It’s no secret that coworking is a huge part of how #dctech builds community here. But as with most aspects of daily life, the pandemic has upended that.
As of this week, the District reported a ninth day with a sustained decrease in community spread of COVID-19. This is one of the four metrics the D.C. government is tracking to determine the right date to begin a phased reopening of the District. D.C.’s social distancing order was recently extended to June 8 after it was originally set to end on May 15.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen some coworking spaces close indefinitely while others are still allowing members to work in their spaces. Whichever the case may be, this fact remains: How we work together and congregate will be different for a while.
Now, we don’t know how every coworking space in the area plans to reopen safely, but Technical.ly did get insight from five local coworking spaces on how they plan to allow members back into their spaces at full capacity, with an emphasis on keeping community alive.
(And psst — if you haven’t come across it yet, check out our comprehensive 2020 guide to D.C. coworking spaces, which is loaded with information on more than 25 shared workspace companies in the District.)
Located on L Street in NW D.C., Alley DC Powered by Verizon has suspended its on-site operations indefinitely, though the company is still maintaining limited services and providing availability to the spaces only if needed for its member businesses. During this uncertain time, Alley is offering its non-corporate members the option to freeze their memberships, while still paying a small fee.
It has also launched digital events for its members and created virtual spaces to connect and share information and resources. Alley’s online offerings include panels and group discussions.
“What makes Alley unique from most spaces is that our programming is a large part of what we do and we have been able to do that virtually,” Alley Marketing Director Samantha Intagliata told Technical.ly. “We have been able to still offer our services online whether that be support, resources, programming, mentorship, or a network of opportunities.”
As it makes plans to reopen, Alley is providing additional cleaning services, supplying masks and gloves, and making sure return-to-work policies and procedures are in place, Intagliata said. The company has been researching what is being done in countries that are currently lifting restrictions, as well as looking at others in the space.
“Our priority has never been to be the first to reopen, or the first to return to ‘normal’,” she said. “Our priority is to be the smartest, the most intentional, and the most responsible to protect our team and our community. We won’t reopen until we feel fully equipped to reopen responsibly.”
With five D.C. locations, MakeOffices has remained open to members in all regions during the pandemic to allow essential workers and those who support essential businesses to continue operating. Maggie Johnson, MakeOffices director of operations, shared that the company has been working closely with members to provide custom rent relief options, membership freezes and other necessary solutions unique to each situation.
While it has moved to a mostly remote model for its employees, MakeOffices staffers are still onsite at locations two to three days a week to accomplish essential tasks such as mail delivery, assist with member moves and ensure the spaces are maintained properly.
“While we are preparing for the stay-at-home order to lift and for onsite work to return, we do not foresee social distancing orders to change in the near future,” Johnson said. “With that in mind, we are preparing our spaces to reflect the new six-foot physical distancing norm.”
As it works to follow CDC guidelines for minimizing spread of the virus, Johnson said MakeOffices is focused on making sure its spaces have more efficient airflow by modifying HVAC systems and also decreasing touch-points as much as possible while increasing sanitizing stations.
“We are fortunate to have designed our spaces to provide more square footage per person than most of the other flexible office providers,” Johnson said, “so while we are reducing density in our conference room and common areas, as well as instituting a one-way flow of traffic around the space, we do not anticipate this limiting our members ability to conduct business within our spaces.”
To promote a sense of community during a hard time, MakeOffices launched a virtual offering in March called Make|Anywhere, which is a platform designed to engage MakeOffices members across all regions. The company has also been hosting virtual workshops and events to inform members on topics like the federal CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program.
WeWork has 13 D.C. locations and the international chain of coworking spaces has been vocal about keeping its offices open for its tenants.
“WeWork is a service provider and we have an obligation to keep our buildings open,” WeWork Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure said in a public note to the community. “In the same way we expect certain businesses to remain open for us — whether it be a fulfillment center to send us a package, a bank so we can handle finances, grocery stores and pharmacies to supply us our valued goods — we too have members counting on us to remain open so they can run their companies to generate revenue, pay their people, and continue serving their customers.”
WeWork’s New York-based manager of corporate communications, Adrian Zamora, told Technical.ly that the chain of coworking spaces has been gathering feedback from members all over and plans to share updates to its processes over the coming weeks.
“Over the past few weeks, our teams have been reviewing member feedback and working with industry partners across health and safety, cleaning, construction, and design to install everyday enhancements across our workspaces,” Zamora said in an email. “Together, we have developed a plan for the Future of the Workplace which focuses on three key areas: professional distancing, cleanliness and behavioral signage.”
WeWork plans to revamp its product offerings in order to meet new member expectations around social distancing and cleanliness, while still maintaining its value proposition in providing community and connection, he said.
Here’s a video of how WeWork plans to enhance its spaces post-pandemic which includes more frequent deep cleanings, increasing clean air into the offices and creating buffer zones for personal space:
The international coworking giant has been criticized recently for expecting members who can’t or won’t come to the physical spaces to continue to pay their membership fees during stay-at-home orders — while, in some cases, not paying rent to its own landlords.
After closing down parts of its campus in phases, the Inclusive Innovation Incubator (In3) decided to close completely early last month, per an email update. Employees are no longer reporting to the office and the incubator has moved all of its programming online.
In3 founder and CEO Aaron Saunders told Technical.ly that he is “still working through next steps and awaiting what will happen” once the order for the closure of nonessential businesses is lifted to open the space back up. He declined to comment on membership freezes.
“I think that the game has changed drastically, events and gatherings will be limited and … the previous business model that was focused on building a community of diverse entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives [will be negatively impacted],” Saunders said about coming up with a plan to reopen eventually. “We have started moving community-building efforts online.”
To do so, the incubator has been developing a social gaming platform, an online membership offering, an education platform called In3Grow and other offerings.
“My biggest concern is that our target audience, under-resourced entrepreneurs, have struggled in the past and I believe things will be worse. Small businesses have been devastated; access to resources and capital were a struggle in the past and will be even worse now,” Saunders said. “Access to funding for programming at In3DC was also previously a challenge and will be even worse now when I believe it is needed more than before.”
Prominent incubator and coworking space 1776 has kept its Lafayette Square location open to members only throughout the pandemic. Outside of its District location, 1776 has another space in Bethesda, Maryland, one in New Jersey and four others in Philly. The incubator is also working on opening an Indianapolis location at the end of this year.
In an email to members on May 14, Director of Strategy Melissa Rucci shared that some team members gathered at its Rittenhouse location in Philly to map out how it’s going to restructure the space for a safe return for members.
“I realized we weren’t just brainstorming and prepping for getting back to business as usual because business will be anything but usual or normal on the other side of all of this,” Rucci said in the email.
During this time, the incubator has been hosting events virtually and maintaining its Slack channels. The incubator declined to comment further on whether it’s offering membership freezes and how it plans to reopen safely for its tenants.-30-
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