A summary of this in depth post can be found here: Erin Westover - Head of Expansion at UpFlex and long time coworking ambassador
My name is Erin, and I work with Upflex. We’re a New York based company. However, I’m based in Berlin. Of course, at the moment we are 100% remote. But we love to promote flexible work styles. That includes coworking. We’re huge advocates for coworking spaces and of course remote work and any kind of work that encompasses allowing people to work from where they need to or which makes them more productive and provides professional environments.
What I do specifically for Upflex is that I partner with spaces all over the world. So we have more than 4,000 space partners and more than 8,000 spaces on our platform that we partner with for people that need hot desks or private offices or meeting rooms. What we do is we actually package that and promote it to companies that are looking to implement more of a flexible work environment within their companies, especially during the last couple of years. People have been coming away from the headquartered model of having actual locations where they send their employees to.
We’re creating a new product that allows them to let people work from where they need to and create meeting areas rather than a place that you have to be located every day, 9:00 to 5:00, as well as commuting to.
We work with established companies and enterprise companies, large teams that are essentially remote and distributed. They may have locations all over the world, and they have headquarters in many cities. Instead of having an office building for 200 people in the middle of Manhattan, why not allow for people to work in Williamsburg and work in Brooklyn and not have to take the trains right into the city center. Right? So creating an option that, or of course, if you want to hire remotely, but still give someone the option to work from a professional environment that suits their job role or suits their working style. Typically platforms like us, there are other ones out there, however, are more geared toward freelancers or individuals looking for spaces or kind of building their company.
Part of the appeal of coworking spaces for them is that they can go and have a one month contract and then cancel it at any time so they not buying real estate for 10 years. But coworking companies suffered a lot from that. There are a lot of spaces, unfortunately, that won’t make it through COVID because of the month-to-month contracts and the way things went in that regard, or they were just starting out or even some of the bigger players, they didn’t have a lot of money in the bank. They might’ve been also going month to month because they were doing fundraising or VC, things like that.
So it is possible that some of the bigger players that we’re used to seeing might be acquired by someone else. That is probably going to be the future. However, as much as they were hit hard and we lost a lot of spaces, and we’ll continue to lose spaces over the year, coworking is going to come back stronger than ever. It’s going to be needed more than ever. That is because of the transition of companies coming away from the headquartered model, wanting a more flexible lease and also this huge realization that, “Yes, we can work remotely. I don’t need to have my team all in one space, five days a week, eight hours a day.”
Cworking spaces will be inundated with clients, and of course, adjusting to these flexible models and kind of changing even their space and what the requirements are. So for example, I love hot desking. I like walking into a space and just popping my computer open and feeling whatever perspective I want to have that day, instead of having my own dedicated, desperate work every day. That’s not really how I operate.
However, a lot of these spaces are going to be taking that element away for a while because the open concept is not so safe. It’s not really something that I think people want to be doing. Even companies that had open space offices within a coworking space, so maybe for 20 of their people, they’re going to start creating boundaries between the people that are working there. So whether it be screams or if they spread people out a little bit more. This means that the design of the spaces will change. Then of course, the influx of customers is going to change. It’s going to take some time, probably like fall to later in the year. But people will want to return to work. They don’t want to work from home. But they also know that they don’t want to commute to the office five days a week again.
Technology plays a really big role in how coworking spaces are trying to develop the best experience possible, the most seamless experience possible. Of course, it is the future. I think people are really drawn to that aspect of things, and when we’re trying to develop a new work style, that’s always of interest to us using technology, whether it be for data or information and as well as making the process a lot more simplified.
With regards to technology and how that interacts, there’s a lot of ways that coworking spaces are using technology in order to mitigate certain issues or just make the experience a lot more simplified. So we’re of course looking to do integrations in the future, but there are inventory controls where they can put those online and have providers like us be able to tap into their inventory of what’s available in their space, whether it be meeting rooms, private offices or hot desking. There is also accessibility options. Using keyless entry, you can do that through the app, and that can be integrated with their own systems that are in their buildings. So people can walk in and have a touchless system, and they know that that person has entered the building through those integrations.
Essentially we provide a platform for communications to happen. We are definitely, first and foremost, a technology platform. We don’t have a product other than that. Our inventory doesn’t belong to us. So it’s all independent operators or business centers. They own their own real estate.
Our solution is an application that allows for companies to white label the app. Let’s use Coca-Cola, for example. They’re not a client of ours, but let’s hope one day they might be. But we could brand the app to have Coca-Cola logos. So when the employee is logging in, they’re going to see that it’s a company app rather than they’re just using the third-party Upflex. So it’s integrated with their culture. That’s the idea. Then this app communicates with all of our spaces. It notifies them when people are coming and allows them to control their inventory online. So it’s definitely like, I guess, a workspace that is put online until you actually physically go and check into the location.
Our product was little bit early in the remote working industry, we had been really pushing our ideals, and we see that this is going to be the future. So when people were coming in, and we’re speaking to companies, they didn’t see that this would be an option for them. Then all of a sudden COVID hits, and then we got launched right onto the front lines of people realizing they don’t want to have a 10-year lease anymore with our company, that it is way too expensive. So it was a lot of preaching that goes on and teaching people and helping them understand, yeah, this is a great option for your company and even talking to the spaces and seeing if this is something that would be valuable to them.
Not only that these companies are experiencing remote work for the first time, in some cases because all of their teams were just sent home to work, and they’re trying to navigate how Zoom works and how they can still run their companies without being in each other’s space. Right? All of that happened, which immediately created inquiries for us and how companies are planning for the future.
Both on the space side and the client side, we’ve really had a huge influx of people inquiring about our company and fully understanding and embracing what it is that we were trying to bring to the market. So that’s a really huge deal. So our projections, the statistics we had, all of the information that we had and as a group in the remote work industry, I think we’re projecting this to be more realistic for next year. I don’t think that we were really anticipating this quickly, all these companies going, “Hey, wait a minute. Yeah, this works.”
That was the first thing for our product, which of course is a really good thing for us. It’s too bad that it had to be such a horrible incident for people to realize this. Then internally, we preach remote work, but I’m going to be honest that our company’s still required a lot of attendance. So the New York office, they have a small team there and our CEO, Christophe really liked people coming into the office because he’s that kind of person that’s really social. He likes to brainstorm and be there in person. I’ve been remote the entire time that I’ve worked for Upflex. But all of our team was forced to go remote and start testing what it is that we do and testing our model.
I must say it’s been a really big surprise to Christophe as well that we all really came together, we made it work, and we were all way more productive. So as much as they don’t want to admit it, it really, really changed things. I also was way more pulled into the team, more included in the team because all of us were online and there and present instead of our weekly meeting or catch-up. So that was a really great learning experience for us, and I know that that’s something we’re going to carry forward now, and Christophe has converted into, “Yeah. However you guys want to work, let’s actually practice what we’ve preached.”
Then from there, we created a really amazing product out of this. So of course, you have to be working on your toes. How are we going to be in the post COVID-19 world? How is that going to look and function? It ended up that we created a program called Safe Spaces, and we created a seal in partnership with Colliers International, which is a major real estate brokerage company. They saw the benefit of our product. What we decided, or what we realized is that people are going to have a hard time returning to the workplace because of, is it safe? Should I be leaving my home? If I’m going to be in a space with other people, is this okay? Then a lot of people that were working from home that actually don’t enjoy that or they have kids or there’s all these different things that don’t allow for their space to allow for a professional environment.
We developed a bridge program where you can now filter for spaces that are adhering to local regulations. For example, in the United States, it’s CDC and obviously The WHO, and then of course, whatever they want to implement themselves. A lot of spaces are even putting temperature regulators or a way that you can walk past, and they can determine if somebody has a temperature. That’s not a requirement by any means, but some spaces went above and beyond.
We’ve also become kind of a beacon for people and spaces to say or to understand what it is that they can do in order to get ready to have people return to work. For us this has meant there’s been a lot of educating and communicating: " this is what’s happening with our partners in China. This is what’s worked for them. Let’s bring that model over to Europe, and then of course, extend that to the United States." So a lot of communication and just really focusing on getting that bridge to bring people back to the workplace.
With regards to technology what I recommend for coworking clients, the most important thing would probably be to partner with companies like ourselves, like Upflex or people that are able to, whether it’s bring extra people in and fill your space in a time where a lot of people aren’t going there or a time where coworking has really suffered.
Using technology platforms like ourselves and companies that are advocating coworking spaces and also doing a lot of blogging and a lot of communication and things like what we’re doing right now and educating that way, that’s a really great way to get your space recognized, and people who might not know that you exist, it’s a great way to advertise yourself. Even if you don’t necessarily get customers directly through that platform, it’s a way to get your name out there.
I think that’s really important. The safety component is really important for people, and everybody wants to know, “Okay, what’s going to happen. What is it going to look like when I return? Because I don’t want to be sitting across from somebody that I don’t know. I do want to be safe because then I have to go home to my family. But on the other hand, I really need to get back out of my house or get back into the workplace.” So there’s lots of technology that can help you with that. It can be quite expensive. So you need to pick and choose during this time of what’s most important. But I do think the keyless entry is going to be a huge thing for people.
Touchless. Everyone’s talking about touch surfaces, and this is the big trend right now. You don’t want to touch anything on necessarily in a public space. So having access, purchasing through your phone, having everything, all of your merchandise or anything that you want to purchase, whether it be a meeting room within this space, all of that can be managed through apps and through technology that is specifically geared toward coworking spaces and helping that be functional. Then any of those technologies that existed before COVID have been adapting to COVID and making sure that it’s functioning for the needs of what’s to come and the restructuring.
Reflecting on experiences from the intense user testing we’ve done the last few months about what I think are really important features for a remote team to work together well…
Recording the information, storing it where it’s accessible and having a map so that people can access all that information, that’s the best way to handle it so that I can go and grab a document. I don’t have to ask my colleague where it is and communicating that all the time. Our CPO, Ginger Dhaliwal, is always making us write everything down. In every meeting, we’re typing it out. Over-communication - which I get really bothered by if someone asks me many, many times, something that I felt that I have already been very clear about. I’ve had to reflect on myself and understand that’s a really important thing to be doing is that communicate everything all the time. You’re not there in person. Then when you go away to have your day, and you’re not there to remind people what’s going on, it’s really important to continuously repeat information.
Of course, meetings. The amount of productivity and work you can get done if you limit your meeting time. I don’t love having a million meetings all the time because it is very disruptive. I feel like when teams are remote, they do it in almost as a way to show, “Hey, I’m here, and I’m working. I’m online. The little light is on, on my Slack that shows I’m live.” I don’t really subscribe to that. I’m really like, “Let’s have meetings if we need them.” Because the flow of my day it gets disrupted. That’s a huge thing that happens in the office space, right?
Of course, keep them for strategy or if you’re building something together or have, of course, your team meetings. But jumping on a million calls a day with your colleagues just because they’re not in the office beside you to talk and respecting that time I felt has really worked. But this is stuff we’ve talked about. Right? So I’ve had to be really vocal like, “Hey, this doesn’t need to be a meeting. Send me an email.” Stuff like that.
That’s been working for us. But with regards to technology, there’s just not so much that you need. It all depends on what you’re doing. Zoom has been amazing. We like Zoom. It works for us, and of course, just having the cloud, everything mapped out and accessible so that you can find all the information and documents you need in order to do your job effectively.
Somewhere in between is what the future is going to be. Then of course, making sure that the spaces can accommodate a certain amount of people, which again, may change the affordability of things because if you’re not using every little square foot that you have or square meter that you have, creating more spacing, that can create a different pricing model. So I’m interested to see how that will also be affected.
