The popularity of coworking spaces -- like WeWork, The Wing and Soho Work -- has been on the rise. In fact, 542 000 people worked in coworking spaces in the U.S. in 2017, and this number was anticipated to grow to 1.08 million coworkers in 2022. Now that has disrupted how people can safely congregate and conduct business, the extent of that growth will largely fall on the decisions small business owners make once stay-at-home mandates begin to lift across the U.S.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, only 4% of the U.S. workforce reported they worked from home at least half the time -- a figure that, according to one study, grew to over one-third of the U.S. workforce by April 2020.
Now, small business owners across the country, who may currently have most, if not all, of their employees working from home, are faced with new choices about how the future of their work culture will look. Should employees return to coworking spaces they were working from before the pandemic as soon as they can? Is it better to have employees continue to work from home?
"I believe that once coworking spaces are permitted to reopen, it will be the more intimate and niche-focused spaces that will see the greatest influx of folks."
Michelle Y. Talbert, Esq., founder of Her Power Space
Each option has its own pros and cons, and small business owners need to consider all aspects before making a decision. Once a decision is made, it's also important to understand the best practices of how business owners and employees can both make the most of working from either environment.
Pros of continuing to work from home
Besides the obvious benefits of working from home that has always been true, such as working in your pyjamas if you want to, or always being home in time for dinner, there are other reasons why working from home makes sense in the wake of COVID-19 -- not just for employees, but for small business owners as well.
- Controlled environment with limited exposure: One of the more obvious reasons why working from home makes sense is that it reduces the spread of germs. By continuing to work from home, employees will continue to reap the benefits of social distancing.
- Less data risk with a home network: There can be a heightened security risk at coworking spaces, as hackers use new methods to gain access to private information. At home, your private network can keep your data more secure.
- Flexible work hours: From lowered stress to increased productivity, offering flexible work schedules can be a benefit to both employees and small business owners.
- Time savings: Skipping the commute to work saves employees time that would otherwise be spent driving or taking public transportation to get to and from an office.
- Increased productivity and performance: From Harvard University to Gallup, the majority of studies show that workers are more productive when working remotely than in-office workers. And with stronger autonomy, workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects.
- Profitability: From reduction of office expenses to decreases in the number of sick days, having your staff work from home can be great for small business owners -- to the tune of a savings of $11,000 per year per employee.
Michael Gardon, the founder of CareerCloud, believes working from home will continue as a strong trend. "The reality is, workers very often report increased productivity," Gardon says. "It's a reflection of a timeless principle -- give good people freedom and responsibility, and the people step up. More and more companies are going to realize their people are more productive when they can have their own time, space and authority to control their life-schedule."
Cons of continuing to work from home
While there are a lot of benefits to working from home, that doesn't mean it's easy -- or that it's always good for every business. Even with the rise of sophisticated and secure digital tech that allows for everything from virtual video meetings to remote, real-time text communications to happen from home, there are some reasons why working from home can prove challenging.
- Boundaries: Work-life balance is increasingly important, and while working from home has its benefits, it can also create a challenge for setting boundaries. As such, it's easy for the lines between work and free time to get blurred, making it more challenging to separate the two.
- Lack of privacy: While you'll have privacy from other team members, working from home can mean a lack of privacy from family members, roommates, and their friends and contacts, especially if you don't have a dedicated workspace to retreat to.
- Multiple interruptions: Working from home is proven to be more productive with fewer consistent in-office interruptions. Still, interruptions of different kinds can make it challenging -- whether from chatty partners or roommates, not-so-quiet children, doorbells ringing for home deliveries, or distractions from neighbors.
- Lack of meeting space: Even if you have a separate office space, it can be difficult to hold important face-to-face client meetings or team collaboration sessions without a separate meeting space.
Best practices if you decide to continue working from home
If you do decide ditching the coworking space in favor of continuing to work remotely is best for your business, there's a way to do it right. Here is a checklist of five best practices to make sure you -- and your employees -- can get the most out of working from home.
- Stick to a schedule
Having a schedule is not only good for productivity, but it's also good for establishing work-life boundaries. Bookmark the beginning and end of each workday, and block off free time in your calendar.
