For some coworking models, which rely on fluid, high-density communities, the social restrictions put in place due to Covid-19 are completely incompatible. However, the flexibility that coworking brings to the workplace market is very much advantageous. Whilst the standard coworking business model will need to adapt, there is a growing sense that the type of environments they offer will be seen as hugely beneficial moving forward. Not just for start-ups and entrepreneurs, but also for major corporations as they seek to benefit from short term leases and decentralisation from large single office spaces, two attractive characteristics in the current climate.
But what do the operators of coworking spaces think?
To find out we spoke to Lucio Kilcher and Janan Shakur-Kilcher, founders of Cospire coworking in Lausanne, Switzerland, who shared with us their experiences of operating a coworking office during the pandemic and how they feel their business model can thrive moving into the future.
The fledgeling business had only been open for four months before the pandemic forced them to shut their doors, but since reopening in May, they have had an influx of returning and new customers, eager to make the most of their workspace.
Janan Shakur-Kilcher; “It was a challenging time for many small businesses, and although we did not alter the business model we chose to remain flexible in order to adapt to the sensitive needs of our members. For example, we offered discounted student rates since many libraries were closed during the pandemic and introduced day passes.”
Opened in November 2019, Cospire is a relatively new coworking office with 28 workspaces and two private offices, as well as a meeting room, workshop, kitchen, phone booths and a lounge area for social events and presentations.
Originally a car part store, they completely renovated the workspace before moving in, a process which involved sourcing local materials and craftsman to create bespoke tables and unique interior stylings.
"We were conscious of using natural materials such as wood, glass, stone and plants to create a warm and inviting environment and we chose colours that were fresh, fun and calming. In addition to our modern design aesthetic, we also have a workshop with a 3D printer, electrical welding machine, and other technical tools which are not common in other coworking spaces - we wanted to have space for our members to work on a prototype without going to a makerspace."
Another welcome touch is their professional-grade coffee machine, complete with a special Cospire custom blend, sourced from a local roaster in Lausanne, expertly served up to all members and visitors.
Like many individuals and businesses, Cospire utilised video technology to continue to offer community events that would otherwise have been in person, as Lucio comments on: “We shifted our in-person events to online meetings, which allowed us to reach a wider audience while still connecting with our community online. We also saw an increase in our domiciliation option, and maybe this will continue to increase as more people work from home but require a professional address and workspace." With a surge in video conferencing, they have installed a third private phone booth for visitors to make private calls.
Because Cospire is not designed to be high-density, the environment did not require extensive redesigning to fit the newly imposed restrictions. Aside from hand sanitisation stations and helpful signs reminding people to keep their distance and to wear masks, the layout remains the same, but they do ask that tables be occupied by two members instead of four.
Their usual freelance clients have returned, and the start-up and entrepreneurs are coming back as well but with slightly different needs compared to the pre-pandemic times. Occupancy is slowly on the rise though, with more and more interest from individuals who usually work from a corporate office looking for more local and less condensed working environments. Cospire is confident that this trend will continue.
“The pandemic has been an eye-opening experience for a lot of people who believed the remote working approach to be impossible. In the mid-long term, we see coworking spaces playing a big role in disrupting established work routines. Moving away from traditional office working will become the new normal and coworking spaces will see an increased interest in the years to come.
Nevertheless, not all coworking spaces will profit in the same way. In our opinion, smaller coworking spaces will probably have an advantage compared to larger ones because of their limited amount of people, increased flexibility and their proximity to our living places.”
Many thanks to Cospire, who hosted a photoshoot with Flokk brand Giroflex earlier this year, showcasing the giroflex 353 chair. Designed by Swiss industrial designer Paolo Fancelli, this versatile family of chairs is available in a multitude of matching styles, perfect for use in a range of environments within a workplace, and comes in a wide variety of colours and fabrics to match any interior design plan.
Photographer: Jonathan Mauloubier
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