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Purpose Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the German coworking industry has grown rapidly as one of the fastest-growing coworking markets globally. The pandemic, however, has brought the industry to an abrupt halt. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to explore the impact the pandemic has had so far on German coworking spaces. Design/methodology/approach Using an online questionnaire, quantitative data from 38 coworking space owners, operators and employees of a total of 77 spaces in Germany has been collected regarding their situation before, during and after the peak of the first wave of the pandemic from Spring until Summer 2020. The data has been analyzed using descriptive statistics. Findings The reported income losses significantly outweigh a decrease in costs of the spaces. Nevertheless, the member base seems rather unaffected, and coworking spaces are exploring adaptations to their businesses with a strong shift to the digital environment. Fear of re-imposed governmental restrictions is evident, as well as justified with a looming second infection wave. Research limitations/implications Due to the sample size, the data may lack generalizability. Therefore, recommendations for future research are provided. Originality/value Data on the impact of the pandemic on coworking spaces is scarce. This paper provides a first necessary overview for the industry as well as the academic field to allow for action to be taken.
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The Impact of Covid-19 on Coworking Spaces:
Evidence from Germany
Manuel Mayerhoffer
Department of Entrepreneurship, Faculty of Business Administration, Prague University of
Economics and Business, Prague, Czech Republic
Suggested citation
Mayerhoffer, M. (2021), "The impact of Covid-19 on coworking spaces: evidence from
Germany", Journal of Corporate Real Estate, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 170-185.
https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRE-10-2020-0044
Structured Abstract
Purpose Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the German coworking industry has grown rapidly as one
of the fasted-growing coworking markets globally. The pandemic, however, has brought the industry to
an abrupt halt. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to explore the impact the pandemic has had so far
on German coworking spaces.
Design/methodology/approach Using an online questionnaire, quantitative data from 38 coworking
space owners, operators and employees of a total of 77 spaces in Germany has been collected regarding
their situation before, during and after the peak of the first wave of the pandemic from spring until
summer 2020. The data has been analysed using descriptive statistics.
Findings The reported income losses significantly outweigh a decrease in costs of the spaces.
Nevertheless, the member base seems rather unaffected, and coworking spaces are exploring adaptations
to their businesses with a strong shift to the digital environment. Fear of re-imposed governmental
restrictions is evident, as well as justified with a looming second infection wave.
Research limitations/implications Due to the sample size, the data may lack generalisability.
Therefore, recommendations for future research are provided.
Originality Data on the impact of the pandemic on coworking spaces is scarce. This paper provides a
first necessary overview for the industry as well as the academic field to allow for action to be taken.
Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Carsten Foertsch for leading the questionnaire development, as well as Johanna
Voll and Dina Sierralta for their efforts in promoting the survey. I am also grateful to the journal
editorial team, the guest editor, Dr. Marko Orel, and the two anonymous reviewers for their time to
review this paper and provide constructive feedback.
This work was supported by the Internal Grant Agency of the Faculty of Business Administration,
Prague University of Economics and Business, under no. IGS F3/33/2020.
Introduction
Coworking is a contemporary workplace phenomenon where independent professionals work alone
together (Spinuzzi, 2012) in a shared office space on a paid membership basis. By doing so, these mostly
unaffiliated, location-independent knowledge workers (Spinuzzi et al., 2019) can benefit from the
physical and social proximity (Parrino, 2015) in many different forms, including knowledge exchange,
a co-construction of a sense of community (Garrett et al., 2017) as well as coopetition (Bouncken et al.,
2018) as a form of positive competition among members. As such, coworking spaces allow remote
workers to work outside their home in a more stimulating environment (Weijs-Perrée, van de Koevering,
et al., 2019).
Early forms of collaborative spaces had already existed in the 19th century, however, the contemporary
understanding of coworking is generally considered to have emerged in 2005 (Orel and Dvouletý, 2020;
Spinuzzi, 2012) with Brad Neuberg’s The Spiral Muse in San Francisco. Once the concept of coworking
had gained traction, the industry has flourished and grown at significant rates (Foertsch, 2019), driven
by the digitisation of work processes (Orel and Dvouletý, 2020) and remote work opportunities
(Spinuzzi, 2012) which have also enabled the rise of digital nomadism (O’Brien, 2011). As a result, the
coworking model has further drawn attention by corporate users (Spreitzer et al., 2015) and academics
(Waters-Lynch et al., 2016).
