Co-working spaces poised for surge in demand as remote work increases

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Tara Deschamps

The Canadian Press

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Christina Disler considered closing her Vancouver co-working space business because people were so fearful of being in communal offices.

“We lost like 75 per cent of our clients because we didn’t have people locked into long-term contracts because… we wanted to provide flexibility,” said the owner of Werklab, which specializes in wellness-focused, co-working spaces.

“It was really tough.”

But more than a year-and-a-half later, her outlook has completely changed.

People are returning to co-working spaces, which provide members with desks, boardrooms and other amenities like gyms, kitchens and coffee bars. Many are also considering the spots for the first time as they adjust to long-term remote work or depart office jobs to start companies.

These shifts are proving to be a boon for co-working spaces, which were becoming common before the pandemic wreaked havoc on their business models. Now, their owners are predicting they will hit peak popularity as COVID-19 cases further subside and people seek new ways to work, socialize and venture out after more than a year at home.

Simply put, co-working spaces have gone from a “nice to have” to a need for many, said Disler.

“They are saying, ‘I need to get out of the house, hunker down, have some accountability from people around and create a boundary between my home and the office,’” she said.

“So we’ve seen an uptick and our offices have both been full.”

Disler’s also seen plenty of interest in corporate packages for clients who are getting rid of offices but still want to give staff a space to work from.

Their research found the number of co-working spaces worldwide is projected to reach 40,000 by 2024 and provide space for five million people, an increase of 158 per cent compared to 2020.

While the industry slowed last year, it predicted a yearly growth rate of 21.3 per cent from 2021 and onwards.

Canada already has 617 co-working spaces, the study found, including sites run by corporate giants like Staples, many catering to women only and others serving specific industries like the arts.

The outlook for workplaces is “fluid” and could take up to 18 months to develop because it’s unclear how many companies will opt for long-term remote work and how many employees will like that model after the pandemic.

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