of April we will start operating again and we want to make sure that our coworking space will be safe for all of you. We plan to be at the space 2-3 days a week for a few hours to manage member requests, play music and brew some coffee for you!

Coworking with safety at Stone Soup

We are in a fortunate situation compared to other busier coworking spaces and office environments. The number of people who use our space at any given time is usually quite low compared to the size of our workspace. That makes it possible to implement social distancing within our work environment.

However, for extra safety, we will not allow member drop-ins. We will also rearrange some of Stone Soup spaces to enable distancing ourselves (meeting rooms, kitchen)  and we have installed additional disinfectants for members to use. 

Some new rules will apply to make our workspace a safe environment to work at. Can we change alone or do we need the help of our members?

We are all in this together: let’s maintain the space clean

Coworking protective measures

Help us keep our community safe and protected by implementing physical distancing measures and enhanced hygiene practices! We would also like to draw your attention to areas of high traffic, where lots of people engage with the same items and surfaces. Let’s be aware and protect ourselves from those areas! 

  • Door handles: They are one of the most touched spots in the office. Use some tissue, your elbows or your hand within a sleeve to open the door. Before getting back to work, use anti-bacterial gel – especially if you’re about to eat.
  • Desks: Use one desk and don’t swipe seats in the coworking space. Please don’t share desk equipment and clean your phone, pens and your bag at least once per day.
  • Toilets: Always wash your hands after using the toilet and try not to touch the faucet or door handle on your way out.
  • Meeting rooms: We will reserve the meeting rooms for single-person use for virtual meetings, phone calls etc. We will charge no additional fees.


We will focus on providing a safe environment for our members and we hope that we will see you all coming back in the next weeks! If for some reason you think that continuing working from home suits you best don’t worry!  Our COVID-19 mission is alive:  to ensure that all our members can remain connected to their community, no matter the distance. We will continue the Virtual Coworking and you will still be able to interact with our members!

Safety rules for the protection of our coworking space


Here is a list summing up all our protective measures for how to maintain the coworking space safe and clean.

  1. Keeping enough space between you and other people

    If you can reach out and touch someone from your workstation, then your office isn’t set up for physical distancing.

  2. Spray and wipe down your workspace before and after you use it.

    Please use one desk and don’t swipe seats in the coworking space. Don’t share desk equipment and clean your phone, pens and your bag at least once per day.

  3. Promote fresh airflow throughout the office

    Open the windows and doors for at least 15mins, several times a day.

  4. Consider taking all meetings online.

    We will reserve the meeting rooms for single-person use for virtual meetings, phone calls etc. We will charge no additional fees.

  5. Rearrange your private office plan.

    Separate desks and give each member of your team their private space. 

  6. As you work, make sure you regularly wash your hands.

    Door handles are one of the most touched spots in the office. Use some tissue, your elbows or your hand within a sleeve to open the door. Before getting back to work, use anti-bacterial gel – especially if you’re about to eat.

  7. Limited use of the kitchen.

    Minimize the use of the fridge. Use disposable cutlery and keep your own office mug which you will clean at the end of the day. 

 

P2P exchange stories: Sharing, thriving and laughing together!

Running a coworking space is creative and socially engaging work, but it is not uncommon for owners or community managers to experience a feeling of “solitude” while they run their daily operations. Thinking constantly about how to do the best for the community and maintain your partnerships, takes a lot of improvisation and consumes lots of energy. People who join coworking spaces do not often realize that keeping everybody happy is really hard work!

Coworking is all about making partnerships

The minute Stone Soup became a member of the European Creative Hubs Network we became part of a larger family of hubs and space owners. We were able to start connecting and exchanging know-how and experiences. Stone Soup was also lucky to participate in the P2P program exchange and we got to spend 5 days in Malaga, the city that Spanish actor Antonio Banderas was born.

We would like to share with you the highlights of our trip!

We exchanged knowledge

Meeting TLR Stone Soup

When I met Ben Kolp founder of The Living Room coworking in Malaga, we immediately clicked, and our communication and thoughts on the improvement of our coworking spaces were honest and deep. Our interaction made me soon realize that visiting the TLR was the best choice we could have made, as our communities and values are very much alike, and we could validate our successes and reconsider our weak points.


We had new experiences

Coworking space

Our tour in Malaga started with a delicious culinary experience of freshly made tapas and local red wine. We were also amazed by the city’s infrastructure, a small Andalusian city of 500.000 residents, Malaga has a big Technology Park that attracts global companies and has a vivid digital nomad scene. We visited both locations of The Living Room, Soho and Alameda, and it was interesting to observe why certain people would prefer the one to the other. We spent our days coworking at both locations, having meetings with the community, discussing synergies, and helping one another to advance our plans, and avoid making common mistakes.

Building authentic partnerships

George Carey Simos at TLR, Malaga

At the end of the week, we partnered-up to cohost an event at TLR’s Soho location. We invited George Carey-Simos to talk about communication in the digital age. George is a digital strategist, consultant, and co-founder & COO of wersm.com. At the core of his talk was the idea that in our online communication we often take the easy way out, and we often fail to connect because we fail to “speak human”.

We also often forget to listen to what others have to say. In an over-automated, hyper-targeted, analytic world, we neglect the human nature of the interaction, and we forget how to be ourselves, how to be authentic.

As inspiring as his talk was for the online world, we also learned that as coworking space operators we need at times to encourage members of our communities to be more human! To seek out for the social interactions and partnerships that can be found in a coworking environment.

Being authentic is the start, and the baseline for improving ourselves, our brands, and ultimately to share, thrive and laugh together.

We would like to express our gratitude to the ECHN and the Creative Flip project for making this exchange possible. We hope that our new partnerships will add value to the project, and we can’t wait for the next coworking expedition!