ARC Club, a neighbourhood co-working start-up in Hackney, London, was just two weeks away from completing its first fit-out when the country went into lockdown. Architect and ARC Club’s design director Caro Lundin was visiting family in Sweden where she was forced to stay put, having to finish the remainder of the project remotely. What were the founders’ first responses? And how will they adapt to the New Normal when restrictions lift? Lundin shares her experience.

How are you responding to the pressures brought on by the COVID-19 crisis?

CARO LUNDIN: Luckily, my business partner Hannah [Philp, CEO of ARC] was really quick to respond, and we postponed the opening immediately. We also tried to finish as much of the fit-out as possible before the lockdown. We were really mindful of the risks, so we made sure contractors were wearing protective gear and limited how many people could be in the space.

Currently we’re being really careful with our messaging. We’re really humble and not promising too much. We can’t promise too much – no one knows exactly what’s going to happen. But behind the scenes we’re constantly working and preparing for a soft launch as soon as the restriction lifts. When it lifts, we’re ready. That means we’re going to allow fewer people into the space. We’re going to have bigger distances between desks and frequent cleans. We’ve also looked into making the space available for other things, such as private events, pop-up restaurants and photo shoots. We’ve seen a huge interest from our neighbours and friends to help out and help each other through this difficult time.

People will stop and reflect on their work-life balance. They will adopt a more realistic nine-to-five workday; we’ve seen now that life is more than work

How do you think this situation will affect the future of workspaces in both the short term and beyond?

I think that first of all, people will be less keen to commute – maybe even avoiding it entirely for the next six months. Big offices might have to rethink their layouts. Crammed open-space landscapes and big meeting rooms will not work in the near future. Luckily, ARC is really well positioned. It’s a small, local neighbourhood workspace – much smaller than standard workplaces. Unlike in many offices, our staff are hospitality-trained when it comes to hygiene.

It also looks like people are starting to understand that a lot of their work can be done remotely. This is something that large businesses should take into account and offer their employees greater flexibility when it comes to their work. That could be working from home some days but, in saying that, many people, including myself, might crave social interaction during this time. And that’s really where a local co-working space will be ideal – not only for freelancers or solo workers but also for those in larger offices who wish to commute less often.

Do you believe we will we see paradigm changes in the way people work?

I really hope so. And I believe so, having seen what’s happened in the last few weeks. People will stop and reflect on their work-life balance. They will adopt a more realistic nine-to-five workday; we’ve seen now that life is more than work. It’s great to work from home some days but it’s also really important to get away from the house and work in a more professional environment, to put a distance between life and work. 

Design-wise, flexibility and simplicity are key

Are there any lessons you would take into account when working on new workspace-related ventures?

Design-wise, flexibility and simplicity are key. It’s also important to be mindful of keeping costs down, to be humble and to be agile. Being stuck in Sweden has also taught me that my job can be done from almost anywhere in the world. And, be nice to your neighbours.

Read more of our reportage on co-working in the time of COVID-19 here.