However, with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (hereafter Covid-19) in Wuhan,
China, in December 2019, the global economy has come to an abrupt halt. To contain the spread of the
virus, governments have been forced to impose restrictions and lockdown measures, which have
severely affected the coworking industry as well. Only in March 2020, a decrease of almost 50 percent
in footfalls had been recorded (The Business Research Company, 2020), estimating the market to shrink
by approximately 13 percent. Other studies, such as the Global Coworking Growth Study 2020
(coworkingresources.org, 2020), paint a more positive picture, expecting the industry to still grow in
2020, but at lower growth rates. They expect the growth to rebound by 2021 with a yearly growth rate
of 21.3 percent to more than 23,000 coworking spaces globally, and almost 2.5m users. Detailed data
recording the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, is scarce.
Germany is considered the fifth largest coworking market (coworkingresources.org, 2020), accounting
for 3.85 percent of the global number of coworking spaces. The country has suffered from more than
300,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (Robert Koch-Institut, 2021) at the time of writing this in October
2020. A much stronger outbreak had been successfully contained with the introduction of governmental
restrictions, such as banning or strictly limiting social gatherings, maintaining social distancing norms,
and local lockdowns. This, however, has also meant economic losses, with the country’s GDP falling
by 9.7 percent in the second quarter on the first quarter of 2020 (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2020), which
the federal statistical office reports as “the sharpest decline since quarterly GDP calculations for
Germany started in 1970.
The coworking model heavily relies on the physical proximity of members in order to provide them with
the benefits outlined above. However, with the peak of the pandemic in Germany in April, the imposed
restrictions have forced the industry’s spaces to either rapidly adjust their business model, or to close
the doors for their members, also depending on the gravity of the local circumstances. This is
unprecedented for coworking spaces, and will have a tremendous economic impact on the industry. That
being said, the current situation is also likely to initiate significant transformations for the concept of
coworking, as well as to impact developments of the future of flexible work arrangements. Moreover,
whilst remote working processes are commonly in place within companies, such arrangements have
only recently started to emerge for coworking spaces, emphasizing the need to study these collaborative
environments and how they have developed during the pandemic.
However, it remains unclear how heavily the German coworking spaces have been affected
economically, as well as what they have done to cope with this new situation. The aim of this paper is,
therefore, to explore the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on German coworking spaces, intending to
answer the following research questions: (i) How has the pandemic affected German coworking spaces
economically? (ii) What strategies were employed by the coworking spaces to mitigate the impact? (iii)
What are the expectations for future developments?
The benefit of such information would be threefold. First, investigating the extent of the impact on
German spaces would allow for more targeted lobbying to support the local coworking spaces
throughout this pandemic. Second, identifying major trouble spots within the spaces may allow both
practitioners as well as academics to develop suitable recommendations which may aid the industry to
ensure business survival. Third, building an understanding of how the pandemic has affected coworking
spaces, and how they have responded to it, can provide scholars with valuable insight into future
development patterns of the coworking model and its underlying dynamics, and thus reveal crucial areas
for further research. Such studies would, in turn, benefit coworking space owners and employees trying
to explore new adaptations to their operations and practices to successfully steer their spaces and
communities through these critical times.
The paper will firstly provide an overview of relevant aspects of the concept of coworking, before
outlining the rise of coworking globally and detailing the German market leading up to the pandemic.
Subsequently, methodological aspects of the study underlying this paper will be outlined, and results
presented. These will be discussed to draw conclusions and provide an outlook for future developments.
Background
The Concept and Rise of Coworking
The rise of coworking was fueled largely by the advancement of technology enabling digitisation and
the growth of remote work. Especially knowledge workers, being able to fully work remotely, had then
experienced the opportunity of working location-independent (Kitching and Smallbone, 2012; Spinuzzi,
2012), paving the way for digital nomadism (Müller, 2016). Yet, despite the advantages of “work-from-
anywhere” programmes (Choudhury et al., 2020) also for corporate employees, remote work can also
result in feelings of social isolation and loneliness due to the individualization of work processes (Taskin
and Devos, 2005) and the resulting negative effects on the individual’s personal life (Hill et al., 2003).
With coworking spaces functioning as hybrid workspaces (Marchegiani and Arcese, 2018), they allow
users to work alongside and interact with like-minded others, enhancing feelings of belonging and
connectedness. Furthermore, active mediation of community managers (Brown, 2017) strengthens the
development of a common culture of shared values, thus aiding the co-construction of a sense of
community (Garrett et al., 2017). In that regard, Spinuzzi et al. (2019) further differentiate between
different forms of community, each resulting in different frameworks for the activities and
interdependencies in the individual spaces. In other words, the community being built is moulded by
and to the respective community. Blagoev, Costas and Kärreman (2019) also show how coworking
spaces have developed dimensions of organizationality beyond simple co-presence and a sense of
community, into patterns of work activities for members building a foundation for collaborative work.
These aspects, however, build on the physical space, and the members being together. With
governmental restrictions and social distancing measures in place, coworking spaces need to identify
and employ new strategies to successfully adjust their practices to these new and pressing circumstances.
