Serviced offices and coworking spaces are renowned for their flexibility, on-site support, turnkey infrastructure and speedy setup. It is these same traits that enable flexible workspaces to help people and organizations who have been displaced due to emergency situations beyond their control.
Most recently, this concerns the devastating effects of natural disasters including Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, which between them have caused — and are still causing — widespread destruction and tragedies across the Caribbean and parts of the US.
No amount of textbook advice will prepare people and businesses for such life-shattering experiences. But at times like these, our industry can offer a small yet no less significant flag of hope.
Tony Bacigalupo from New Work Cities offers valuable advice on planning for the impact of natural disasters, and how coworking and workspace operators can help those affected.
“If you have advance warning, use it as an opportunity to get your communication plans in place. Make sure everyone has the contact information they need and if you have time, convene members online or in-person to discuss the threat and who needs what.
“If you’re in the path of a storm, take lots of photographs and videos of your space for insurance purposes.”
Tony also advises a coordination effort between spaces, so if one region is affected “others can pick up the slack”.
Asked how coworking spaces can help displaced businesses after an emergency, he says:
“Open up your doors! When people are displaced, just being able to get online and charge their devices can make a huge difference.
“If you’re in the region but not in the middle of the affected area, you can also coordinate relief efforts and/or members offering up housing for displaced residents.
“And, of course, coordinate or participate in fundraising and donor drives.”
Tony, who himself was impacted by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, offers advice to those affected:
“Practice self-care. If you’re in a disaster, even if you’re not personally or directly affected, it can be a huge emotional challenge. Make sure you remain aware of your needs and give yourself some time to process the feelings that are moving through you.”
Emergency Space for Disaster Relief Efforts
If your workspace is based away from the disaster zone area, you can provide a warm, safe and supportive place to land. This allows business owners to get connected and establish the current state of their affairs. They may need to contact customers to update or reassure them, store belongings, get in touch with their team and restore some sort of normality.
Nate Heasley, Executive Director of the All Good Work Foundation, recommends offering space to support organizations from outside the area who need office or event space to manage operations, hold disaster relief training, or to distribute necessities or information.
“Every operator should be giving back by donating office space, especially in a time of disaster like this. They should use this as an opportunity to become more connected to their local community by finding and supporting the organizations doing good work.”
For anyone coming into your space, the opportunity to charge their mobile devices, take stock of the situation and share a coffee with your coworking community will provide much-needed support.
There’s no ‘good’ time to do it, but disaster planning is a critical part of running a business.
Flexible workspace operators should re-visit emergency relief plans and consider calling on professional help to ensure key scenarios are covered.
Nate recommends hosting workshops or seminars for members and clients: “It’s a good idea to host workshops on disaster planning and other situations related to business continuation, such as remote working best practices, to help your members be prepared.
“It’s also an opportunity to take stock of your own situation and evaluate your own disaster preparedness.
“Plan ahead with other spaces or partners, establish your communications strategy in the event of a disaster or evacuation, and communicate your policy with your members as well as your staff.”
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Fundraising and Donations
Consider how you can support those affected by holding fundraising events or organizing donation boxes — clothes, food, blankets, bottles of drinking water, sanitary supplies, even toys and books for those waiting in shelters.
This is where you can really utilize your community. “Tap into your member opportunity to bring people together, support each other and work together to support a common cause,” added Nate.
Often, relief efforts are organized by local groups. Check with your local food banks, state government and larger aid agencies such as The Red Cross to donate funds and goods, or to volunteer your time.
Hurricane Harvey: How Workspaces Helped
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas and caused catastrophic damage and flooding, displacing tens of thousands of people.
The Austin Coworking Alliance, along with scores of coworking spaces in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, opened their doors not just to businesses, but to anyone seeking “community and calm space” after the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
Shelley Delayne of Orange Coworking, who co-ordinated the relief effort, stated:
“If you are in the Austin area and need a place to work that is not the crowded house or chaotic shelter you find yourself in, or you just need to be somewhere you can focus on work or filing insurance claims, please come take refuge with us.”
The Alliance created a map of coworking spaces across Texas offering help: https://goo.gl/tYmmyN
Here are more examples of many other workspaces who offered help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey:
- A new West Houston coworking space, The Cannon, opened its doors early to accommodate displaced businesses.
- WeWork offered free space and donated $150,000 as well as leading a fund-matching campaign.
- Denver-based Galvanize, which has a coworking space in Austin, gathered food and non-perishable donations to send to the Central Texas Food Bank.
- Capital Factory organized a blood donation campaign for those injured by the hurricane.
- Other coworking spaces offering support include ATXfactory, Createspace, Greenway Central, Hamlet Coworking, Impact Hub, Industrious, Launchpad Wellness, Level Office, Link, Orange Coworking, Soma Vida, T-Werx and The Breezz in Round Rock.
- Sali Saati of Quest Workspaces contributed to QuestCares, the company’s business philanthropy program, which was match-funded.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which has devastated parts of the Caribbean and southern coastal areas of the US, many aid agencies and local groups are coordinating fundraising campaigns and relief efforts.
To offer help or support, check with your local state government or food bank, or refer to the websites of aid agencies such as these: