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03/23/2020

Community Stories: How Work Heights is Fighting Coronavirus

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty in the coworking industry, with spaces being forced to shut down indefinitely all over the world in an effort to help stem the flow of Covid-19 cases in their communities. As events continue to unfold and public health efforts continue to impact small businesses worldwide, coworking owners are faced with many hard choices that affect not just their spaces and membership revenue, but also the communities that have relied on the close networks and services they provide. Work Heights, a Brooklyn-based coworking business with 3 locations, is a prime example. After making the tough decision to close the locations to help #flattenthecurve, founder Sam Strauss-Malcolm has offered to share his experience in navigating the pandemic and his outlook on the coming months of uncertainty.

Did you take any preventative measures (increased cleaning schedule, memos to coworkers, etc...) before closing your locations? What were they?

From the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19 in China I was monitoring the spread. When it started arriving in Europe, it really hit home that this was going to affect our community. I created sanitation stations with hand sanitizer, facial tissue, and a bleach cleaning solution along with paper towels. I encouraged all members to keep their hands super clean, use the tissues if they sneezed or coughed, and clean where they were working with the bleach cleaner and paper towels. I asked that anyone feeling sick stay home in an effort to keep our spaces safer. I also asked our cleaner to take extra time when cleaning and make sure to give doorknobs and high touch points extra attention.

How are you maintaining contact with coworking members? (i.e. virtual live chats or message boards, health challenges...) 

I've been keeping up with our weekly newsletter to members along with our great neighborhood community. My favorite thing though, is I created Digital Coffee Breaks. As my members along with most of the country/world is or will be working from home I wanted to keep that daily connection open. Through www.workheights.com/digitalcoffee members as well as anyone anywhere are welcome to book a video coffee break with me. I like to take that time to check in and make sure no one is feeling isolated.

How will you handle the risks that coworking spaces are exposed to because of the pandemic and possible economic downturn? Any contingency plans to share with other owners? (i.e renegotiating leases, temporary discounts, etc...)

We're in uncharted territory when it comes to our revenue streams. I shutdown all my locations this week and am in negotiations with my landlords. Because this is a national emergency I think we all have a moral obligation to share the financial burden. That said, I'm not a lawyer, so the negotiations so far have been more personal as opposed to legal. I think the smart landlords will do what they can to keep any tenant, with a sustainable business, post this COVID-19 shutdown. The New York commercial leasing market was already in a slump and I think this crisis may tip the leverage back to resilient business tenants.

As far as my business model, I'm taking this shutdown as an opportunity to get even leaner with my operations model. This may change my pricing, benefits, and add-ons to members, however I'm confident I have quite a few levers to keep the business growing as it was before this horrible disaster. 

We will be implementing a very strict new cleaning and disinfecting protocol as well as likely more hand sanitation stations when we reopen.

Are you considering offering virtual memberships to pick up the slack in slowed business?

Virtual membership is not something we're offering, but we have partnered with Caveday.org to offer our members a free trial period. Working from home is hard for many people and Cave Day is doing a great job helping with that.

As I mentioned, we are shut down right now. I think it's very important we do our part to help flatten the curve. It was a very stressful decision to shutdown as it means my revenue has gone to zero. However, the last thing we as community based businesses need on our conscience is the thought of our members getting sick or our spaces potentially spreading this disease. I think it's better to weather a shutdown, deep clean, and reopen with a stronger fresh presence once it's safe.

I am very worried about what this virus will do to the greater New York area and the country. I'm working on some ways to activate Work Heights spaces during this crisis to help our local communities. I think there is also an opportunity for my business and it's members to take leadership in helping our less prepared neighbors, so I'm looking at ways to galvanize my community in that effort.

Click here for more information and advice on how you can adjust operations in your space as the COVID-19 situation develops. We'll be updating this doc every day as new information becomes available. CoworkingResources is working hard to compile as much information as possible to help owners and operators keep their communities engaged, informed, and most of all, safe.

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