By Arielle Patterson
Photos courtesy of Gather
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the traditional work landscape as we know it. Now that working from home has become the new normal, many telecommuters are seeking new spaces to create their makeshift offices. Area coworking spaces have adapted to create safe, socially distanced office spaces.
Before the pandemic, the Coastal Virginia region saw a boom in coworking spaces. These shared communities were the fastest-growing types of office space in commercial real estate, according to real estate company JLL.
“Before COVID, we had hundreds of people in each membership and it was a very active community. In the initial months, it really dropped off,” says James Crenshaw, a managing partner of Gather. Gather is a coworking community with locations in Newport News, Norfolk and several in Richmond. “Everybody was processing how to be safe and learning how the virus spreads.”
Gather’s locations, along with Percolator in downtown Norfolk, IncuHub in Portsmouth, Work/Place @ Oyster Point in Newport News and 1701 in Virginia Beach’s ViBe Creative District, remained open during the early months of the coronavirus outbreak. These coworking spaces provide not only a space for work, but also technology, services and resources that local businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofits need for success.
According to Crenshaw, many of Gather’s businesses were considered essential, while coworking spaces themselves were not.
“We needed to keep our doors open so our essential businesses could use the space,” Crenshaw explains. “We opened up a dialogue with our members and made sure they felt like they were being heard and felt safe if they decided to come to the workplace.”
While the idea of utilizing a coworking space during a pandemic seems contradictory, these membership-based office spaces can offer more distancing than an average office would.
On Friday, Aug. 28, Gather had a ribbon cutting for the new location in Virginia Beach’s Town Center. The 28,000-square-foot coworking space features 145 private offices, along with suites and larger offices that allow for physical distancing between individuals.
“One benefit of the way our buildings are designed, and it wasn’t done intentionally for virus protection, our locations are mainly made up of small, individual rooms spread throughout a big building,” says Crenshaw.
Coworking spaces across Coastal Virginia are looking to bounce back by addressing members’ health concerns through enhanced spacing and sanitation protocols. These businesses have listed their safety measures on their websites for current and interested potential members to read.
These measures follow the CDCs guidelines and include hand sanitization stations, increased cleaning, decreased capacity in shared conference rooms and collaborative spaces and encouraging members to wear masks when they aren’t in a private office.
With local coworking spaces putting precautions like this in place, it is the hope that new teleworkers will feel more comfortable leaving their home offices for the type of work environment that offers amenities that any business professional can utilize.
Crenshaw expects to see a different type of member joining Gather’s community as the business landscape continues to evolve during COVID, coupled with students and spouses working from home as well.
“Maybe they don’t have the environment to facilitate their usual level of productivity. We think we’re well positioned to help those people and provide a space where they can have all the tools and space to be productive,” Crenshaw notes.