Coworking in the Time of COVID-19

In recent months, an increased number of coworking spaces have opened in New Jersey. This was in response to the governor’s call for more coworking options for fledgling tech and life science businesses. Last year, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) started to offer rent support to tech startups in coworking and incubator spaces via the NJ Ignite program. The reason was clear: Startup founders and others use these spaces as their next step when their businesses outgrow their home offices and their need for collaboration increases.

What tech founders find at coworking venues are inviting spaces; other founders to bounce ideas off of; a sense of community; and often meetings, education, and networking opportunities. Now that everyone is being told to stay home if possible, how is that affecting New Jersey’s coworking venues? We asked some of the people who know best what they are doing during the current crisis.

Akosua Ayim, Interim CEO of =SPACE (Newark)

=SPACE Team: Founder Medina, CEO Akosua Ayim and Operations Lead Jonathan Collins | Courtesy =SPACE

“At =SPACE, our mission has always been to provide resources and access to everyone who finds themselves on the periphery of opportunity,” said Ayim. “While this outbreak has certainly forced us to be more creative with how we do that, the need for spaces like ours has only become clearer. We’ve moved from hosting our programming within our doors to virtual programs through online workshops, productivity sessions, mental wellness talks and more. We’re also sharing resources as they become available for small businesses, including ourselves, to make use of in order to cover any shortfalls they may be experiencing. By staying rooted in our purpose and working together, startups and small businesses will come out of this stronger.”

Bret Morgan, Cofounder of Cowerks (Asbury Park)

Jersey Shore Women in Tech meet at Cowerks | Brittney Jacobs

“We’ve been preparing for a shutdown for the last few weeks, and started reducing the number of desks in our common area space last week. Our whole team started working remote this week, and while our private office members are free to come and go, at this point we’re recommending that they limit their time at both of our facilities and strongly consider working from home for the next few weeks,” Morgan told us.

“I’d also add that so many of our fellow small businesses are getting completely decimated, and there needs to be strong intervention from both government and private institutions to help Main Street weather and recover from this storm.” 

Noelle Stary, Founder and CEO of The (Co)Working Space  (Woodbridge)

The recent ribbon cutting at The (Co)Working Space North Brunswick | Courtesy Noelle Stary

Stary, who had one of the first successful coworking spaces in New Jersey, recently opened two additional coworking venues, in the East Brunswick/South River and North Brunswick areas. The need for social isolation couldn’t have come at a worst time, she said. But, “in short, we are staying open. We have implemented more cleaning of the spaces and we are finding that members are still coming through, but people are keeping space between them. We do see ourselves as a safe space that some college students or professionals who typically work in the city will want to use as people begin to leave their homes a bit more.”

Ryan Garibaldi, Community Manager of The Station (Chatham)

The Station | Courtesy The Station

“The most significant step we took was making the difficult decision to close our space to the general public, but remain open exclusively for our current members. We took that step in the middle of last week. At The Station, the focus is and has always been bettering the Chatham community at large, so we had to figure out the best way to avoid furthering the spread of the virus, while also not shutting our doors to our members who might need us now more than ever. This seemed like the best middle ground … maintain our commitment to the people who have committed to us, while minimizing their risk by reducing foot traffic into space. It was a difficult step to take, but we are confident in our approach,” he said.

“On top of that, we had space deep cleaned last week, and are continuing to have it cleaned every morning. Our property management team has remained on-site daily to ensure order and cleanliness until the state or federal government tells us to shut down completely.”

Suzanne Willian, Cofounder of The Co-Co

Golden Seeds office hours at The Co-Co | Esther Surden

“As you may know, we are a women-focused co-working and co-learning community,” Willain said in a statement. “Our mission is to support and inspire women at all stages of life and career; we deliver on that mission with co-working and co-learning. (In fact, our name, The Co-Co, comes from co-working and co-learning.) We have discovered that co-learning and co-working are building blocks for community and connection. While people come to The Co-Co for co-working and co-learning, they stay for the community and connection they experience.” she said.

“It’s our intention to continue to connect and strengthen our community bonds through this #newnormal of social distancing. While the Co-Co space is temporarily closed, our events being offered virtually and we are launching virtual co-working next week. We had a virtual event on Thursday with 60 plus attendees and piloted a small group community coffee this morning.  Our members are supportive and eager to connect with one another.”

Zahra Amanpour, founder of Indiegrove | Courtesy Zahra Amanpour

Zahra Amanpour, Founder of Indiegrove (Jersey City)

“I believe we have to stay focused on what is important right now. Community is important.  Keeping businesses alive is important.  Staying healthy is important. We have to find the right balance between diligence and sustainability, and have empathy for all the different circumstances people are navigating right now. This will all come to an end sometime in the near future, and we will need our businesses to be open and ready to provide the services to make us feel whole again,” said Amanpour.

“At Indiegrove, we are trying to find a balance day by day. I want to make sure we continue to support our businesses and people, but also keep everyone safe and minimize costs until we get through this. This is definitely uncharted territory for the coworking industry.”

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