Photo: Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media
Just a couple of months ago, Marcella Kovac and Jordan Rabidou, co-founders of the B:Hive co-working space, were looking for a third location.
Already, their spaces in Bridgeport and Southport had about 80 members, showing considerable growth since opening in 2012.
Then came the public health crisis — and a sizable dropoff in memberships as the majority of the state self-isolated.
For a business like B:Hive, and others in the “sharing economy” exemplified by the likes of Uber and Airbnb — companies that rely on different people occupying the same space — social distancing orders have had a disquieting effect.
At B:Hive, the search for a third location is on pause — at least for now. The long term prognosis, five- to ten-years after pandemic, for B:Hive and others like it, is uncertain.
“We’re hoping that it’ll bounce back rather quickly” Kovac said. “But being realistic, I think it may be more of a slow trickle.”
Speculation about the health of the sharing economy has already begun. A recent poll from the research and consulting firm Ipsos shows that a sizable share of Americans feel they’ll be less less reliant on sharing-economy services once quarantine guidelines are lifted.
Problems that began before the pandemic for WeWork, a shared-office business, have only accelerated. According to one report from the analytics firm Second Measure, Uber’s total rides dropped 83 percent in March. Lyft recently laid off nearly 1,000 employees. And the pandemic has cast doubt on Airbnb’s plans to go public this year, as tourism has ground to a halt.
But, those are short-term snapshots of the industry. Sukh Grewal, CEO and co-founder of the New Haven-based startup Veoci, has a rosier view of the industry’s future.
“The shared economy is unstoppable now,” Grewal said. “Underneath it all, it is the optimal use of resources. … Coronavirus or not, nothing’s going to change that.”
Kovac and Rabidou, for their part, know they’ll likely have to change the way they conduct business. But they also envision a future, post-pandemic, in which more people work remotely and seek out shared spaces.
Jon Winkel, co-founder of Stamford Innovation Week and executive director of the nonprofit Stamford Partnershsip, predicted a similar fate, one that will require sharing businesses to adapt.
Already, Airbnb has announced new cleaning standards and a 24-hour window between guests.
Co-working spaces, like B:Hive, face a long road ahead before they again open their doors to what will likely be a wary workforce. But, in time, the sharing economy will make a comeback, Winkel said. It might even grow stronger as people address their pent-up need for human contact.
“It could take two years for people to really, psychologically recover from this,” Winkel said. “It could even take longer, who knows? But at some point we will get over this. We’ll get a vaccine and it’ll be in people’s rearviews.”
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