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Can coworking spaces bounce back after Covid-19 crisis?

In our weekly WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing, we look at new data on the global coworking industry and how the sector can emerge stronger after a pounding in the pandemic

In the latest of our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, created to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share perspectives on the latest development in work and workplace. This edition is posted 7 July 2020.

Coworkers of the world unite

One of the most intriguing subplots of the coronavirus crisis is how it will impact the global coworking market, which has experienced enormous growth in recent years. There have been different schools of thought on how it might fare. On one hand, the open, high-density community settings of coworking venues clearly do not sit well with Covid-19 and social distancing. The sector has faced huge strains in lockdown. Many startups and freelances have retreated to working from home and won’t return.

On the other hand, corporate occupiers will seek greater flexibility in the post-pandemic era, so coworking operators have an opportunity to pivot swiftly to provide highly curated, on-demand office space that feels safe for employees. New models in coworking can combine the highest service standards in health and hygiene with attractively flexible leases.

‘New coworking models can combine the highest service standards with flexibility …

Proof that the coworking market can bounce back quickly comes in a new report out this week from Coworking Resources, which calculates that the number of coworking spaces worldwide is projected to reach almost 20,000 this year and will pass 40,000 by 2024. The Global Coworking Growth Study 2020 says that, although growth this year will be slow, ‘we expect growth to rebound and develop even more rapidly from 2021 onwards, with a yearly growth rate of 21.3 per cent’.

Almost five million people will be working from coworking spaces by 2024, an increase of 158 per cent compared to 2020. The thinking behind this growth is that coworking operators complement an inevitable move to more remote and flexible working by companies.

Average size of a coworking space worldwide is 7,308 square feet and average occupancy is 83 people. China has the highest coworking occupancy rates with 282 people on average per space. In the US, this figure is 105. By continent, Asia (5,889 spaces) and Europe (5,858) have the highest number of coworking spaces. By country, the US tops the list with 3,762 coworking spaces, followed by India (2,197) and the UK (1,044).

Intense competition in the sector led to a global price drop in the average price of a desk of around two per cent between 2019 and 2020. However, Europe has bucked this trend, registering a price increase of almost 12 per cent over the past two years. The three most expensive cities in which to rent a monthly hot desk are Palo Alto, Zurich and Santa Monica.

What do coworking customers want as they look ahead? According to the latest data, occupiers are asking for more private offices, more seats and longer contract terms. It looks like the coworking sector may be changing its spots to maintain its growth. Read the full Coworking Resources report here.

Get more expert views on the future of coworking in the post-pandemic era in this WORKTECH Academy article with WSP here.

Smart building blueprint

The age of the dumb office building is over according to the latest WORKTECH webinar hosted on 2 July by UnWork CEO Philip Ross and featuring Roee Peled of PointGrab and Erica Eaton of Comfy – two technology companies which work together right at the cutting edge of the new data-driven workplace. In just a few months, the smart building blueprint has moved from desirable to essential – and the big catalyst is the Covid-19 crisis which has forced organisations to ask the tough questions about space occupancy, workplace experience and resource management. Catch up with the full webinar here

Social distancing designs

If you’re looking for nifty design ideas that meet social distancing protocols, you might like to check out the City of Baltimore’s digital resource on safe place-making for businesses, cities and people worldwide to safely reopen and improve their public spaces. The free-to-download Design for Distancing Guidebook is part of an initiative that called on Baltimore’s design and public health communities to develop innovative approaches to safe, physically distant gathering.

A competition was set up to generate design concepts where physical distancing, public health and inclusiveness were all prioritised. A review panel voted on 162 design submissions from around the US, which ranged from hand-drawn sketches by children to professional renderings. The guidebook is a compendium of the top ten concepts selected. Each successful design teams partnered with the Neighborhood Design Center in Baltimore to finalise their concepts for the guidebook. A Baltimore-based design-build team will scope, develop and implement the concept sketches, which can be viewed here.

Japan shapes up for change

In a sign of just how far-reaching the effects of the pandemic might be on real estate and working patterns worldwide, technology giant Fujitsu announced this week that it will halve its office space in Japan as it introduces a ‘Work Life Shift’ programme designed to give unprecedented flexibility to its 80,000 workers in the country. Fujitsu told the BBC that staff will be able to work flexible hours, with working from home designated as standard wherever possible. The announcement, which follows a similar move in May by social media platform Twitter to accelerate remote working, signals that Japan is getting serious about new ways of working. You can read about the WORKTECH Tokyo 2019 conference here

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