- Improve your office setup
Working from the couch may be nice for a while, but to effectively work from home for a longer period, you need to establish a workspace that's both comfortable and ergonomic. Take time to shop for the right office chair and desk, buy a desk lamp, and purchase any additional supplies you think would improve your workspace.
- Upgrade your internet connection
Even if you don't use high-bandwidth tools and apps, high-speed, reliable internet is still essential for today's work-from-home environment. Take time to shop around and find the best internet providers in your area.
- Consider a separate home line
Whatever industry you're in, a separate home line can be a great investment to ensure the constant reliability that a mobile phone may not always be able to provide. This may be especially important if you work in a role that requires a lot of time spent on the phone, such as customer service, or if you live in a more rural area where cell service is spotty.
- Switch things up
Take the time to explore resources that you can adapt to your new work-from-home setup. For example, you can download an app like Focusmate, which pairs you up with virtual coworking partners to help with task accountability. Or Codi, which lets you book and schedule daily coworking sessions at other people's home-based workspaces.
These steps to making your workspace -- and your workday -- feel more similar to the office may help you save money as well. From upgrading your current work-from-home space with new, work-friendly furniture to improved internet and even virtual accountability partners, these expenses might turn out to be lower than the recurring cost of a coworking membership.
Pros of returning to coworking spaces
Whether you're an employee or a small business owner, there are also reasons why returning to a coworking space might be the best solution for you or your team.
A few key benefits of coworking include:
- Resource coordination for small businesses. Coworking spaces can be a great conduit for the connection of local government resources and small business owners. These owners may benefit from the range of local emergency relief funds and resources available during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as those being funneled through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
- Get plugged in to the local scene. Coworking spaces serve as hubs that facilitate connection with the local community and social networks, vital for local business owners navigating the new guidelines and best practices outlined by the coronavirus.
- Improved motivation. Sharing a space with other coworkers creates peer accountability and motivation to work as hard as those around you.
- Increased collaboration. The diversity of a coworking space, such as interacting with a software engineer one day and an SEO specialist the next, can help small businesses create efficiencies and facilitate innovative ideas that come from cross-functional collaboration.
Cons of returning to coworking spaces
When doors open again, the idea of returning to the office or coworking spaces also has its disadvantages for both employees and small business owners.
- Uncontrolled environment with the risk of exposure: While offices and coworking spaces will be increasing their safety protocols in the new, post-pandemic reality, the fact remains that workers will be in an environment that they don't have control over and could be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses.
- Different interactions with new social distancing rules: Social distancing rules will require a whole new approach to coworking, including learning how to interact with coworkers and conduct business within these new constraints.
Best safety practices to return to your coworking space
If you decide that going back to a shared coworking space looks best for your business, here is a checklist of five best practices for safely heading back to the office.
- Ask questions
Contact the coworking space and ask what safety protocols or additional measures they've taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other diseases among workers.
- Be proactive
Decide what changes you'd like to see made to your coworking space to ensure the safety of your employees and provide feedback directly to the managers of the area.
- Promote revised spatial guidelines
If you regularly share office space with others, it's important to keep your distance while you work. Move desks further apart, consider utilizing partitions between workers and encourage others to keep their distance when moving around the space.
- Ensure cleaning schedules are updated regularly
Make sure any shared spaces, like conference rooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, are regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Maintain social distancing norms
Those who choose to return to shared workspaces should continue to promote social distancing and safety protocols, such as wearing masks and keep track of the latest updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Coworking spaces like WeWork have already updated their approach to their shared spaces, including distancing solutions like buffer seating, new lounges, updated meeting room requirements, and one-way circulation paths on walkways.
The bottom line
As the public health crisis lingers, we will have to make decisions about what a safe working environment looks like, whether for ourselves or our employees. While more people are now working remotely than ever before, it isn't for everyone. Many people will choose to return to a shared office environment. To navigate this safely, coworking spaces will need to update their spaces and put additional precautions in place to ensure people feel safe working there.
Ultimately, deciding what's best for your business will depend on evaluating what works best for your needs and comfort level and finding a balance between meeting your business goals while ensuring a safe work environment for you and your employees.