Since its emergence in 2005, the coworking concept has undergone several development phases.
Gandini and Cossu (2019) discuss how the initial phase was marked primarily by the focus on the
community (Garrett et al., 2017; Rus and Orel, 2015) and the related social interaction among members
(Leclercq-Vandelannoitte and Isaac, 2016). With the growth of coworking and the emergence of
coworking spaces on a global scale, the economic value had been increasingly put into focus (Gandini
and Cossu, 2019), also enabling the influx of large, corporate players (Clifton et al., 2019). Most
recently, the coworking model has entered a “resilient phase” (Gandini and Cossu, 2019), once again
focusing more on the social aspects of coworking in addition to the economic value. However, this focus
on the community also extends to social relations with other actors, and actively embraces changing
dynamics in the environment with the attempt to achieve social impact and economic sustainability
together. The coworking model has now undergone rapid changes, and continues to display fast
transformations as the industry is grappling with pandemic-induced challenges.
The German Coworking Market pre-Covid-19
The Global Coworking Growth Study 2020 (coworkingresources.org, 2020) identifies Germany together
with India as the fastest-growing market for coworking. Similarly, the industry report published by BNP
Paribas Real Estate (2019) shows how coworking has been established in the Big Six Berlin, Cologne,
Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg and Dusseldorf with a take-up of more than 250,000 m² in 2018, as more
than a tenfold increase of the average take-up in Germany between 2009 and 2016. The growth is led
especially by Berlin as the “coworking capital” (Zahrnt and Barthauer, 2018) providing some 25,000
workspaces to local users in 2018. Zahrnt and Barthauer (2018) also show developments which can be
observed in other large cities functioning as coworking hubs. These have witnessed an increasing influx
of the major international coworking operators tapping into the local market (Mayerhoffer, 2020) by
making use of the increased demand also by corporate users.
Furthermore, Zahrnt and Barthauer (2018) highlight the change in perception of flexible office space
which is being understood more and more as a real estate investment opportunity in Germany. Such
developments have been on the rise globally up until the pandemic, predicting further popularisation of
the coworking model in becoming an important aspect of the commercial real estate industry as well
(Arora, 2017). This is further aided by the hybridization of coworking spaces (Yang et al., 2019) with
the emergence of a range of new coworking configurations, allowing coworking spaces and investors to
tap into additional, more specialized markets as well.
Method
Data was collected using an online questionnaire starting at the end of June until mid-August 2020.
Using convenience sampling (e.g., Bryman and Bell, 2011), the questionnaire was initially distributed
via email to members of the German Coworking Federation (GCF). Whilst convenience sampling can
limit the generalizability of findings, the approach was most useful to leverage the network of the GCF
which largely consists of current owners, operators, or employees of coworking spaces. In addition to
this, the survey was shared on social media platforms to also include non-members, but specifically
targeting coworking-related users nevertheless. Given the focus on the German market, the survey was
administered in German.
The questionnaire was developed in collaboration with Deskmag and the German Coworking
Federation. Initial drafts of the questions were discussed in multiple sessions with a range of GCF
members, and the questionnaire was piloted. Upon completion of the data collection process, the author
received the raw data, and the analysis has been conducted independently.
Questionnaire constructs
The questionnaire consisted of various parts. A question regarding the respondents’ affiliation to
coworking (current, former, future) functioned as a filter to target respondents with more specific
questions. Responses from those formerly owning or being employed in a coworking space, as well as
responses from future owners, were excluded for this analysis due to the limited sample not allowing
for meaningful analysis. Respondents currently owning, operating or working in coworking spaces were
asked to provide basic data of their space (size, space distribution, founding year etc.). Demographic
data (age, gender, type of employment, GCF membership) were recorded from all respondents.
In order to capture the economic impact of the pandemic on the coworking spaces (first research
question), respondents were asked to evaluate their business situation in general by indicating their
perceptions for the months of January (i.e., pre-pandemic), April (i.e., during strictest lockdown), and
June (i.e., with relieved governmental restrictions) using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “very bad”
to “very good”. Moreover, the questionnaire probed the impact of the imposed restrictions regarding
hygienic standards, social distancing, and restrictions of social gatherings, using a 5-point Likert scale
ranging from “very negative” to “very positive”. The shifts in demand for the various configurations
such as hot-desking, fixed desks, or offices, were captured using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from
“significantly more” to “significantly less”. In addition to absolute figures, respondents were asked to
indicate their income and cost structures in January, thus, pre-pandemic, and report on which of the
elements had plunged drastically during the lockdown period in April.
