HALIFAX — Mark down one more tiny step towards normalcy for some small businesses and independent workers in Halifax today, as one of the city’s main co-working spaces reopened.
Volta officially opened its networking space on July 15, letting members who pay to use the shared group workspace back for the first time since Covid-19 forced the space closed in March.
“The network community is really an important part of what makes Volta one of the foundations of the city’s business network, and people have been missing that. We’ve had lots of interest, lots of questions, people are keen to get back,” Volta interim CEO Martha Casey told Huddle.
However, the strict safety measures Volta has put in place remind anyone inside how not normal the pandemic is.
Casey says the reduced hours and capacity at the networking space are just the beginning. Only network members can enter the space, and they have to complete a health checkup every time they come in.
Masks are mandatory, meeting rooms are closed, sanitizer is everywhere, and no one in the space can eat or drink. Furniture has also been strategically placed to ensure proper social distancing is practiced.
“We’re very confident that we can do this in a safe way that ensures not only our staff but the broader network community is able to interact in a way that is so important but also a way that is safe,” Casey says.
Tanya Matthews is the director of Workspace Atlantic, which operates three coworking spaces in the HRM.
Workspace Atlantic didn’t completely shut down its coworking spaces at the height of the pandemic, but Matthews says there were often only one or two people using them.
She says things at their spaces are still mostly quiet but beginning to “pick back up.”
Like Volta, Workspace Atlantic has put all kinds of health measures in place, including a new digital booking platform, dividers to break up large rooms, and labelling individual chairs and tables so members can book specific spots.
Matthews says these measures, combined with some people’s desire to stop working from home, is what’s finally luring people back.
“People who are working from home, some people are liking it, but some people have definitely had enough,” she says.
She says those people who have had enough are ready to be out of the house, away from distractions, and back in a more “work-like” work environment.
Casey agrees that coworking spaces are important for people who don’t thrive working for home. But, more than that, they’re a vital part of Halifax’s business ecosystem.
She says Volta partners have told her people are making more of an effort to seek out individual, peer-to-peer guidance, but that “there’s no substitute for on-site, face-to-face interaction from time to time.”
“When you think about a community like Volta, this is how you learn about what other companies are doing and what’s happening in the ecosystem,” Casey says. “If you find out somebody’s got some time to do some freelance work, for example, you can pick up that employee. There are all kinds of little opportunities that might get missed that actually are what builds an ecosystem.”
She said the Volta partners had that in mind as they prepared to reopen Volta’s coworking space and that, even though it’s still quite downtown, now is the right time to start rebuilding that community.