The Urban Hive, a coworking company with two locations in Sacramento, reopened in June with new safety measures in place. (Photo by Nicolette Lovell, courtesy of Molly Weber)

The Coworking Pivot

The Urban Hive cofounder Molly Weber on how coworking spaces have adjusted to the times

Back Web Only Aug 10, 2020 By Cherise Henry

Molly Weber is cofounder and chief experience officer at The Urban Hive. (Photo by Nicolette Lovell, courtesy of Molly Weber)

When the coronavirus pandemic forced many employees out of offices and into their homes to do their jobs remotely, it also forced people out of coworking spaces. This shift immediately threatened the long-term future of many of these shared office spaces, which had touted their sense of entrepreneurial spirit and community, but now seemed like uncertain places to work.

The Capital Region is home to about 60 coworking spaces, which have all been tasked with figuring out how to navigate a pandemic. Most coworking businesses shut down operations following shelter-in-place orders and took the opportunity to increase sanitation procedures and rearrange spaces to allow for physical distance before reopening.

Granite City Coworking in Folsom is offering flexible financial plans, such as freezing membership plans at no cost, allowing members to skip a payment due to hardship and including 24-hour access for all members. It has also added new amenities through its partnership with the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, such as access to informational webinars and podcasts. 

Capsity in Midtown Sacramento — with a second location planned to open in the Oak Park neighborhood in August — is adapting by bringing on a licensed corporate nurse to review facilities and policies to ensure the space is safe. The company says that with so many people now working from home, the shared workspace offers an atmosphere of “getting things done and human connection.” WeWork Sacramento has also implemented cleaning measures that prioritize the health of its members and employees, according to its website. 

Comstock’s spoke with Molly Weber, cofounder and chief experience officer at The Urban Hive, to find out how this coworking company — founded in 2009 in Sacramento and now with two locations in the city — is adjusting to the times.

How has Urban Hive adjusted to this new world we’re living in? 

It is a crazy time for all of us. It’s hard to complain when the whole world seems turned upside down right now. And what a change for us! The past few years have been great for us as we nearly doubled our business each year over year, and were in talks with investors on new locations in San Francisco, San Jose and Hollywood. Then, we were suddenly presented with a crisis that could destroy all that we had built over the last 11 years.
 
Except for providing essential services, like mail and package handling and access to leased office spaces — we have 50 offices between our locations — we effectively shut down from March to June. When we reopened in June, we put a number of safety measures in place, including a complete redesign of our spaces and reducing occupancy to one for every 500 square feet, ensuring that nobody ever needs to be less than 10 feet away from their coworkers. Thankfully, our spaces are wide open and quite conducive to physical distancing. We have also implemented “sanctuary spaces” that are clean, private rooms or offices that our members can book out for the day, week or month. 
 
Our spaces are now as much a badly needed recharge for your mental health as they are workspaces. Even for most of our members who continue to work from home, we have stayed connected with our community — and them with each other — through our 500-plus member Slack channel and have built a new community app that we expect to launch in the coming weeks. 
 
An existential crisis can force you to remember why you are here. That’s what it did for us. We were forced to ask ourselves, “If we were to go away, would we be missed?” and “If so, why?” Let’s face it: If our community was going to survive this pandemic, it would require everything we have — time, energy, resources and emotion. This was going to be hard. 

The Urban Hive’s post-shutdown redesign ensures that members are spaced at least 10 feet away from each other. (Photo by Chad Davies, courtesy of Molly Weber)

We had to be able to answer “why.” What ensued were dozens of conversations with current and former members over the next few weeks and the realization that what we are is more about them — the community of members — than it ever has ever been about us, the business. 
 
Our membership has always included many of Sacramento’s most remarkable and driven people, looking to grow their businesses and themselves. The “Hive” became that place where they could connect, get the resources they needed and help one another. And we realized that now this need was greater than ever before, even if it meant doing it online or behind a mask six feet away.

So what is The Urban Hive culture like now that things have shifted a bit? How is the community responding? 

In many ways, the heart of the Hive continues to remain steadfast throughout the pandemic. Our members have been fiercely loyal and supportive during this time. Not just of us, but of one another. They send each other messages each day on our Slack channel. When my husband (Brandon Weber) had serious medical issues, it was our community that sent literally hundreds of messages of support. And we know that so many of our members have had similar support from one another. We are here for them and they are here for us, and we are all here for each other. 

A good coworking space is so much more than a beautiful workspace. It is a community of good people doing good work, and that hasn’t changed.

People are working from home more than ever before. What trends are you noticing since the pandemic hit? Are people starting to look for away-from-home work options now that traditional office culture has changed and at-home work can be quite isolating? 

What has surprised me most is how many people are already reaching out for safe, clean workspaces, and how many are planning for the future once this pandemic is finally over. Our core membership has always been people with the flexibility to work from anywhere, and we expect far more people to have that flexibility when all of this is over. When people can work from anywhere, for many, the most ideal place is not their home, with all of its accompanying distractions. And the power of serendipitous encounters cannot be overstated. 

Occupancy at The Urban Hive has been reduced to one person for every 500 square feet. (Photo by Chad Davies, courtesy of Molly Weber)

While the number of daily members in our spaces has changed from a couple hundred to a couple dozen, we are still signing up new members, especially for virtual memberships, many of whom are moving to the area, working remotely for companies in the Bay Area and beyond, and leasing flexible offices to essential businesses. In addition, we are seeing others who previously worked out of coffee shops looking for a workspace where safety guidelines and procedures are more strictly enforced. 

How do you see the pandemic affecting the coworking industry? 

Sadly, I think most spaces will not survive the pandemic. Even those that have a fiercely loyal membership base, like ourselves, are bound to struggle to exist past this crisis. Although we are confident about The Urban Hive’s future, we are not so arrogant to suggest that our own survival is a certainty. But those that do survive will be poised for the new normal once we get past it. 

The economy was already moving in our direction. In 2019, flexible work spaces were already the fastest-growing real-estate trend, and most experts agree that the pandemic will put this into overdrive. The traditional office might not be dead, but it is on life support. Even coworking spaces like ourselves will be forced to continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our members.  

With no immediate end in sight with the pandemic, what’s next for The Urban Hive and coworking in both the short term and long term? 

Quite honestly, we have had to have a lot of difficult conversations with our investors, partners, landlords and members. Without their support, we would be gone. It is quite humbling to have so little control over one’s circumstances. But we can control how we react to those circumstances. 

We will continue to evolve to make sure that we are still as valuable to our members as before the pandemic and to meet their needs when it is over. Our current motto is “don’t quit.” Over the past 11 years, every challenge we have met has been lined with an opportunity to grow and become better. We don’t plan on wasting this one. 

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