Coronavirus: Why Some Workspaces May Be Classed “Essential Business” And Should Remain Open

If you have never considered a virtual office or a workspace as essential business, now’s the time to think again.
  • Businesses around the world are being advised to temporarily close because of the COVID-19 pandemic unless they are classed as essential businesses. 
  • In many areas, workspace and virtual office providers are classed as essential businesses if they are registered as CRMAs and they process and handle mail. 
  • In such spaces, there’s a significant volume of mail arriving at the center every day and if they close, businesses could risk missing important pieces of mail.

The COVID-19 pandemic is sending shockwaves around the world, and many businesses are implementing new remote work policies or temporarily closing, in the wake of official guidelines on restricted movement and self isolation.

However, those classed as ‘essential businesses’ are staying open (as best they can) — and in many areas this includes workspaces and virtual offices that process and handle mail.

Case in point, a ‘shelter in place’ Order came into effect in San Mateo, California, on Monday March 16, which orders all residents to stay at home and only permits essential businesses to remain open. The Order states:

All Essential Businesses are strongly encouraged to remain open. To the greatest extent feasible, Essential Businesses shall comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in Section 10 below, including, but not limited to, when any customers are standing in line.

Here’s how the Order defines “Essential Businesses” (section 10. f. x.):

Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes.

This defines virtual offices and any flexible workspace that handles and processes mail as an ‘essential business’ that can, and indeed should, remain open.

Currently, this relates to most counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is now under severe lockdown. However, as more cities and States restrict movement in a bid to fight the coronavirus, these procedures are expected to be rolled out further.

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What makes a workspace a ‘mailing or shipping service’?

Most companies that use virtual offices and flexible workspaces use the center’s address as their registered business address. All mail sent to that business goes to their workspace, which is received and processed by a member of staff.

To accept mail legally, every center must register with the USPS as a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA), and each client must also give official notarized consent for the center to do so. Once that has been done, CMRA centers become an outpost of the USPS with the ability to receive, process and forward mail on behalf of those named businesses.

Due to the number of companies physically and virtually housed at these spaces, there’s a significant volume of mail arriving at the center every single day. If those centers are forced to close for a period of weeks or months, businesses could risk missing important pieces of mail.

Therefore the Order states that workspaces, as essential businesses, are “strongly encouraged to remain open”.

Ultimately as this relates to the USPS, any workspace with CMRA status that collects and distributes mail could be classed an ‘essential business’.

As it stands, the only time workspaces classed as ‘essential businesses’ shouldn’t stay open is if there is a specific health concern within their center — such as a WeWork location in New York that was forced to close after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

What does this Order tell us?

It shows that if you have never considered a virtual office or a workspace as essential business, or if you have never really acknowledged the massive impact and value our industry brings to the business world and to local and national economies, now’s the time to think again.

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