Coworking and the Coronavirus: A Canary in the Coal Mine?

Before WeWork’s failed IPO, much of the criticism of the coworking and flexible office business model focused on the challenges that coworking operators would likely face in a recession when clients could easily end short-term memberships to conserve cash. By contrast, since WeWork and other coworking firms were often on the cutting edge of open-office design and were emulated by tenants in traditional leases, their dense office layouts were more likely to be identified as an asset than a liability. The COVID-19 crisis is now testing each of these assumptions, as coworking operators make difficult decisions to keep their members and employees safe while also keeping their businesses running.

Design Vulnerabilities

he open office design of many coworking and flexible office spaces can allow viruses to spread more easily than traditional office layouts, as Konrad Putzier noted in the Wall Street Journal. Without walls or a cubicle divider, droplets from a sneeze or cough can spread farther. Offices that use unassigned desks – a common practice in coworking – can also make it easier for a virus to spread as new desk occupants come into contact with infected surfaces. Putzier observed that some companies have opted for office layouts that encourage close contact between occupants to facilitate interaction. For example, WeWork has intentionally narrowed office corridors so that workers are more likely to physically run into each other. Click to read more at