For the second research question on strategies employed by the coworking spaces, the reactions of the
coworking spaces’ members were probed by providing different aspects (e.g., “asked for discounts”,
“offered help”), and respondents were asked to indicate the frequency of occurrence (often, rarely,
never). To capture the specific adaptations used by coworking spaces to mitigate the impact of the
pandemic, respondents were asked to indicate on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “significantly
more” to “significantly less”, which of the provided elements (e.g., offering online services, providing
discounts) they had utilized.
Lastly, the questionnaire asked respondents about their view on future developments (third research
question) in regard to their expectations for the number of German coworking spaces with different
scenarios (eased restrictions, restrictions remain, tightened restrictions) using a 5-point Likert scale
ranging from “strong increase” to “strong decrease”.
Sample
Table 1 provides an overview of the sample characteristics. The questionnaire recorded a total of 72
useful responses. Of these, 40 respondents were coworking space owners, operators, or employees; the
remainder were either respondents planning on founding a coworking space, or former
owners/operators/employees, as well as neither of these. 38 of the respondents currently owning,
operating or working in a coworking space were located in Germany, and this is the final sample used
for this paper. 27 of those were owners, seven were operators, two were employees, and two did not
indicate their position. The respondents were related to a mean of 2.1 spaces, ranging from one to nine,
and an overall total of 77 spaces.
Respondents with multiple spaces were asked to fill in the questionnaire for the one location they spend
most of their time in, or which they felt most familiar with. Of all the spaces, only six remained fully
open during April, 21 were open but with limited service, four closed with exceptions, and the remainder
either closed fully (5) or did not indicate their operations in April (2).
The surveyed spaces varied in size, with an average of 475 m², ranging from 55 m² to 2,300 m². In terms
of the target audience, over half specifically focused on individuals (52%). About a third of respondents
(32%) targeted individuals and smaller teams primarily. The average age of respondents was 44 years,
and of the 28 who disclosed gender, 12 (43%) were female.
Table 1: Sample Characteristics
Variables
n
%
Total Sample
38
-
Relation to coworking
space
Owner
27
71.1%
Operator
7
18.4%
Employee
2
5.3%
Did not specify
2
5.3%
Number of coworking
space locations
One
22
57.9%
Two
5
13.2%
Three
5
13.2%
Four and more
5
13.2%
Did not specify
1
2.6%
Opening year of the
location
In 2019 or after
9
23.7%
2018
8
21.1%
2017-2015
7
18.4%
2014-2012
5
13.2%
2011 or earlier
7
18.4%
Did not specify
2
5.3%
Population of the
coworking space’s city
More than 1m
7
18.4%
Less than 1m
3
7.9%
Less than 500,000
9
23.7%
Less than 100,000
9
23.7%
Did not specify
10
26.3%
German Coworking
Federation Membership
Yes
21
55.3%
No
5
13.2%
Did not specify
12
31.6%
Gender
Female
12
31.6%
Male
16
42.1%
Did not specify
10
26.3%
Age
43.7
(12.1)
-
Results
The following section will present the main findings from the responses collected from owners and
operators of coworking spaces in Germany.
Economic impact
Figure 1 outlines the development of the overall business situation in January, April and June. In
January, and thus before the Covid-19 pandemic had gained a foothold in Germany, the majority of
spaces perceived their business situation positively. Especially in April, however, which for more than
90 percent of respondents had been the month with the strictest Covid-19-related rules taken, a
significant proportion of coworking spaces evaluated their business situation as very bad (23%) or rather
bad (43%). This appears to have recovered by June, with the largest proportion of respondents (46%)
perceiving their business situation as satisfactory. Yet, a slightly negative tendency with 29 percent
indications of “rather bad” and 9 percent as “very bad” remained.
Figure 1: Evaluation of Business Situation
The respondents indicated to be least affected by the increased hygienic standards meaning more
frequent cleaning and disinfection, with 69 percent reporting no impact on their coworking space(s), 21
percent a slightly negative impact, and 10 percent reporting a rather positive impact. Minimum distances
of 1.5m between individuals were perceived to have a more negative impact, with almost three out of
five (61%) reporting a rather negative or strongly negative impact. Restrictions for social gatherings,
however, have most affected the coworking spaces, with 55 percent indicating this to be strongly
negative, and 38 percent indicating this to have been slightly negative.
After the strictest measures had been relieved, the demand situation appears to have shifted away from
space for larger groups (meeting rooms, event space) to smaller, more flexible configurations. As figure
2 displays, the demand for hot-desking has increased in just over half of cases. Significant decreases are
apparent in meeting rooms (31%) and event space (41%). Nevertheless, especially meeting rooms also
experienced demand increases in 38 percent of cases.
