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Co-working - an inherent contradiction

One of the most recent entrants into the co-working domain is Welkin & Meraki, with centres in Brussels (Avenue des Arts) Paris and Luxembourg. The current coronavirus crisis has led to greatly increased attention being paid to company employees working from places other than their traditional offices. While this is generally accepted to be their homes, the position of co-working centres in our business lives is also under the microscope.

Nevertheless, the concept of co-working appears to run, at least while the crisis is ongoing, against the rules of physical distancing which we are all being asked to follow for our own health and that of others. At the moment, we are asked to work in isolation, not in the company of others whether in traditional offices or anywhere else. Welkin & Meraki is of course aware of this, and has looked at how the crisis will lead to re-thinking centres such as their own. The company talks of the crisis having led to the ‘greatest wave of remote working ever known’. It concedes that the physical proximity which shared workspaces implies has become a real obstacle for the safety of all. And so methods have had to be rapidly found to enable teams to continue to work in safety, adhering to rules of distancing. Players in the field, the company goes on to say, are now re-evaluating their services and reconsidering proximity. Reorganising the workspaces is required, although this leads to a decrease in the amount of surface area available for work, compared to that which was available before the crisis. Plastic partitions are being installed, stickers for indicating safe distances... and the teams themselves are having to think about a ‘presence rota’ so that all are not in one place at the same time.

In its own case, Welkin & Meraki says that from the very beginning of its concept it had already opted (in its Premium Flexible Offices option) for a distance of two metres between offices. At the outset, offices were cleaned and disinfected twice a day (shared workspaces dictate this with or without a specific health crisis), and this has now simply been increased to four times a day. And common areas including meeting areas, lounges etc., were already laid out with large amounts of space between people.


Alain Brossé, CEO of Welkin & Meraki, explains: “The current context has accelerated evolutions which we had already favoured in creating our concept. While this crisis has demonstrated to companies that people have an essential need to be in the company of others, to share experiences, and that liaisons remain a human necessity, it has also shown to what degree flexible workspace solutions respond to a need for immediate adaptability in a globalised economy faced with unforeseeable emergencies. The crisis has taught us two things: it is dangerous to have all employees together in one place, even if this is the company headquarters, but keeping everybody at home is also harmful (lack of services, of human interaction, difficulties of remote management...)”.

Proclaiming the merits of (correctly organised) remote working spaces such as their own, Welkin & Meraki are of course speaking on their own behalf.
However, it may safely be assumed that all of the major players in this domain which has surged from marginal to critically important in the modern office sector, are asking themselves the same questions. For the reality is that some of the very advantages which are the foundation stones of co-working (shared experiences, convivial common spaces...) are now diametrically opposed to ‘in-crisis thinking’. It may also safely be assumed that the co-working operators are all highly aware of this, and that they will all find suitable solutions for what we all hope will not be a permanent context. And while the disadvantages apply only to the physical proximity of persons, the other corporate advantages (reduced fixed overheads, flexibility, geographical expansion...) will doubtless prove sufficient to overcome short term obstacles.
Tim Harrup
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