I’m Jamie Orr, I’m one of the co-founders of Co-Work Tahoe, in South Lake Tahoe, California. I’ve also for the past several years been working on a digital technology project called Jellyswitch, that is a mobile app solution to help manage co-working spaces that’s being used at Cowork Tahoe as well as a few other places.
Co-Work Tahoe was founded in order to allow professionals to work from Lake Tahoe. It’s a small mountain town, a ski community and summer vacation spot, but there is a serious need for the economy to be more diverse in order to not be so susceptible to the swings of tourism. And we are seeing that pretty significantly right now during this current pandemic.
Six years ago we set out to create a really vibrant space that would allow for that type of community to develop in the Tahoe region. We renovated the building in a district that the local jurisdiction was also trying to revitalize, and so we have brought a lot of great energy and people that spend money at lunches and the local shops.
Pre-pandemic numbers, we were looking at a community of about 150 professionals across a really broad and diverse range of industries. Anything from, the software developer, the typical freelancer that you think of so frequently with co-working, to nonprofits, environmental consultants, architects, CPAs, our journalists. It’s really neat to see that level of diversity in industries in our small town.
One of the issues we’ve seen with the community is that people tend to be transient, but if they can get those really great human connections in their workplace, then we can actually retain them much longer. So we’re able to connect them in with people that they may want to go mountain biking with, or skiing with, but also with non-profits they may want to get involved with and support. They may meet other parents that have children in schools, and so they begin building that web and that fabric when they start working at Co-Work Tahoe, and they become very vibrant members of our local South Lake Tahoe community, which is greatly needed.
One of the great things about co-working is that you can facilitate these connections in a way, professionally, that is different from a traditional corporate structure working on a corporate campus. And it’s great to see how people become inspired by one another professionally by learning about each other’s different fields and contracts of work. I think that helps to create this emergent community that focuses on the entire person, not just their work persona.
We have very robust firewalls and protective systems in place, and the ability to set up individual networks if people need them. We have the most robust broadband and wifi signal you can get in town, which when you get snowstorms that can drop 10 feet of snow on you, is pretty important.
We largely closed our physical space during lockdown. There are a small handful of companies that work from our space that are essential, and we have one PPE supplier, and so it was critical for them to be able to continue operations. We made sure that the space was still accessible for them, and that it was safe and cleaned frequently. It was actually fairly simple for us as we are a full-time locked facility as it is, and we use an access control system that all of our members have access to through their mobile apps.
In the weeks immediately following the shutdown orders, we did jump on and try to make sure that all of our members were participating on Slack, or on our social media channel, and we started hosting a number of Zoom virtual meetings to check in with people and see how they were doing. But after the first few weeks it became pretty clear that most of our members actually weren’t asking for more of those coffee breaks or happy hours. I think people got Zoomed-out really quickly, and we didn’t want to add to that. The way that we were able to support our community was actually by backing off, and so I think that was actually really interesting to see.
There’s still a lot of anxiety and apprehension. Being a tourist community, we are seeing an influx of people, and frankly that does concern me quite a bit as we’re hoping that we don’t see a surge in cases, particularly serious ones. But again, being a locked co-working space with a highly professional clientele, we’ve been able to mitigate a lot of the risks. Even before the governor of California mandated face masks in public and in businesses, we already had that implemented as one of our reopening guidelines.
At the beginning of June, we cut back on about 50% of our open desks. We double checked all of our ventilation systems. We have a lot of windows, we have high ceilings, there’s really good airflow throughout all of our systems. A majority of our space is small private offices, and so because of the way that our building was designed to flow people around the building as it was, we’ve actually been able to feel really good about inviting people back to the space, because they are primarily in private spaces or very, very spread out if they are in the open desk space.
Everybody’s wearing face coverings in common spaces and the adoption has been 100%. We have hand sanitizer stations, we’ve got additional cleaning protocols, and all of our kitchen stuff is now spread way out so there’s not the normal clustering around the coffee machine that we used to have.
We still have quite a few people that are still working from home, or maybe coming in part-time. But again, one of the key things that we did in designing this space and this business model is in providing flexibility. The most interesting development since reopening is we are seeing an influx of new full-time residents to Lake Tahoe. They are actually relocating their families, now that they can work remote, to somewhere with a better quality of life.
The relationship building is going to take longer than it would before because we’re not doing any events. We used to host member’s lunches or breakfasts fairly frequently, and we aren’t doing those types of things. But we’ll spend even more time than we did before making sure that new members feel comfortable and welcome in the space and in the community.
We run our entire space off of the Jelly Switch mobile app. One of the things that we require right now as part of our new opening guidelines is we’re being very strict on using the access control system, so we know how many people have walked in the door each day and I can see who’s using the spacing, as well as reserving meeting rooms. We have a protocol where we are leaving a passing period in between meeting rooms to allow for cleaning and for ventilation, and an announcement feature that sends push notifications out to all members, which has been useful in terms of updating everybody on safety policies and procedures around mask wearing. It’s been good to see tools like Jellyswitch are being used to even further support not only the safety aspects but the human needs of the space.
This pandemic has really accelerated the timeline on remote work, as many, many companies have had to quickly adopt work-from-home policies and stick with them for a pretty significant part of their workforce. The thing that I worry about the most with all of the technological advances, is that if you lose the human interaction that we’re so used to both personally and professionally then the remote work experiment will fail.
I would like to see more co-working spaces kind of peppered through cities or communities that are maybe 10 miles apart and only serve about 150 members.
We have a growing coworking community around the lake and I expect to see that continue as we do have more people that choose Tahoe as their full time home as a result of this. We have a mountain coworking alliance, that’s an alliance of about a dozen ski town co-working spaces, and one of the requirements of that is that you’re located in a community with a ski resort, and I’m active in the Global Workspace Association, a Women Who Co-Work group, plus one that’s specific to coworking software. I am very optimistic about Cowork Tahoe and the co-working world overall.
I think remote work is the way of the future. I think people want flexibility, and I am looking forward to more people being able to choose a lifestyle that’s true to what they need personally, and it’s not driven by where they have to be to work.
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