Community is at the center of the co-working philosophy, where small businesses and startups have offices, and independent contractors enjoy the flexibility of coming and going. But COVID-19 has made gathering complicated and even dangerous, diminishing the co-working appeal.
"Prior to the virus, we had anywhere between 15-40 people in the space each day. Now it's more like five or six people on average, and they have private offices or private desks," says Celine Rille, co-owner of The McKinley Club, on 7th Avenue and Polk Street. "We're pretty lucky that people seem to be committed to continuing their memberships. Many of our members got small business loans... We also worked with members to make it possible for them to stay in these unprecedented times."
Rille misses the face-to-face community she and her husband, co-owner Kevin Rille, helped build at The McKinley Club. "We haven't been hosting events or gatherings, which are perks of working here — weekly happy hour and yoga. We do continue those on Zoom," she said.
Cleanliness has become a primary concern, and members must wear masks and gloves in common areas. In addition to duties performed by a cleaning crew, members are asked to clean up after themselves when using public spaces. The McKinley Club has a private group chat dedicated to COVID-19 resources, like links to small business loans and grants.
Ryan Marble, who works for a nonprofit out of The Department at 1st and Washington Streets, plans to continue his membership there. The company has been promoting social distancing, mask-wearing, and is providing hand sanitizer, he said.
"Now that the stay-at-home order has expired, we're back at the office," he said. "Since reopening, the day-to-day traffic in the office has dwindled. However, as more people get fed up with the frustrations of work-from-home life, I think we'll see more members coming into the office."
While some continue to show up, others have second thoughts about going back to their co-working office space.
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"Pre-COVID-19, [most] everyone at the company was already working from home. With revenue down, we had to look at cutting costs, and rent for a co-working space didn't make sense," said Korey Bachelder, whose small internet auto sales business decided not to renew its membership at Workuity on Camelback Road and 24th Street.
Workuity has also ramped up cleaning measures, contracting a company to deep clean every other day, in addition to their regular cleaning, said the company's founder and CEO, Dan Kite. Workspaces have been moved further apart to accommodate social distancing. Coronavirus and the emergency pandemic orders have affected membership, he said.
"There is a normal turnover in co-working, so the issue is not people leaving, but rather replacing them after they leave," he said. "We had a two-month freeze in the ability to attract new members because of the lockdown, but we have seen an increase in new members this week."
In spite of the hardships brought on by COVID-19, Kite remains hopeful about the future of co-working. "The long-term benefit to our business is that people are re-thinking long-term leases in favor of more flexible options like ours," he said. "Things will eventually go back to normal."