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Scrambling for survival, co-working groups adapt to pandemic

Wisconsin State Journal

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — By leasing desks to remote workers or entrepreneurs who share space, Madison’s co-working organizations have found ways to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, which had initially posed a threat to their very survival.

One Madison co-working space, Lodgic Everyday Community, had the difficult task of opening its doors for the first time amid the pandemic. Originally scheduled for a grand opening in April or May of last year, the center began operating again in June with little fanfare.

A subsidiary of the nonprofit fraternal organization Moose International, Lodgic has a co-working space, child care and a restaurant and also plays host to various events.

Although its operations have not gone as planned, general manager Margaret Ebeling said, the number of members in the co-working space has increased at about the pace the organization expected before the pandemic.

Co-working at Lodgic has helped many members who might struggle to be productive outside an office setting, Ebeling said.

“Let’s face it, I’m not sure everyone is flourishing working from home,” Ebeling said.

With support from the larger nonprofit group and other revenue sources, such as the restaurant and the child care center, the organization has managed to stay afloat as COVID-19 continued to spread, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Even with numbers meeting expectations, plans needed a lot of adjustment, Ebeling said.

“Every day is a learning experience,” Ebeling said. “I would venture to say that a lot of co-working spaces have probably, much like us, had to evaluate where to go from here.”

At Lodgic that path forward seems to be even more adaptable than was already offered through co-working spaces.

Tiffanie Mark, owner of Matrix Coworking and operator of Horizon Coworking, said she has had to make the offices even more adaptable — something she plans to continue doing even as the pandemic subsides.

As the coronavirus began to spread in Wisconsin last year, both sites set limits on the number of members that could use the open space — at first allowing in only those who truly needed the space to work, Mark said.

After some rearranging of the spaces and the addition of air filters and sanitation equipment, more members are now allowed back, but Mark said she hasn’t seen more than 10 in at one time.

The Horizon and Matrix have gone far to provide various accommodations, such as creating a family plan for married couples with children,  allowing them to alternate who stays home and who gets to the office, Mark said.

And those are far from the only change at Horizon and Matrix, Mark said.

Desks and furniture have been rearranged or blocked off to allow for social distancing, members are now asked to sanitize their work desks when they pack up and conference rooms can be reserved by people looking for a closed door to work behind.

Members are now asked to schedule or reserve times they will come into the office, Mark said. Listing =times also lets other members know whether many other people will be in the office at one time, helping them decide whether they should go to the office.

“That was something that before, people would look and see, ‘Oh, there’s people there, I’m going to go visit,’” Mark said. “And now people are like, ‘Oh, there’s people there. I’m going to stay home.’”

Madison can expect another co-working space to come to town this summer. Keith and Rhonda Kometer signed a franchise deal with Office Evolution last year, before the start of the pandemic, and are working on permitting and building out the co-working space at 2921 Landmark Place, just off the Beltline.

Despite the pandemic, which delayed their ability to search for real estate for the site, the Kometers are confident that people will be ager to sign up for a membership at Office Evolution, which touts itself as creating “ohana,” the Hawaiian word for family.

“Our vision for it is that it really fulfills the idea of ‘ohana,’” Keith Kometer said. “That it’s a safe environment, that people enjoy being there and are able to network and meet other people, and they can accomplish their business goals.”

The Office Evolution space will also differ from many other co-working spaces, the Kometers said, in that it will be made up of mostly single-occupancy offices — about 55 — rather than open floor plans.

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