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
16
18
January April June
Number of responses
Very bad Rather Bad Satisfactory Rather Good Very Good
Figure 2: Demand with Eased Restrictions
Table 2 outlines the average income structures in January, along with indications of where incomes have
declined most severely. Desk rentals were generating a third of incomes in January, and plunges beyond
50 percent in April had been reported by 33 percent of respondents, as well as plunges of more than 25
percent in yet again a third of cases. Most severely affected were meeting rooms rentals, with plunges
beyond 50 percent in four out of five cases. Similarly, event space rentals plummeted beyond 50 percent
with 86 percent, and the sale of foods and drinks fell strongest in the vast majority (88%) of the surveyed
spaces. Some respondents reported increases in income in the areas of online memberships, services,
and virtual office services among others. Comparing June income with that from January, about two
thirds (69%) of respondents indicate lower or significantly lower levels, with only 12 percent exceeding
January incomes in June.
Table 2: Income Distribution and Development
Overall, incomes in January were 19,520€ on average per space, with 73 percent of respondents
indicating this to be an average month, and the remaining 27 percent describing this as an income level
above the usual. Incomes in April dropped then to an average of 9,075€. The average drop in income
for each space was 36 percent.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, rent or leasing accounted for 46 percent of the incurred costs, followed
by personnel (23%) and other running costs (13%). During the pandemic, rent or leasing has seen a
drastic plunge only in a fraction of cases (17%). The highest cost decreases were reported for personnel
cost (61%), the owner’s salary (67%), as well as “others (e.g. food and drinks)” (64%). No drastic
plunges were reported by about a fifth of respondents (27%).
The average costs were at 16,386€ in January, with 96% of respondents describing this as an average
month. Average costs then dropped in April to 12,207€, with an average cost decrease per space of 18
percent. Costs were generally reported to have decreased, however, there were a few exceptions in the
open-ended sections, indicating that costs had increased for additional cleaning, investments, and
marketing.
Average
share of
revenue in
January
Percentage of
respondents
reporting a
plunge of more
than 50%
Percentage of
respondents
reporting a
plunge between
25%-50%
Desk Rental
33%
33%
33%
Private Office Rental
19%
0%
25%
Meeting Room Rental
17%
80%
0%
Event Space Rental
9%
86%
0%
Others
6%
-
-
Memberships (combining
multiple services)
6%
25%
33%
Public Funding
4%
50%
0%
Virtual Office Services
3%
9%
14%
Sale of Foods and Drinks
2%
88%
0%
Online Services
0%
0%
0%
Ticket Sales for Internal Events
0%
0%
0%
In none
12%
60%
Table 3: Cost Structure and Development
Overall, two-thirds of the responding coworking spaces claim that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused
them a loss. 8 percent claim it generated additional profits, while the remainder assumes no changes.
The median reported loss amounted to 10,000€.
Transformations and strategies
Figure 3 provides an overview of the reactions of the members of the respective coworking spaces. For
this, the respondents were asked to report on their perception of the most common behaviours of their
community members in response to the Covid-19-induced transformations. About a third of members
(34%) showed no reaction, while only some (24%) continued coming to the space regularly. Given that
21 out of the 38 surveyed coworking space operators/owners had to limit their opening hours, however,
this comes as no surprise, and also explains the 22 respondents indicating that their users only came to
the space rarely. Discounts or payment breaks were requested only seldomly or never in the vast majority
of cases.
Average share
of total cost in
January
Percentage of
respondents
reporting a
drastic plunge
Rent or leasing
46%
17%
Personnel costs
23%
61%
Running costs (internet, cleaning,
…)
13%
13%
Interest and debt payments
4%
33%
Technical and office equipment
3%
33%
Salary for owner
3%
67%
Others (e.g. food and drinks)
3%
64%
Maintenance
2%
36%
External marketing
2%
36%
In none
27%
Figure 3: Reaction of Members
As can be seen in figure 4, there appears to have been a strong shift of coworking spaces towards offering
online services, with these being expanded in almost two-third (65%) of cases. The business was further
adapted using temporary discounts (38%), positioning coworking more as a business model (38%), as
well as offering more private offices (34%). Some increases are further reported in investments (34%)
and marketing expenses (34%), however, with some spaces opting for a reduction of these instead. Both
the working time and the number of employees remained the same in some 60 percent of cases. Nine
respondents did not give any indication.