Rural coworking, I think they’re going to suffer the most, unfortunately. If they were able to get government help, that’s great if they could stay open. But I think if they can hold on, there’s going to be a huge driver there, and that’s something that I’ve been advocating for, and I always try to partner with spaces in rural areas because those are the places where people want to live and work from. They don’t need to be in the city center to do their job effectively. So I do believe more of those spaces will start popping up. Hopefully, some are able to make it through this time, financially they will be. But they know that they have to be on board with these health and safety regulations in order to make the space feel safe for others.
I’ve been communicating with spaces all over, some that are in smaller towns or that are wanting to open during this time because the demand is starting to increase. But it’s always going to be regional. It’s always going to be based on the regulations, how far along they are and the reopening process after lockdown. But I do think that some of these methods and precautions are here to stay. The spacing issue, I think, is really going to be a thing because people didn’t like that to begin with. You don’t want someone in your direct vicinity. So that’s going to be something that will be taken into the future.
With respect to membership models, a lot of spaces immediately took away their day use. So you can’t just be a random person walking in off the street anymore, booking a day pass at a coworking space. Of course, it’s because they wanted to cater to their own membership. If they’re already only allowed to occupy maybe 60% of their space or 50% of their space, they have to first and foremost address their members that stayed with them during that time, making them feel safe, making sure they can return. So any flexibility memberships went out the window, to begin with because they just can’t allow for strangers to come in, or they just can’t occupy the space because they’re operating at a percentage of their capacity.
I love independent spaces. These are the ones that have character and really interesting communities. So I think they’re really important to include. We have many on our platform. If you are to use your inventory, so you need to also consider what you have and what’s empty and how you want to leverage it. So again, we allow for you to put one hot desk on our platform if you want, or you can have 10 meeting rooms and 50 private offices and 60 spaces for hot desking, depending on your capacity. So it’s up to you to control it as the owner or the manager at the space. So you can go on and take it away and add it as you need to as much as you want.
During these months, a lot of them did restructure their pricing model, or they removed a whole aspect of their membership, and then they were going into long term. Some people econstructed their offices completely and took away all the open areas and made them enclosed and maximized that. For example, we reevaluated our membership pricing. We are a membership-based platform up at Upflex. We realized where the demand is coming in. We knew that people are scared to be in open spaces with strangers or even with their colleagues. So we created a product, which is private offices for durations. So flexible private offices, whether it be by the day so that a team can go into an enclosed area and work together and do some strategy if they need to be together in person. Or you can do that by the week or by the month, depending on how long.
Then of course, if those people are done after a certain project, they can go back to their respective environments and wherever they were working for or from previously. We’ve changed our product to accommodate that and accommodate what clients are actually asking for. Then of course, we’re taking that to our spaces and letting them know, "Hey, this is what everyone’s asking for, You might want to consider reflecting the demand”. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are going to that.
I do see that the flexibility model is not going to go away completely. I think the day passes will not be so popular for a little while. But the flexibility is going to come into play, and then the memberships will have to reflect that.
Coworking spaces need to be considering short term and not always committing to, “Oh, I need somebody in here for a month.” What if there is a team of four people that just need a space for two days? Would you rather it sit empty, or would you rather people be in there? So finding ways to do that and fill the space during times may be taking a little less money than you’d normally would. It’s better to utilize and leverage that inventory, especially during this time when it’s uncertain and people are just wanting to dip their toe in the water. So that’s a really great way to do it. Put the inventory online. The requests come in 24 hours in advance. So if you just happen to fill them, we just can communicate that to our client and say, “Actually, the space is unavailable.”
