Bernard Lord once said, “Innovation doesn’t always come in the form of a new product or technology. Sometimes it’s about a new way to address an old problem.” In the era of COVID-19, the problem we face is certainly new. Still, for many businesses, the solution isn’t necessarily a new concept but rather a new way of providing an existing service. A new perspective in a world that is changing at an exceedingly rapid pace.
Of course, we’ve faced no shortage of global events and disruptions over the years. Still, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed itself as an especially perplexing obstacle, one with staying power, no less. There is simply no ‘waiting things out’ for most brands and industries – the expectation is to change, and the timeline is immediate, or the economic fallout could be drastic and unforgiving.
And so, over the last five months, brands have shifted gears. In what could be considered a ‘masterclass’ in business agility and responsive innovation, brands worldwide and across industries are evolving before our eyes in response to COVID-19, and it’s pretty incredible to witness. A vertical which has recently experienced an influx of growth and innovation is the co-working space.
The Perfect Pairing: Beer, Coffee, and a Strong Wi-Fi Signal
Over the last decade, co-working spaces have surged in popularity. Riding the wave of entrepreneurial dreams and a growing population of freelancers, co-working spaces such as WeWork gave individuals a clean, functional, and beautiful space to tackle their daily workload. More importantly, these open office spaces represented a distraction-free escape from the home office, with similar fixings to a millennial, Google-inspired office (i.e., craft beer or kombucha on tap, open-concept workspaces, and foosball tables). For a set monthly fee, members were granted access to various options, including shared desks, dedicated desks, private meeting rooms, private offices, and more.
However, in many of the urban epicentres where these spaces cropped up, corporate real-estate is increasingly expensive. Moreover, COVID-19 presented its own challenges: suddenly, almost everyone was working from home, but, subsequently, offices were deemed as potentially dangerous territory.
For the hospitality realm, the pandemic proved especially devastating. With restaurants forced to close with the exception of takeout service or, alternatively, dining capacity slashed to 50% or less, many restaurants came to face the possibility of permanent closure. Much like co-working spaces, restaurants carried the burden of exceptionally high rent and overhead costs while revenue plummeted. Understandably, this is a scary scenario for business owners.
This was precisely the conundrum facing Optimism Brewing; a chic Seattle, WA brewery opened in 2015 when they decided to explore both a co-working space and a street cafe. Jack of all trades, master of beer (and lattes), seems to be the theme.
In an interview with The Stranger, Gay Gilmore (who is the brains behind the operation, alongside her husband) explained that their business was hurting under the restrictions ushered in by COVID-19.
“Optimism, our business—we’re doing 25 percent of what we usually do. It’s a huge struggle for everyone. Maybe not everyone is doing as horrible as we are; I have no idea. We’re not surviving. We’re losing money.”
Gay and her husband knew that their only option was to pivot and expand their offerings to try to maximize revenue where they could, even while grappling with strict COVID-19 capacity measures. Fortunately, on July 31st, Optimism’s proposal to close a section of the side street, which leads to their brewery, was approved and, in record time, their expanded beer garden and co-working cafe was up and running.
Since August, the new activation has been a resounding success with customers. Gay notes that people simply love being outside, as the plant-lined beer garden and unique co-working cafe allows them a reprieve from the confines of their apartment, even if only for a couple of hours. “It feels pretty marvellous to be dining in the middle of the street,” she explained in her interview. “It’s just a unique experience, and it’s going to be happening all around the city, and I think everyone should really relish this moment of being able to eat in the street.” Moreover, this move might fortify their brewery against the economic uncertainty that so many small businesses are now struggling to overcome.
Oh and, the best part? They’ll even toss in a free beer and unlimited sparkling water. Table for one, please.
New Opportunity for an Old Idea
The combined restaurant/co-working trend seemingly began in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. It recently took up residency in Kelowna, BC, with a one-of-a-kind co-working space located in a popular local restaurant. Although this particular concept came to fruition in February before the pandemic, we can’t help but think it offers a perfect, collaborative solution in a post-pandemic world.
Basil & Mint doesn’t open until 5 p.m., a daily lull which happens to coincide perfectly with the standard 9 to 5 workday. Called ‘CoWorkanagan,’ the initiative aims to create co-working opportunities in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner while tapping into a similar concept to Airbnb and Uber.
In an interview discussing the idea, Dustin Blondin, co-founder and managing director of CoWorkanagan, explains, “It feels less commercial and less industrial than many other co-working spaces do,” says Blondin. “We’re trying to do what Airbnb does and what Uber does – we’re creating more of a sharing economy within the workspace and office industry.”
Membership to the space includes access to booths, tables, bar seats, a private meeting room, lunch catering, complimentary coffee, tea, snacks, and printing services.
Although the pandemic era is, seemingly, far from over, it’s refreshing to see affected industries pivoting in such creative, savvy ways — and this is still only the beginning. Bernard Lord, we think, would be proud.