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Why Coworking Space Will Survive COVID-19

Firmspace-Austin

Firmspace’s 33,932-square-foot coworking facility at 500 W. 2nd St. in Austin opened in mid-2017 and offers a collection of private offices, a feature that is likely to grow in demand among users in the post-COVID-19 office market.

By Charlie Tanner, Director of Real Estate & Development, Firmspace

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that many companies can operate successfully while working remotely. This out-of-office trend has spurred many discussions about whether coworking spaces, a relatively new concept in commercial real estate, may already be a thing of the past.

However, these workspaces represent an important part of doing business and developing relationships with colleagues and clients, particularly in the commercial real estate industry. Moving forward, while many aspects of working in an office will change, real estate professionals will continue to rely on a new kind of coworking space to support their operations and employees.

Charlie Tanner, Firmspace

Charlie Tanner, Firmspace

Here’s what the coworking landscape will look like in the months and year ahead:

Health, Safety Emphases

At the start of the first quarter of 2020, 70 percent of all office spaces in the United States had at least a partially open design plan. As major companies have scrambled to erect new walls and plexiglass desk dividers, offices that were originally constructed to facilitate private work have risen in demand.

Much has already been written about the return of the cubicle, and those who prefer to work in private, soundproof rooms with doors that fully close can expect to see more options available to them on the
market.

Professionals who wish to return to a shared office space can expect to see major changes to the physical layouts and meeting room capacity numbers. Whether in subliminal design or explicate directional signage, social distance and monodirectional traffic flows are the new norm, from the grocery store to the office floor.

As shared office spaces shift their focus to safety and hygiene standards, it’s clear that the old coworking paradigm of unlimited kombucha on tap and bench-filled open office space is not going to survive the pandemic.

Residential Sets Trend

An analysis of how business is conducted in the housing market can provide acute insight on who is looking for professional, shared office spaces.

Residential real estate offices — especially smaller shops — began scaling down long before COVID-19 as online house tours followed Zillow and Redfin to the top of online home shopping tools.

Many of these agents moved into more flexible working spaces rather than setting up their own offices from scratch. And the pandemic has sped up similar moves across industry lines.

The following is a list of reasons that explains why residential real estate agents are downsizing to shared professional workspaces.

• Shorter leases are increasingly appealing in this unstable economy.

• Shared workspaces come with the flexibility to scale office space up or down based on a firm’s evolving needs.

• Coworking spaces allow agents to hold a desirable, convenient downtown address. Even amid COVID-19, this holds sway with clients who want to know exactly where they’re going in advance of any in-person visit.

While digital closings have gained momentum during the past four months thanks to the rapid expansion of Remote Online Notarization (RON), this isn’t available in every state yet. And some clients will still want to come into a secure, private office to sign their closing documents.

For confidential conversations in a comfortable environment, you can count on professional coworking spaces to become increasingly popular in the months ahead as we all adapt to new standards for public safety.

Retail Appeal

As anyone with a family knows, the home office is no substitute for an office space that’s designed to foster deep work. Even in the midst of the greatest public health challenge in generations, coworking spaces provide a valuable resource to professionals outside their homes for those who need to…

  Focus and get things done

• Uphold rigorous standards for privacy and data security

• Regularly access company resources

• Lead a company, in part by maintaining a strategic physical outpost within the region

When we have finally bent the infection curve on a national level, professionals will still want to invite guests or colleagues to a space they’re proud to call an office, whether that’s to make a strong impression or help recruit top talent.

Privacy, Flexibility Needed

As cities enforce their own plans and standards for phased reopenings, professionals looking to return to the office are already starting to look for their next office space, and flexibility is a key component.

As the global workforce continues to adapt and respond to the ongoing crisis, it makes sense that leaders at companies of all sizes are considering what a downsized office footprint could look like and just how it will work.

Real estate companies have traditionally been slow to adapt to trends, but the residential crowd was ahead of the curve on the move toward professional coworking space.

An agile approach to workforce planning goes hand-in-hand with shorter leases and a new focus on establishing safe, individual office spaces within evolving downtown areas across the country. The old working model may be out, but professional coworking offices are on the rise.

— This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Texas Real Estate Business magazine.

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