The social role of coworking in a post-pandemic world

The kick-off event of the pilot project at Il Litorale USI
The kick-off event of the pilot project at Il Litorale USI

Il Litorale

24 February 2021

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, office workers around the globe have discovered the beauty of working from home – but also the downside of prolonged confinement. Let’s face it: during the lockdown many of us missed the usual 8-to-5 workdays, including the often dreadful commutes to the workplace and, most of all, we missed the social interaction with our colleagues. But is home officing still the only option? For providers of coworking centres the answer is clearly no – now the market seems to prove them right.

According to a market analysis produced in 2019 by Coworking Switzerland (the national association of providers of coworking spaces), only 1% of the around 2M workers in Switzerland are ‘nomads’, professionally-active workers who do not have their own office and who share a workspace in one of the 220 coworking establishments in Switzerland. Until early 2020, this figure was merely one of several arguments to explain the growth potential of this new form of work. But in the wake of the lockdown and the change in the way employers envisage the workplace for their staff, coworking centres are gaining traction as a ‘third way’ between WFM (working from home) and physical presence in offices. In fact, although employers across the country and in many business sectors have accepted telecommuting as a way to survive the lockdown and have realised its usefulness in terms of potential savings on office space (and costly leases), they have also understood that staff need to maintain some sort of social contact beyond the ubiquitous online video call, to preserve therefore their mental and physical health.

Among those firms in Switzerland who are considering the mentioned ‘third way’ we find CSS Versicherung, the leading Swiss health insurer. In autumn 2020, CSS initiated a pilot project in collaboration with Office LAB, a leading Swiss provider of coworking spaces founded in Zurich in 2017, to explore the potential of offering a shared workspace environment for CSS staff. The view is to offer a genuine alternative to WFM, thus maintaining social interactions, and, at the same time, a solution that introduces staff to a more flexible working environment, exposing them also to other workers in other domains. "The challenge for Office LAB is to prove that working in a diverse environment, outside one’s own ‘comfort zone’, can be a pleasant experience that can ideally lead to increased motivation and inspiration for coworkers to perform better in their jobs", explains Thi Quyen Truong, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer, Office LAB AG.

Christian Flückiger, Organizational Development-Specialist at CSS Versicherung, comments: "In our experience, coworking is a valuable alternative for various groups of employees: those who live far from CSS offices and therefore spend a lot of 'dead' time commuting; those who prefer not to work from home (e.g. because they have small children or don’t have access to a suitable office space); and those who work in areas, where exchange with others can serve as a catalyst for innovation".

The CSS-Office LAB pilot project concerns also the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. In Lugano, the partner of choice is Il Litorale, the coworking initiative of USI Università della Svizzera italiana, which manages a facility in the city centre of Lugano. A dozen CSS Ticino staff have chosen to participate in the pilot project, taking turns and performing their job in this informal, yet professional environment, in full compliance of the ongoing pandemic safety provisions and, at the same time, benefitting from a service that the University provides to the business community.

The coworking phenomenon in Switzerland was featured in a report broadcast on January 17, 2020, by RSI Radiotelevisione Svizzera, which includes also a view of Il Litorale USI. See the "Tempi Moderni" videocast (in Italian) here below.

"Abbasso il boss", Tempi moderni, RSI, 14.1.2020 (in Italian)