In a week, the company we have been working on for more than five years seemed to go up in smoke. Eighty percent of our tenants wanted to leave, discount, or negotiate their contract. We were called upon en masse. We had to reassure our tenants, but also didn't know where we stood.
'I felt left out in the cold' says Thom Wernke, CEO of StartDock. 'Of everything we work on, the community is what we put the most time and energy into. Now it seemed like the whole community suddenly wanted to leave. I was shocked and I understood it very well. Everyone was anxious about whether their company was going to survive, just like us. At that moment we went into a gap between our Dockers wanting to help and keep our coworking space afloat.'
This split is a symptom of the special position we have. We're not one office, we're 300 offices, for every Docker one. So we hear 300 stories. This includes incredible successes, from industries that have exploded, such as online retail, but also bankruptcies from the travel or event industry. When the dust settled, we saw that the occupancy rate was only about 60-70%, where we were normally almost full. With the freelancers and entrepreneurs who maintained their workplace, we had to create a new way of working.
Actually, we're not an office at all. The rules that apply to an office do not apply to us, but also the rules that apply to retail do not apply to us. We're falling between shore and ship with this. We cannot and must not tell our Dockers to go home to work, because they pay us for this service. We can recommend and facilitate it, no matter what we've done. We had to find a balance in the rules, but we were not allowed to oblige a lot. In the first few months, this was no problem at all. Corona was new and no one knew exactly how dangerous it was and no one wanted to put each other in danger.
It only got really tricky when we were allowed to relax a bit again. We consulted with a lot of different coworking spaces to see what the right choices were. 'We're a kind of mini-society, every type of person can be found on StartDock.'
Single-burners and small businesses have a mental and business advantage to a strong community. There's no question about this. How can we continue to support that safely? Are we going to stop our open fridge policy? Where everyone can always grab a beer after 16:00. Are we going to ban people from having lunch together? What do we do with face masks?
Wernke: 'Entrepreneurs are naturally a bit recalcitrant. Kicking the beliefs of the masses is in their blood. Fortunately, the constant search for the right balance between rules and liveability has now crystallized.'
Everyone liked working from home at first. Yes, it took getting used to, but a lot of people had an 'I can keep this up indefinitely' moment. Offices seemed to become redundant for a moment. What good is it if you have to — and can — work from home? Until you find out that the walls of your own home can sometimes come at you very much.
We then collectively found the right answer.
When we all went to work from home, we didn't think we needed the office anymore. After a long time at home, we found out that both options were not a perfect solution.
The conclusion is that we needed a combination. Sometimes at home, sometimes in the office. The balance is different for everyone. Everyone — not just entrepreneurs — needs this flexibility. Corona has ensured that we experienced this at the same time.
Many companies are now thinking about a hybrid scheme, for example two days in the office, working from home for three days. Research by Nyenrode University shows that 88% of employees see this as the ideal situation themselves. As a result, almost all offices of companies have immediately become too large. StartDock also notices that there is an increasing demand for a flexible workplace and smaller offices. Wernke: 'Parties that normally look for an office of 100m2 now rent a space of about 30m2. Coworking offers a great solution for scaling down companies with large offices.'
Such a hybrid solution ensures that coworking spaces are likely to get a huge increase in the coming years from people working for larger companies. Wernke: 'You get a Hub & Spoke model. Large companies have their headquarters somewhere centrally, which is the 'hub'. Anyone can work there for part of the week. The rest of the week you can work in your own city, at home or at a coworking space. These are the spokes.
A coworking space can perfectly jump into this hole. As a strange duck in the real estate world, we solve a considerable problem. A coworking space ensures that a rigid real estate market becomes flexible for a tenant. You don't normally rent an office or workplace for a month. Those contracts are long, sometimes years. A coworking space provides flexibility. You don't have to compete with big parties with long contracts. We'll do that for you.
Wernke: 'This is where we are now. I think coworking is going to get a huge boost from Corona. A boost that would otherwise have easily taken decades longer.'