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Pandemic changing how and where many people work

  • Mike McCusker, owner of the Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center in Shelburne Falls, says a majority of the people who rent space from him could work at home but choose not to. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The meeting room in the Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center on the third floor of the McCusker Building in Shelburne Falls offers a variety of different workspaces, from hotspot seating (a chair and small workspace, with WiFi access) to a “full-size cube.” STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center in Shelburne Falls offers a variety of different workspaces, from hotspot seating (a chair and small workspace, with WiFi access) to a “full-size cube.” STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2021 6:36:16 PM

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a weeklong series marking the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year ago this month, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all nonessential businesses and organizations to close their physical workspaces.

From that point on, companies were forced to reconsider how they conducted business. With stay-at-home advisories in place and gathering in groups deemed unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, video conference platforms Zoom and Google Hangouts replaced in-person meetings and gatherings.

Though that state mandate was initially only in effect through April 2020, the remote model of work — whether enforced at the state or company level or at the personal discretion of employees — continues to be the reality for many workers to this day.

And according to owners of local co-working spaces — regardless of vaccines and when the pandemic’s hold on Franklin County loosens — that reality is here to stay.

“In terms of where people work from, there’s less of a need to be in the office every day,” said Jeff Sauser, an urban planner and co-owner of GreenSpace CoWork in Greenfield. “Really, there’s less of a need to be in (an office) any particular day. People will have a more fluid work life.”

According to the most recent in a series of reports by the McKinsey Global Institute on the future of work post-pandemic, between 20 and 25 percent of workers in advanced economies could work remotely three or more days per week. That’s four to five times the level before the pandemic, the report states.

The report also suggests that the pandemic accelerated an already existing trend toward remote work.

“It was a trend I observed before COVID,” Sauser said. “It was one of those things COVID accelerated; it didn’t originate it.”

Historically, Sauser explained, people have gravitated toward urban areas for walkability and job availability. However, more and more places over the past couple of decades have been revitalizing their downtowns, he said.

“Those places are more attractive as places to live,” he said. “Because people can move where they want and bring their jobs with them, we’re seeing a shift to small towns.”

In fact, this summer, real estate agents spoke of an “exodus” out of city areas as a result of the pandemic. Jennifer Gross, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Community Realtors of South Deerfield, said that for people who had already been considering moving out of the city, the pandemic helped push them to do so.

In addition to feeling safer in a rural setting during the pandemic, prospective residents were beginning to adjust to the new remote work models.

“I’m seeing more pressure from Boston for exactly that reason,” Gross said previously. “They’re all thinking they’re going to be working from home now. People may only have to commute once a week, or once a month.”

For some, remote work means increasingly working from home offices; for others, it means spending a few hours in a coffee shop, or a portion of their day in a co-working space.

“(Co-working spaces) were more freelance and tech jobs, not so much the traditional jobs you’d associate with offices,” Sauser said. “But even those jobs now are becoming remote.”

He said the shift toward remote work opens up co-working spaces as an option to a larger pool of workers — something that co-working space owners such as Mike McCusker are “banking on.”

“People like having a place to go to work without … driving to Amherst or Chicopee,” said McCusker, owner of the Bridge of Flowers CoWorking Business Center on Bridge Street. “Everybody is isolated in their (industry) realms, but yet you come in (the kitchen), make a cup of coffee … and you still have that collegial piece of being in a group office.”

McCusker’s business offers a variety of different workspaces, from hotspot seating (a chair and small workspace, with Wi-Fi access) to a “full-size cube.” Currently, there’s a moratorium on hotspots due to social distancing requirements.

He said a majority of the people who rent space from him could work at home but choose not to.

“A lot of people who could work from home — who try to work from home — they think, ‘Oh, I should start some laundry,’ or ‘The dog wants to be let out,’” McCusker said. “The next thing you know it’s 11 and you’re supposed to have all this stuff done that you didn’t get done.”

And it’s partially because of that, he said, that co-working spaces are here to stay.

“Now, there’s people who can work from home,” he said. “But they want to keep their work and home lives separate.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.




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