Can a Co-Working Space Go Online? It Can in a Pandemic – The New York Times - Freelance Rack

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Can a Co-Working Space Go Online? It Can in a Pandemic – The New York Times

This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

When people tell Brooke Miller they haven’t been sleeping since the coronavirus pandemic started, that they feel anxious and overwhelmed, she smiles and empathizes. To her, it sounds as if they’re experiencing what mothers go through.

“I’m like, ‘See, we told you being a mom is hard,’” said Ms. Miller, who has two young daughters. “You’re changing who you were before, changing who you were supposed to be, changing expectations. And you don’t get any sleep.”

Before the pandemic, Ms. Miller, 40, ran Honey Space for Moms, a 3,800-square-foot wellness center that she opened in Ferndale, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, in 2016. She said she served nearly 500 mothers a month, offering them co-working space, child care, parenting classes and mental health services.

She started Honey Space because when she was a new mother, she struggled with feeling isolated while working from home. “I wanted to have conversations that were real and authentic and not mommy-blogged out,” said Ms. Miller, who is a licensed psychotherapist. “I couldn’t find it, so I started it; I come from an entrepreneurial family.”

ImageAn empty office at Honey Space. Because of the lockdown, the company had to close its offices on March 16.
Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

That entrepreneurial spirit became vital after the pandemic hit, and she had to pivot fast. Ms. Miller was forced to close Honey Space at 3 p.m. on March 16, and she started Honey online around midnight on March 17, essentially becoming a digital company serving parents.

She used Facebook Live to offer programming: tarot card readings, book club, mothers’ groups, mediation, yoga, toddler Spanish, virtual children’s birthday parties and anything else Ms. Miller and her team of 20 could think of to keep customers from feeling isolated in those early days of the shutdowns.

“Everyone was really intense, so I thought, let’s just have some fun,” Ms. Miller said.

At first, she asked for donations to help bring in revenue to help pay staff members while she waited to receive a loan from the Small Business Administration. Her plan was to build a membership site that would host her programming, for which she intended to charge $30 per month. But as the pandemic worsened, she realized she didn’t want to charge when so many were unemployed or struggling.

“Obviously, this was a crisis-based launch, so we’ve been trying to get our bearings,” Ms. Miller said. “It hasn’t made up for lost revenue; we’ve had a significant financial hit.”

Updated 2020-06-26T09:43:01.956Z

Ms. Miller had to lay off a few of her staff members who ran the co-working and child care services. And she tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate her rent. When she received the S.B.A. loan through its Paycheck Protection Program, it was enough to help her keep building Honey online and hold out until she can reopen the physical space.

The online version has helped bring some normalcy to Caitlin Hall of Royal Oak, Mich., who used the company’s co-working space before the pandemic. As a recruiter for Kohl’s department stores, she has long worked from home. When she gave birth to her daughter in 2019, she discovered how much she needed a community and work space. Now she has to get that through Honey’s co-working Zoom link.

“Brooke has done awesome things with us and showed us how Honey supports everyone in this season,” Ms. Hall said.

Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

And as the pandemic has worn on, Ms. Miller realized she would need to adapt again. Rather than entertaining members, she realized they needed more mental health support. So Ms. Miller refocused on individual and group therapy for new mothers by offering virtual sessions. She is also working with a developer to create an app that will house all of Honey’s digital content and classes.

Those changes paid off. Ms. Miller said there was enough demand for mental health services to keep all of her therapists working.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

“As an ambitious entrepreneur, there are often a lot of ideas taking up space in my mind at all times,” she said. “This reminded me that the foundation of what Honey is works.”

That is precisely what Laura Huang, associate professor at Harvard Business School and author of “Edge: Turning Adversity Into Advantage,” likes to hear from entrepreneurs. As businesses find themselves needing to adapt, she wants them to focus on what made them great in the first place.

“The small businesses that sustain are the ones that go back to those elements that are strong,” she said.

Now, Ms. Miller is considering what lessons from the pandemic she can use when she reopens Honey Space in July as planned. She also wants to take her online offerings national and develop a new product that would help large companies bring mental- and emotional-health benefits to working parents.

“This crazy weird blessing in disguise is that now Honey is national,” she said. “I would have never had the time to dive into this had Covid not happened.”

Be authentic. Be real with your customers and open about your own struggles. That vulnerability should resonate with customers and keep them connected with your business.

Expect change. Don’t wait for perfect. Even perfect will change because customers’ preferences and needs can change rapidly. Try something and then learn from it.

Slow down as you speed up. As business changes from a physical space to online only, give your customers time to adjust. So, in Ms. Miller’s case, rather than asking them to commit to class packages, she first offered free and à-la-carte options.

This is not your final pivot. Even when you think you’ve found solid ground, remember that anything can still happen. Because business may take a while to return to normal, look for ways to build your brand.

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