Figure 4: Business Adaptations
Future expectations
When asked about their estimates of the number of coworking spaces within the next 12 months
regarding social distancing measures as well as restrictions of social gatherings (figure 5), the majority
of respondents (76%) expect a slight increase if restrictions are to be eased. Should they remain the
same, respondents show a slightly negative tendency and rather expect a decrease. For the imposition
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
Asked for discounts
Asked for payment break
Offered help
Quit contracts
Continued coming
No reaction
Often Rarely Never No Indication
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
Number of employees
Working time per employee
General Pricing
Number of locations or space offerings
Offer of flex desks (hot desking)
Marketing Expenses
Investments
Offer of private offices
Coworking as a business model
Temporary discounts
Offer of online services
Significantly more, more Same Significantly less, less Don't know
of additional and tightened restrictions, 68 percent of the respondents expect a slight or strong decrease
in the number of coworking spaces.
Figure 5: Number of Coworking Spaces: 12-Months Outlook
Discussion
The results confirm the expected strong economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on coworking
spaces, which in January 2020 still found themselves in a favourable business situation. With April as
the most severely affected month until the data collection period, income had dropped significantly.
Nevertheless, the slight upwards trend in June gives reason for hope for the German coworking spaces.
This is further enhanced by the indication of almost 90 percent of respondents that the summer months
usually generate lower incomes than other months, thus putting the reported losses into perspective.
An interesting finding is a change in the demand situation of different coworking elements. Here,
especially an equally strong increase, as well as decrease, of meeting rooms with relieved measures
raises questions. The data shows no significant differences between rather individual-purposed spaces,
or group-purposed spaces, which could have explained the respective shifts. An alternative answer may
be found in the future predictions of a shift in the use of coworking spaces by corporate remote teams
frequenting coworking spaces for their weekly meetings outside of their usual home office (Conerly,
2020). This may further contribute to the growth potential of the Germany coworking scene, adding to
the initially outlined changing perception of flexible office space on the German market.
As of now, however, the findings further show that incomes generated from meeting rooms have fallen
by more than 50 percent in four out of five spaces. The evaluated demand situation may, therefore, be
explained by the outlined industry sentiment regarding the relief of measures. When comparing income
and cost distributions throughout the surveyed period of time, it affirms how significantly the spaces
were affected. Despite a generally advantageous decrease in cost of 18 percent, the income declining
sharply by 36 percent far outweighed such positive effects. In that regard, it should be noted that the
main source of income with desk rentals seems to have fared still comparably well, but has plummeted
significantly regardless. However, especially the lack of income generated from meeting room rentals,
accounting for 17% of total income, has affected the income distributions negatively.
Furthermore, the major cost decreases were not a result of more efficient processes or the like, however,
were mostly explained by large falls in personnel costs and the owners’ salaries. Despite the
effectiveness of such measures to cushion the incurred losses, they cannot function as sustainable
measures with an approaching second infection wave.
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Scenario 3: Eased Restrictions
Scenario 2: Restrictions Remain
Scenario 1: Tightened Restrictions
Number of responses
Strong Increase Slight Increase Same Slight Decrease Strong Decrease
In regard to the Covid-19-induced transformations and strategies, another major finding of the survey is
the reaction of members of the coworking spaces, which seem to have built a loyal customer base, with
most of the members not showing any reaction to the new situation, and cancelled contracts, discount
or payment break requests a rarity. This may become even more crucial for the upcoming winter season,
for which first indications of a second wave of increased infection levels are gradually in the offing.
It also seems that the Covid-19 pandemic has functioned as a driver of potentially more positive change,
and that the coworking spaces embrace the changing dynamics in building resilience (Gandini and
Cossu, 2019) whilst entering this new development phase of the coworking model. The surveyed spaces
appeared active in re-shaping their business, with a strong expansion into the digital realm as a means
to compensate for the lack of physical proximity and the resulting dynamics. Thus, coworking spaces
actively diversify their offerings, which is further facilitated by new IT-firms providing the necessary
tech to allow coworking spaces their shift to digital. Ideally, coworking spaces would be able to run in
a hybrid mode, which would also provide the flexibility to react quickly to governmental restrictions,
whilst nevertheless engaging in community-building and mediation. For this, however, the role of the
community manager (Brown, 2017) will need to undergo changes to provide the same level of mediation
to instil and reinforce a set of shared values in such virtual environments as well.
In addition to the digital shift, the pandemic seems to have forced coworking spaces to explore new
ways of both attracting and maintaining talented members in their space. It can be assumed that the
learning gained from this will become crucial in keeping the business afloat when future months will be
affected more heavily, entailing also additional governmental restrictions which may limit the operations
of coworking spaces. Moreover, these new strategies may be an explanatory factor for the increase in
profits, which had been reported by 8 percent of respondents.
The study also gives some indications for future developments and expectations. The results seem to
reveal an overall fear regarding stricter or additional measures, with the coworking space owners and
operators painting a rather grim picture of the development of the industry in that scenario. Given the
current Covid-19-related developments in Germany (Robert Koch-Institut, 2021) as of October 2020,
with the number of daily new infections above 4,000 on a regular basis and local incidence at times
above 50, however, this outlook increasingly seems to materialize with a looming second infection
wave.
