It’s been an exhausting, head-spinning year. You’ve weathered the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and found new ways to serve your patrons while keeping them and your staff safe. Now, as the world settles into a new normal, your community has new needs. One of them is an increased demand for remote coworking space — and your library can help.
Even before the pandemic, more and more workers were becoming digital nomads. As displaced office workers join freelancers and entrepreneurs, the number of Americans working remotely continues to grow. By 2025, it’s expected to double from pre-pandemic levels to more than 36.2 million.1
The pandemic forced millions of Americans into remote work situations. While some workers have welcomed this change, it has not been ideal for everyone. Many people lack adequate space to create a dedicated home office. Others find their home environments too distracting or isolating. And still others have unreliable technology at home, especially in communities without broadband internet service.
Although commercial coworking space is growing in popularity, it’s not for everyone. These spaces often require monthly rent or membership fees, which are commitments not all workers can make. They are also usually in city centers rather than small towns or suburbs.
How Libraries Can Help with Coworking Space
Public libraries have been called “the original coworking spaces” for a reason: they are ideally positioned to offer the amenities remote workers need to do their jobs outside a traditional office. In fact, by 2017, more than one-third of U.S. libraries already offered space for mobile workers and dedicated coworking spaces.2
Many of the things you have been doing to keep your patrons safe in your library during the pandemic also lend themselves perfectly to a flexible, socially distanced coworking space. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Assess Your Environment
If you’ve been digitizing collections and reducing your shelved materials over the past few years, consider dedicating some of that floor space to coworking. It doesn’t have to be huge — even a small space can accommodate a number of workers at communal tables.
Look for a quiet corner of your library away from the children’s section, circulation desk, and other bustling areas. Consider the flow of traffic nearby, and use floor decals to encourage patrons to take less disruptive paths.
2. Furnish Your Space
Some remote workers need a place to open a laptop and focus. Others need meeting spaces for groups and privacy for occasional phone calls as they work to grow a new business.
Large tables that allow patrons to work alone or in small groups contribute to a contemporary, inviting atmosphere and provide room to spread out. To keep devices charged, look for tables with built-in power or offer a multiport charging station nearby.
If an assortment of smaller work surfaces better fits your space, consider those that can be configured in different arrangements depending on users’ needs. Use movable screens or freestanding barriers to offer separation or privacy for individual workers. Mobile whiteboards can do double-duty as both dividers and a place for small groups to share notes and problem-solve.
If space permits, add casual collaboration spaces using comfortable lounge seating.
Learn How to Design Your Library for a Post-COVID-19 World
Download this guide to discover how you can promote safety while still creating a welcoming library environment. Learn how to choose the right furnishings, and get design solutions that make patrons feel safe while still enabling you to provide essential services.
3. Check Your Tech
A big draw of public libraries is the availability of bulky, expensive equipment that many remote workers don’t have the money or space for at home. The following amenities make it easier for patrons to succeed in your coworking space:
- Free or inexpensive wireless printing (both black and white and color)
- Large-format printers
- 3D printers and building equipment
- Computers equipped with design software such as CAD or InDesign
- Flat-screen monitors
- Projectors in meeting areas
4. Expand Your Programming
You can enhance your library’s appeal as a place to start and grow careers and businesses with programming on resumé writing, creating a business plan, looking for funding sources for small businesses, and so on. Hosting these in your coworking space or a well-equipped meeting room will demonstrate that your library offers everything remote workers need.
You might also consider having open hours for patrons to seek advice from a reference librarian focused on business topics. Some libraries also offer drop-in IT support for patrons’ devices.
No matter what the future holds, flexible work and the coworking spaces that support it are here to stay. With even a small investment in space and resources, your library can be a desirable, reliable destination for remote workers in your community.
1 Upwork “Future Workforce Pulse Report” https://www.upwork.com/press/releases/upwork-study-finds-22-of-american-workforce-will-be-remote-by-2025
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