When we talk about technology…Keyless/ touchless entry. Maybe you don’t want to interact with a person and have a receptionist lead you around and speak to you or have someone that has to be there, touchless entry is a great way to overcome that and also to allow for 24-hour access when maybe you don’t want to be there, and you just want to allow your members to come in and work late. there are several touchless entry tech providers out there but I’m a really big fan of KISI. I know the founders there. They’re great guys, and they’ve built a great product. We aren’t integrated with them yet. But they have their own separate app and keyless entry, or you can have card entry. They are a German company I believe, but they are based out of New York. Every space that I know in New York City uses Kisi, and it’s super convenient, and it’s also a great way for the space to know who’s in their building as well. Right? So for safety, for security it’s really great.
When we talk about technology we can also just talk about internet and communication and getting the word out. I think if that is the best way to mitigate these issues or to stay in business, for example, and again, partnerships, making sure that everyone knows who you are, that you’re talking to people, that you’re talking to the right people. If you want to talk about rural coworking or even just intercity coworking, get involved in your community as much as possible and find ways to make sure people know who you are and know that you exist, know that you have inventory like that, and also know that there is a solution to working from home.
Lots of communication, lots online. A good example, I guess, would be Knotel there are quite a major company out of New York City, and they’re in many locations. They were shut down when New York was shut down, and they weren’t able to operate. What they did was they used their space and provided it to essential workers for a place to rest or some nurses and doctors, if they just need a place to lay down or somewhere to go to be alone or whatever it is, maybe to just eat and decompress without having to leave the city if they needed to be in proximity to the hospital or where they were working, or even if they couldn’t go home, for example, because they might infect their family during this time.
They used their space during a really hard time, and that got them a lot of publicity. I’m not saying, “Oh, they just did it to get the publicity.” But it was really valuable to their branding and to their company and what they represent and when they stepped up during a really hard time and offered their spaces at no cost to people that really needed it. So things like that. Again, like I said, getting involved in your community and ensuring that communication is there and providing education like this to people that are looking to maybe get into the coworking space. But all of that can be done online. I think that’s the best way to go. But otherwise, coworking is an in-person experience.
So technology plays a certain role in it. But I would say that just use the internet and use your networks and get to know people. Another example would be the UK. I know they were having a lot of trouble actually getting financial support as coworking space operators, which is really troubling. They were signing petitions and trying to get the government to actually recognize and provide them with these bailouts that a lot of other people were entitled to in getting, whether it be unemployment, et cetera, and they somehow fell into this no man’s land, and they weren’t eligible for this type of compensation.
As a space you need to be motivated to go out and ask for that type of help and spread the word. There were a lot of petitions that were signed. I think it was eventually overturned, and they were able to get some financial assistance. But understanding how valuable spaces within a community and what they actually bring to the community, if that was recognized by the government, and now that it is recognized by the government, they understand the value, right? That’s a great way to stay in business during this time when you’re having financial hardship or you don’t know where you’re going to be in the next six months.
We are advocates within our company, and we do partner with a lot of education platforms. We aren’t an education platform. It just so happens that continuously, we are educating people through our product and by giving the option and making it available. So partnerships with these education platforms, which there are many out there, we do promote them on our site. We promote them to companies that are considering using our product. So having a nice network is really great to offer those things where you might have a weakness.
However, we do provide a lot of recommendations as to how you can structure your team. So, there might be a team that needs an office of 20 people, and that’s okay. That’s okay if you want to go and have that routine. Some people need it. Some people like it. But there might be five people on your team that don’t, and they want to work from home, and then there might be another five that really enjoy working from coworking spaces or one that’s a little closer to their home.
So our platform allows you to manage that or develop a system so that everybody can work the way that they need. That’s what we’re really trying to do to make it as flexible as possible to have the most diverse team and the most functional aspect of flexibility that you can. But again, the education component needs to be left to the professionals, and there’s so many out there. There’s so many great resources, even ROE remote. That’s a great way to learn how you can do that and implement it. It’s going to forever be ongoing education, right? Because I think the industry is pretty new, and technology keeps developing, so staying on your toes and really knowing what you can provide to your clients and making sure that they’re getting the best resources available to them to make sure that this works and everyone’s happy.
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