COVID-19 forcing a rethink of the workplace, Penticton business says | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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COVID-19 forcing a rethink of the workplace, Penticton business says

Cowork Penticton was in a good position to see workplace changes forced by COVID-19 restrictions to the region's office workers this summer.
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December 13, 2020 - 3:31 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way businesses in Kamloops and the Okanagan operate as pandemic restrictions shut down or reduced the number of employees able to work out of the office.

Cowork Penticton was in an ideal position to see the changes the pandemic had on local office work. The business provides around 30 on-demand, fully serviced workspaces for remote, freelance and small business owners, and had a mixture of different business operating out their Nanaimo Avenue office in Penticton when the pandemic impacted business in mid-March this year.

“We shut down for a period of time, about seven weeks, and opened up to increasing numbers of people as summer progressed,” Cowork co-founder Jennifer Vincent said earlier this week.

Cowork has been in business for nine years, and is a front runner in remote work support.

“The heart of our business model is creating community and connection for independent workers. We work with people coming and going from Penticton, those working on contracts, and provide a ‘landing pad’ for newcomers to the community,” Vincent says.

She says COVID-19 restrictions revealed some interesting things about remote working patterns after several businesses sent their employees home to work.

“What we saw was a greater increase in people coming through our doors, and more people travelling through Penticton who still needed a place to work. We also saw people coming in to use our facilities for a day or two to vary their home office routine,” she says.

But Vincent says she didn’t see as many employees suddenly working from home as they expected.

“We thought we would see a lot more people who were no longer in their workplace who found it uncomfortable, for whatever reason, to be working from their homes, but they seem to have managed. It was surprising to me, but maybe they just took their laptop to the beach,” she says.

Vincent also pointed out those office workers suddenly working from home who were also managing children would have a tough time utilizing Cowork space.

She says she’s had conversations with people who work for larger organizations elsewhere, who are working from home and are enjoying that opportunity.

“There is a lot of conversation between them and their employer about a more flexible future,” she says.

Vincent says the opportunity to work from home for one local worker allowed them the flexibility to go into the office a couple of times a week to meet with co-workers, have that face to face interaction, and spend the rest of the work week wherever they wanted.

It also means some companies can look at reducing the amount of real estate they have, but there are a number of issues that have to be dealt with.

“It would be a big change in how we look at where work is, and why and how we do it. Employees will have to figure out the boundaries of work when not in the traditional workplace, and employers will need to develop trust in their employees when they aren’t face-to-face with them everyday. There’s a lot packed into it,” she says.

She says a cost-benefit analysis will be interesting, as the employer could see substantial savings from reducing real estate costs, while at the same time, employees might be incurring new costs for things like office furniture, and even extra space in which to set up a home office.

“When we shut down earlier this year, some of our clients had the opportunity to take their desks home if they wanted. Others decided to buy their own office equipment, so some people have definitely invested in it. We’ve also heard of people who are ’space poor’ at home, and have a hard time finding workable space that isn’t infringing on the rest of the family.” Vincent says.

“Supporting people through transitions is something we’ve done for quite a while. This year we’ve helped employers understand what it could be like for employees to work remotely. Everybody’s had to invent this new way forward.”

She says Cowork is currently operating at reduced capacity in keeping with the most recent COVID-19 restrictions. Even though the business didn’t see as many new clients as Vincent originally thought, she believes they may still see a bump when things return to normal.

“It’s a slow process of adjustment, and there are many people working from home who’s working conditions aren’t optimum. Once restrictions ease, I’m sure we’ll see organic growth again,” Vincent says.

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