Surprisingly, the elevated hygienic standards seem to have perhaps induced some improvement in the
operations of the surveyed coworking spaces. As such, they were perceived neutrally, as well as
positively in some cases. Yet, especially the restrictions regarding the size of gatherings, as well as the
minimum distance among members had been perceived most negatively. Because coworking spaces
have, as of now, relied heavily on the physical proximity of members as the key foundation of interaction
and bonding in the space, the measures may have thwarted these positive outcomes, inducing additional
fear regarding the looming tightening of governmental restrictions.
Furthermore, with the pandemic having forced employees into the “world’s largest work-from-home
experiment” (Banjo et al., 2020), remote work processes are now advanced at a rapid pace. In Germany,
for instance, estimates indicate that up to 60% of corporate employees had worked from home during
the second quarter of 2020 (Statista, 2020), posing new challenges for managers and workers adapting
to their work in the “new normal” (Hofman et al., 2020). This could continue raising awareness for the
potential of coworking spaces in providing a flexible workspace for remotely working professionals
which allows them to be productive in a nearby space whilst circumventing feelings of social isolation
or loneliness, further contributing to the demand developments.
Limitations and Future Research
Limitations
It should be noted that due to the main intention of the survey as a tool for lobbying work with
governmental bodies, the presented results are subject to various limitations. First, with the aim of
capturing the industry developments with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic, the data was gathered using
non-validated scales. This provides significantly more value for practitioners but limits the academic
reliability and use of advanced statistical methods. To avoid response bias with the questionnaire,
members of the GCF were involved in discussing the questionnaire, which was also piloted to some
members.
Second, the sample size of 38 coworking space owners and operators is fairly limited. Nevertheless, it
concerns a total of 77 coworking space locations in Germany. Most industry reports, as well as the
coworking platform coworker.com (2020) currently list over 500 German coworking spaces, with this
particular platform showing 533 coworking spaces. Thus, the presented sample would comprise 14.4
percent of the total number of spaces. However, the latter largely depends on the underlying definition
of coworking used, and may thus vary strongly. Also, given local differences of coworking spaces in
Germany, such as a more mature market in larger cities where the concept was introduced early on, and
generally a stronger focus on the local environment (e.g., more corporate finance in Frankfurt, or tech
and creatives in Berlin), the data cannot be considered fully representative.
Future Research
It will be crucial to continue tracking the industry developments throughout the coming months with
additional surveys. In that regard, especially three factors would significantly contribute to the quality
of collected data, as an elevated data quality would be crucial for practitioners to better convince relevant
bodies and institutions of the importance of coworking to ensure that the industry receives sufficient
funding to help struggling businesses.
Using more in-depth data and validated scales may allow for more detailed analysis in identifying key
parameters which may help coworking spaces survive and thrive in a post-Covid-19 industry. Second,
whilst this study analysed the impact of the pandemic on the level of coworking spaces through owners,
operators and employees, it would be beneficial to enlarge the focus also to members to better understand
the changing dynamics and needs. Such research may reveal crucial insight which may help to steer the
coworking spaces more successfully through these times of crisis. Moreover, exploring the new
approaches and strategies employed by community managers, as well as their effectiveness from the
point of view of members, could add valuable knowledge on community mechanisms, and their
changing nature within digital coworking environments. Lastly, local and national coworking groups
are already collaborating internationally. Using these connections may also allow for international
surveys to be administered to outline the regional and national variations, but to also identify best
practices to further aid practitioners.
Conclusions and Future Developments
The paper has analysed data from coworking space owners and operators on the German market and has
outlined the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic before, during, and after the most severely affected month
of April. The data shows that the coworking spaces have incurred significant losses, despite a smaller
drop in costs. These, however, were largely accounted for by reduced personnel cost and salaries of
owners, thus only short-term measures.
Yet, the surveyed spaces seem to be adapting to the new market situation by exploring digital operations,
as well as fostering coworking as a business model. Paired with a solid member base that appears loyal
to their space, this presents a good opportunity for coworking spaces to diversify and explore new, long-
term models of operation with increased degrees of flexibility to react quickly to the further development
of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to this, especially the shift to the digital realm may open up new
markets for the coworking spaces which can attract new members through digital memberships only.
Similarly, these developments will be important avenues for future studies, gaining a better
understanding of the transformation of the coworking concept and its role for future work arrangements.
