Gerry Yantha spent the first 18 years of his career working in a corporate office tower before leaving in 2010 to found Accolade Developments, a boutique real estate development company.
In the years that followed, Mr. Yantha spent most of his time on the road, meeting with clients and partners on development sites, in cafés and restaurants, and occasionally working from home. It was a viable workplace alternative until the pandemic forced his partner and her adult children to share the already cramped workspace, not to mention Zeus, his 55-kilogram German shepherd-collie.
“Being older, you kind of go with what you’re used to, what you’re comfortable with,” said the 52-year-old, adding that shortly thereafter he found himself “looking across the dining room table at my partner listening to my dog bark, thinking there has to be a better way.”
So in February, Mr. Yantha signed up for some basic services offered by a nearby co-working space operated by flexible-workspace provider Regus, including business address, mail forwarding and reception services – but it wasn’t long before he began working there full-time.
As the pandemic continues to shake up our perception of work it has led organizations and individuals to take a harder look at co-working spaces. One year after COVID-19 restrictions forced shared workspaces to cut capacity or close entirely, business is booming again, at least in regions where restrictions have been lifted. Recent weeks have seen greater demand for flexible-workspace options in parts of the United States as a result of successful vaccination programs, and early indications suggest the Canadian market will soon follow.
“Now I’m in an office environment where I have a dedicated office, I have access to all the facilities I need – if I need a boardroom I have access to it, I’ve got a kitchen, I’ve got better office equipment than I would have at home – so it’s a much more effective option, and it’s flexible,” says Mr. Yantha, explaining that his membership allows him to access similar office spaces across the country.
The experience is a far cry from Mr. Yantha’s previous impression of what a co-working space was and, more importantly, whom they were for.
“My visual [impression of co-working spaces] was a bunch of 20-somethings bouncing tennis balls off the wall and chatting about whatever they’re working on; a more collaborative environment but not one that’s conducive to independent work,” he says.
Mr. Yantha admits that if it were not for the pandemic he likely would have never considered utilizing a co-working office space. Now, he can’t imagine working anywhere else, and he’s not alone. Months after finding itself on the brink of collapse shared office space provider WeWork recently announced that its co-working locations in the United States are seeing significant demand, and that trend appears to be spreading to Canada as well.
“It’s not a matter of if our buildings will be full, it’s only a matter of when,” says Stephen Tapp, WeWork’s vice-president for Canada. WeWork owns and operates 21 co-working locations across Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. “Since February we have seen a significant lift in the [amount] of interest from companies of all sizes, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver,” he adds.
Mr. Tapp reports that demand is mounting in direct correlation with vaccine distribution, adding that there has been an increase in tours and inquiries from prospective clients in recent months.
“We are thrilled to see that every week, with the promise of accelerated vaccine rollout schedules, we see momentum and increased demand,” he says.
The same is also true for the International Workplace Group (IWG), which provides co-working spaces under a number of different brand names, including Spaces, HQ, Signature and Regus, where Mr. Yantha now works.
“As a country we’re still significantly behind [the U.S.] but in Canada it’s hyper-regionalized,” says Wayne Berger, the chief executive officer of IWG Americas. Mr. Berger says demand is already back to prepandemic levels in the United States, as well as in Canadian regions where COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed, particularly in parts of British Columbia and Nova Scotia. There has also been a significant shift in demand from downtown locations to the suburbs.
“People that are using the space right now have an explicit need, because they probably live in a household where they can’t get their job done, and they can get to a [co-working] location easily, so the suburbs are growing, and downtown there’s still a gap,” he says.
Mr. Berger emphasizes that co-working spaces have long been populated by individuals of all ages and companies of all sizes, despite the misconception that they are primarily utilized by young creatives and startups. As organizations reconsider their traditional workplace arrangements, and as hope grows that the pandemic is nearing an end, he expects their popularity to grow dramatically, especially among new users like Mr. Yantha.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, and if I hadn’t come and visited and started to appreciate what this kind of facility could provide for the business and my clients, I wouldn’t have considered it,” Mr. Yantha says. “Now that I have that appreciation, and I think others do as well, there’s been a fundamental shift, and that’s not going away when the pandemic subsides.”
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.