How Co-Working Spaces Are Coping With the Coronavirus Outbreak As the number of positive cases continue to go up, co-working space operators and aggregators share their thoughts about the impact so far, what they are doing for safety and a possible outlook for the near future.

By Debroop Roy

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has surpassed 150 in India. From the government issuing advisories to private companies moving several of their employees to a work-from-home regime, the effect of the pandemic has been seen across the country.

With more and more businesses becoming aware of the potential dangers, co-working spaces ⁠— a concept that has seen tremendous acceptance over the last few years ⁠— are also gauging the potential impact as footfalls have started to decrease.

"The occupancy level of co-working spaces has certainly dropped in the last 30 days," said Sandeep Singh, founder of FlexiSpaces, an on-demand marketplace for meeting rooms and shared office spaces. Singh said that while they had not observed any reduction in existing occupancy, new signups had slowed. The company has observed around a 40 per cent drop in the case of new enquiries.

Vinayak Agarwal, co-founder at Delhi-based co-working space provider myHQ, said concerns around the disease have led to slightly reduced footfalls at all of their workspaces but he believes the blip is temporary. He added that the company does not foresee any impact on revenue as clients have already committed for a full month.

"In case the situation grows more alarming and there is a mandatory lockdown, we might see a slight impact on short term revenues," said Agarwal. As of now, no client of myHQ has reached out to opt-out of any working space.

A few others said they had seen little to no change so far.

"We are seeing business as usual in our workspaces," said Manas Mehrotra, chairman at Bengaluru-based 315Work Avenue, adding that necessary precautions were being taken.

Another on-demand workspace platform GoFloaters, which has presence in the four Southern cities of Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Coimbatore, has also had a similar experience so far.

"We cater to a whole lot of audience who need to continue to work because it is business as usual for many even if it is remote. In terms of space consumption, most of our partners are open for work, however, we are ensuring they follow the guidelines for the issues," said GoFloaters co-founder Srivatsan Padmanabhan.

Precautions To Protect

Among other things, several major co-working space operators such as WeWork and 91springboard have suspended all events in common areas to avoid large gatherings.

"We have assessed the situation and enhanced our preventive measures to handle the outbreak," said Siddharth Yadav, chief human resources officer at 91springboard. The company has closed the cafeterias and asked members to bring food from home, a decision that Yadav said would be revisited after March 31.

A WeWork spokesperson said the company has a mandatory 14-day "work from home' policy for any employee who has recently returned from high-risk regions or those who exhibit flu-like symptoms and that documentation from a medical provider was required to return to work.

"Members have been made aware of these policies and are encouraged to adhere to the same guidelines for the health and safety of the people in our workspaces," the spokesperson said.

91springboard has issued an advisory that includes sanitizing all work surfaces three times a day, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer being places at multiple touch points such as security desk, toilets and conference rooms, security guards and other staff being provided with gloves and masks that would be discarded daily and non-contact thermometer scan at security. Anyone with body temperature above 99 degree fahrenheit is not permitted inside.

WeWork too has started screening people for their temperature at all its buildings. 91springboard has disabled biometrics at all hubs till further notice.

315Work Avenue's Mehrotra said the company is "disinfecting and sanitising office spaces, placing hand sanitisers, conducting live sessions with doctors, implementing pest control, putting up posters, building awareness through email, distributing masks amongst employees."

All these space providers also said they had stocked up on supplies such as sanitizers, soaps and masks.

Agarwal of myHQ said the company is in talks with a health insurance provider to provide partners with a cover of up to INR 5 lakhs at a discounted premium.

Potential Impact

When asked about potential impact, Sandeep Singh of FlexiSpaces said it is not affecting rentals but the risk to existing revenue was increasing. He said it was hard to predict how much it would affect the co-working landscape as it would depend on the number of positive cases.

"If the situation remains the same or even gets worse, co-working may be one of the most affected industries due to this. The drop may go upto 70 per cent," said Singh.

Agarwal, however, sees a silver lining amid the grey clouds.

"What we do expect is that the current situation might force large enterprises to relook at their workplace policies, as they come to terms with having distributed teams working from remote locations. In many ways, this might mean an uptick in demand for coworking or on-demand workspaces in the long run," he said.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.

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