Coronavirus pandemic threatens fast-growing business model in Denver: Coworking


Posted by: William Edmundson | March 23, 2020

As seen in the Denver Business Journal

Coronavirus pandemic threatens fast-growing business model in Denver: Coworking

As businesses and governments urge workers to stay at home to combat the spread of coronavirus, Denver's coworking companies are dealing with the challenges of maintaining their spaces for members while simultaneously seeing significant drops in traffic.

Coworking businesses are increasing sanitation of their spaces, cutting in-office hours for staff, suspending events and moving members into private offices or larger conference rooms to limit instances in which disease can spread.

But already, the pandemic is posing a threat to a business model that has been quickly growing in Denver and thrives on bringing people together in the workplace.

Unsure of how long the spread of the virus will last, representatives of coworking companies said they're doing their best to keep the business going while keeping clients as safe as possible.

Louisville, Colorado-based Office Evolution, the largest franchisor of coworking spaces in the nation with 68 locations across 24 states, has been busy communicating with franchisees on how best to prepare for the spread of coronavirus. COO William Edmundson told DBJ on March 17 that seven locations had been restricted to key-fob access, while one location, in Boise, Idaho, had closed due to a local government mandate.

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Edmundson said he and other members of the senior team have experience dealing with natural disasters and economic volatility, but acknowledged the current pandemic is unprecedented in their careers.

"The situation is so fluid, and it continues to change, literally, by the minute," Edmundson said. "While this is on a very different scale, we've learned there is no substitute for communication."

The company has increased sanitation of its locations, moved members into larger spaces and has limited the amount of time staffers are onsite to just a few hours each day. If a confirmed case of the virus were to arise at a location, they would follow protocol and shut down temporarily for a deep clean, Edmundson said.

Office Evolution locations are typically found in the suburbs and cater to small businesses or "solopreneurs," Edmundson said. He told DBJ that locations saw drops in traffic particularly after schools closed, with declines in usage ranging from an estimated 25% to 70% from center to center.

"Being in 24 states and being a franchised organization, we're continuing to monitor what's happening in different parts of the country," Edmundson said. "I don't foresee us having to close every location, but it's certainly possible."

While traffic at locations has dropped, Edmundson said the company is still signing new members who have found difficulty working from home. At a recent meeting, a general manager who runs Office Evolution's 10 company-owned locations had to excuse herself. When she returned, she announced she had just sold an office package.

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"Having your office close down doesn't necessarily present the ideal situation," Edmundson said. "You've got the kids at home, you may have your spouse at home, and you still have to conduct business."

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