What’s Changed in Co-Working Spaces? How San Antonio is Adapting to the Pandemic

By Iris Gonzalez
Geekdom dedicated solo desks can be reserved and are surrounded by a plexiglass barrier, courtesy image.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic changed how we use co-working spaces.

At first, we stayed home and worked in our sweatpants. But as the months wore on, the desire for a quiet, uncrowded workspace is driving the transformation of co-working spaces.

One-way hallways, fewer desks in common areas, measures to limit how many can access spaces, and clear plastic screens to guard against airborne viruses are becoming office standards as more are seeking out co-working spaces again, say experts who predict trends in co-working. It’s no longer about the growing number of new co-working places but rather, the quality of these spaces as they evolve to meet public health demands.

In San Antonio, we lost several co-working spaces in 2020, including Annex Co-Working, The Garage, the Boerne-based CoWork Factory, Space on the Fly, and the Handimade Maker Space. The remaining ones are busy redesigning layouts and revamping protocols to make it easier for startups and small business entrepreneurs to return to co-working.

Some significant trends in how we now use co-working spaces include:

  • Contactless check-in
  • Reserved co-working spots
  • Public health measures, such as COVID testing for members and deep-cleaning sanitization
  • Reimaged floor plans to accommodate physical distancing
  • The desire for private offices
  • Avoiding long-term contract commitments

How have San Antonio co-working spaces adapted to the pandemic? We spoke with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of Geekdom, The Impact Guild, and Key CoWorking to find out. 

Geekdom

By late spring last year, Geekdom CEO Charles Woodin noticed the “desire for more private offices and reserved spaces from our members.” Geekdom first changed how members could book empty offices or conference rooms for longer blocks of time in response to demand.

They added an app for contactless reservation and check-in and a required weekly free COVID-19 testing performed every Wednesday in Geekdom’s Event Centre, in addition to the extra sanitization measures.

The downtown San Antonio co-working space recently transformed its seventh floor by redesigning the common area with single desks surrounded by plexiglass barriers.  The newly added privacy booths, electric standing desks, and acrylic panels around the dedicated desks also enabled Geekdom to add two conference spaces.

As for private offices, Geekdom has 80% of its 44 spaces occupied. “We don’t have issues with the occupancy limits,” Woodin said. “We keep an eye on the numbers since members check-in using our app.”

Woodin does see a longer-term adjustment coming for co-working spaces as the population slowly reaches herd immunity.

“As more members become vaccinated, how do we adjust our protocols? We’re a member-based organization so we will need to walk a fine line and listen to our members as we ensure everyone’s safety.”

The Impact Guild

Located in the heart of the Beacon Hill neighborhood of San Antonio, The Impact Guild offers common desks, dedicated desks, and dedicated offices.

Like other co-working spaces, The Impact Guild closed in mid-March and reopened later in the spring in response to member demand, CEO Sarah Woolsey said. During the July spike, The Impact Guild shut down again “to err on the side of caution.” They have also suspended all tours, day passes, and venue rental for the time being.

“We reopened last summer with reservations for time-blocking of member sessions, but now we have no need for that since we’re not at near capacity now,” Woolsey said. “Members don’t need to pre-register for a spot anymore since we’re monitoring demand for access to the space.”

The Impact Guild added an outdoor space that accommodates up to four people. Photo credit: Inga Cotton.
The Impact Guild added an outdoor space that accommodates up to four people. Photo credit: Inga Cotton.

It is small enough that it can operate on a modular level. Still, Woolsey said new moveable partitions help double the dedicated desk space.

The Impact Guild also created an outdoor space that accommodates up to four people as well and moved the dedicated office members into a larger room for better spacing, Woolsey added.

“The pandemic reshaped everyone’s schedules, especially as many kids were also at home doing distance learning,” Woolsey said. “We now have members coming in to use the workspaces at off-hours, so our 24-hour access helps accommodate that demand.”

Key CoWorking

Karla Garza had been operating Key CoWorking off Basse Road near Highway 281 a little less than a year when the pandemic hit last March. After closing mid-March, they opened up in stages in response to the summer surge of new COVID-19 cases. 

“We first started letting folks back into their private offices, given the demand,” Garza said. “Then, common areas opened up to members who booked slots.”

The space is disinfected multiple times a day, and members are screened for temperature and symptoms when checking in. With nine private offices, two conference rooms, and several common areas, Garza estimates that 40% of its private offices are leased.

“No one is really using common areas anymore,” Grass said. “They’re working out of a conference room or in a private office. We’re seeing lots of interest in a private office and shorter leases.”

The shortest term for leases at Key CoWorking is three months. They also have a generous outdoor space of about half an acre with seating and Wi-Fi. 

Garza sees a mixed-use trend emerging at companies, with multiple options to accommodate different employee needs.

“At a company headquarters, many employees will want to work there, yet some will remain remote at home. There’s a middle ground where some prefer to work at a quiet co-working space that’s closer to home.

“We’re seeing people from outside 1604 or from downtown who don’t want to commute to headquarters but don’t want to work at home, either.”

Offering employees a third option of a reserved, dedicated workspace in a co-working community not only provides more flexibility for workers.

“It helps companies who don’t have enough space for distancing at their physical headquarters,” Garza said. “I think this will be a long-term trend, especially since companies can lease these co-working spaces for the short-term. It helps them adapt to changing conditions.”

Will co-working spaces go away?

The answer is a resounding no. From adapting to changing safety protocols to providing “overflow” working spaces for larger companies looking to physically distance workers, co-working spaces will continue to adapt as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. 

“The way the market is going to change over the long run is the opposite of what it’s doing now,” Garza said. “Now, people want to be isolated when working. But we crave community, so people still want to be able to access it.”

Most co-working spaces have adapted by providing virtual programs to connect people online in addition to flexible options for reserving a working spot when it’s not crowded. However, all three coworking CEOs stressed the importance of agility when navigating uncharted waters.

“Listening to what your members are worried about is the best way to address the needs of our community and support them during changing conditions,” Garza said.

The featured image is from Geekdom’s 7th-floor common area with dedicated solo desks that can be reserved and are surrounded by a plexiglass barrier, courtesy image.

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