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Will co-working survive COVID-19?

Colony Co-Working – Down Arrow

29 July 2020

Colony Co-Work Director Aaron Ezair sits down with Jamie Halliday to try and look to the future of co-working with a Covid-19 safe space, office and culture. How can we adapt to the new world? What does the shared workspace of tomorrow look like? Will co-working survive the pandemic?

As lockdowns around the world are tentatively eased, workers from every sector and industry are beginning to take their first steps out of the makeshift home offices they have sheltered in for months.

Some with optimism about a return to some level of “normality”, while others, with understandable hesitation, remain on high alert. In the UK we have seen some of the worst of COVID-19’s impact, and wherever you find yourself, there is often a palpable feeling of unease about the future.

A future that will no doubt present enormous challenges for shared workspace and the hospitality industry. How can we safely navigate the uncertainty of the stormy sea ahead of us? What can we do to usher in a new way of Covid-safe co-working to help save the industry? With thousands of jobs and the safety of huge numbers of people at risk, the stakes have never been higher.

There is no room for error and there is no going back to the way things were before. The industry must march on into the new world before us with a calculated determination to get it right.

“Getting it right” is something that Aaron Ezair is very much working at the forefront of here in Manchester.

The Colony Co-Work director and his team have brought in anti Covid-19 measures, risk assessments and more, working to provide Covid-safe shared workspaces in the city centre. But the work is far from done. With every client being in a unique position and every new government guideline altering the parameters of operation for the industry in some way, the task is a 24 hour a day effort.

I sat down with Aaron to unpack what the future may hold for Colony, co-working culture and the business model for the industry.

How has Colony had to adapt to the Covid-19 virus?

It is of principal importance that we consider the profile of the existing businesses which are our customers and those who may be looking to become part of our network. Who are they? What challenges have they faced? How will their approach to work need to change, whether financially or operationally?

By nature, Colony have always looked to be flexible with tailoring solutions for our members and have designed our spaces carefully to facilitate this. Therefore, beyond following the government guidelines to make our spaces safe while maintaining the practical uses of our space functionality, it is having clear, open dialogue with our existing or incoming members on what they want or need to navigate through the crisis.

I do believe that though businesses that take traditional office space will have to adapt their traditional approach to working, coming out of their comfort zone means they may yet discover new opportunities as a direct result of this enforced change.

Photo by Adam Pester

Can co-working survive the pandemic?

I believe co-working can survive and thrive in the post pandemic world. I believe more businesses will be turned on to the power of collaboration and the flexibility of spaces that have been designed to be more dynamic in functionality and more flexible in terms of approaches to lease or licence agreements.

In addition to that, it is my belief that the best new ideas are born from cross pollination of individuals and businesses in the right environments. Over the past 3 years, we have seen many successful new ventures formed at Colony between members that come in as individuals or separate businesses. If new businesses are created within our network, it is proof of concept and therefore coworking survives and is integral to promoting the recovery of the wider economy.

Photo by Bogdan Niculescu

What are the shared workspaces of tomorrow going to look like?

A very good question that could be answered in a number or ways!

I feel shared workspaces will in general become smaller, more focussed into local communities regionally, but part of a wider network. This will go hand in hand will population growth and inevitable development of areas outside the nucleus of the city centre – which is what I would anticipate particularly in Greater Manchester.

This belief is something Colony are actively planning around strategically, as we have chosen to date not to go too large in scale with the development of individual sites. Currently, in Central Manchester, we have 3 separate locations with unique aesthetics and functionality, setup to cater for different demographics of businesses. Our members enjoy freedom of movement across these sites to access the benefits of each.

Colony hope to evolve this concept further and have active projects in the pipeline to bring our offering to satellite towns and suburban areas of Greater Manchester, increasing flexibility for our members by way of convenience and opportunity of wider interactions that you don’t get from a closed one-site coworking community. We believe a wider network still warrants larger locations to act as central hubs, allowing for people to come together centrally where they feel is appropriate. To this effect, Colony One Silk Street, our centre hub location is currently under development in Ancoats, scheduled for completion Summer 2021.

Finally, it would be foolish to ignore the lessons the pandemic has taught us all – there needs to be a Plan B factored into design for pandemic situations, with plenty of outdoor working opportunities created, and operationally how much spaces rely on human interaction. Further to this, workspaces will need to consider wider deployment teleconferencing facilities across sites to interface with a higher proportion of people home-working, or for continuation during another pandemic situation.All of the above we are factoring into designs of upcoming developments.

Interview and blog by Jamie Halliday

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