Moreover, there appear to be some forecasts assuming that larger coworking chains could possibly
benefit from the pandemic, as corporate users may frequent coworking spaces more often (Conerly,
2020). The fight for survival especially of smaller, local coworking spaces may thus be exacerbated
even further by such additional competitive pressure. Yet, if the first indications of German companies
allowing employees to choose between the home office and working from coworking spaces, as
observed in some cities already (Hoffmann, 2020), prove true, this may also help smaller independent
spaces ensure business survival through this surge in demand from smaller companies as well.
Furthermore, making use of more group-focused coworking spaces as innovative office forms may allow
organizations to benefit from knowledge exchange and social networking which may lead to improved
organizational performance, as shown in business centres (Weijs-Perrée, Appel-Meulenbroek, et al.,
2019). Nevertheless, for the German coworking industry, the future development hinges on the severity
of upcoming measures, including social distancing and restrictions for social gatherings, which had been
reported to affect coworking spaces the most. Any predictions are strongly contingent on the further
management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the progress of vaccine rollouts across the globe.
What is now crucial for the coworking spaces in the industry is to adapt their operations and prepare for
relevant eventualities, especially with virtual coworking and digital mediation mechanisms to maintain
and build their community through an uncertain future. Moreover, coworking spaces should re-thinking
their spatial layout to ensure that governmental restrictions (e.g., sufficient distance between members),
as well as general preventive measures (e.g., increased ventilation, and more outdoor air, avoiding
recirculation; or installing air filtration systems), can more effectively be met to again benefit from the
co-location of members in the physical space. Such adaptations may also add to the coworking space
members’ feeling of security and their resulting willingness to frequent the space if restrictions allow
ultimately mitigating the negative impact that working from home for extended periods of time would
bring. In addition to the spatial configuration, managerial aspects in the digital environment, such as the
role of community management, would benefit from further research to explore how mediation
mechanisms can be actively employed through digital interaction to retain and potentially advance the
positive effects on community-building and member development.
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... Thus, flexible space may serve as a 'bridge' for working from home (Cushman and Wakefield, 2022). Indeed, Mayerhoffer (2021) has shown that although in the short-term CWS income reduction significantly outweighed decreases in costs during lockdowns, the member base remained stable with strong digital adaptions. This suggests the viability of post-pandemic hybrid models if the coworking offer can meet user needs at realistic cost levels. ...
Purpose Coworking (shared flexible working spaces) grew exponentially before the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis led to spaces closing but demand is likely to increase as homeworking/remote working levels remain permanently higher post-pandemic. Previous studies largely focused on ‘satisfied customers’ – freelancers and entrepreneurs in the urban core; but these are a poor guide to future preferences given an increasingly diverse set of potential users. Understanding these preferences is of significant value to future providers, investors and real estate operators. Design/methodology/approach The authors employ a mixed-methods approach, observing self-organised coworking sessions and online platforms, and a questionnaire of the coworking networks/groups. The authors address the research questions: i) how do individuals' make decisions about how and where to engage in shared working and ii) do they consider locational characteristics (beyond accessibility) and social and physical (environmental) aspects of coworking? Findings Proximity to home is a key result. Participants are mostly local and seek community, with a strong emphasis on effective work routines. Results stress the importance placed on social factors and in-space amenities, but affordability is also important. Coworkers experiencing both informal groups and organised spaces rate the informal experience as significantly more beneficial. Practical implications There are implications for the real estate element of future provision and funding models. Originality/value The authors contribute to the understanding of coworking preferences/motivations through addressing methodological limitations of previous studies. Rather than surveying individuals in coworking spaces, the authors study individuals who engage in coworking in various forms which will reflect the diverse (users, spaces, locations) demands for future coworking.
... Co-working spaces offer a wide range of benefits to individuals to interact, collaborate, conduct business, and network in an entrepreneurship environment (Fuzi, 2015). The Covid induced restrictions have reduced the physical visits to co-working spaces, but previous studies have shown that work from home (also known as telework) can reduce job satisfaction and lower productivity (Bueno, et al., 2018) due to lower levels of social interaction and personal feelings of isolation, family conflicts (Mayerhoffer, 2021). In this regard, coworking spaces offer a friendly environment where individuals, entrepreneurs, freelancers can work together, share ideas, and improve creativity, productivity (Mitev, et al., 2018). ...
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Balancing working and personal life had become an issue long before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is still little evidence examining how coworking spaces (CSs) may improve work-life balance and the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on this CSs role. Thus, this chapter aims to identify services that support coworkers’ work-life balance and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their offers. Interviews (N=18) and surveys (N=23) among managers in independently run CSs in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia were analysed, and five main categories of such services were defined. Those are identifiable across all countries of interest in varying types and amounts, influenced by coworking size, characteristics and expectations of coworkers, and the attitudes and experiences of the owners. Additionally, the findings indicate that the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the offered services by CSs and severely hindered the CSs role in interconnecting people.
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