CoHo navigates pandemic storm

MILFORD – For Kristin Hardwick, co-owner of downtown’s popular Coworking House, 52 Nashua St., reckoning with the twists and turns of the COVID-19 crisis has been a struggle but she said the innovative workspace has weathered the changes in how people continue to work remotely.

The 7,500 square foot space allows members to create their own work environment, which fuels a collaborative networking environment with open seating, private offices, and meeting space.

Hardwick said that Coworking House has managed to stay the course during these times.

“Knock on wood, we’re doing well,” she said. “We weren’t really sure of what to expect when the whole pandemic happened and everything shutdown. Several of our members were considered essential employees so they kept working and a lot of our members already worked remotely for companies.”

Now that they’ve reopened to the public, the space has actually seen some growth from parents who are now working from home and are not finding that conducive to their productivity.

“With kids and teenagers at home, some parents are working from here,” she said. “And people who have been laid off, have started their own businesses or are doing some consulting.”

Just a few of the companies who have continued to maintain their workspaces at CoHo include Title Tap, Demarest Directions, Milford Thrives, Carney Communications, Dr. Nancy Hutchinson, All Girl Shave Club, Terzakis and Associates, Holly Bly Fitness, Living Natural, and Kristin Hardwick Photography.

Hardwick said they have had some growth and recognizes that not everyone has been as fortunate right now.

“A lot of people decided to do something on their own after they might have been furloughed,” she said. “There is certainly a trend in corporate America of laying people off. People feel like now is the chance to do something that they really want to do.”

According to Hardwick, CoHo had just reached capacity the week before the shutdown happened.

“I had to buy a bunch of desks and new chairs because we had expanded to the third floor,” she said. “But then obviously, a lot of our members were using the space less frequently.”

Hardwick said there is plenty of space to spread out and there is more expanded seating space.

“We’ve opened our private offices into day rentals,” she explained. “That way people can come in and use that space one to three times a week and don’t have to commit to a whole month.”

Looking across the oval, Hardwick has seen some fellow business owners close their doors as many could not sustain the months of closure.

“We’re really sad,” she said. “We’ve been here a year and these people who we got to know and became our friends. It’s really disheartening. I want the oval to be thriving and energetic.”

Pastiche Boutique and Forever Yoga are two businesses that closed their physical doors due to the pandemic.

The reason that CoHo has been “holding on,” Hardwick said, is because the “shared model” is more cost-effective.

“It makes more sense to join a membership space like here than to rent your own office space for three years,” she said.

In terms of trends there have been a lot more remote workers who are classified as people who do not work for themselves but rather work for other companies.

“We have had an uptick there,” Hardwick said. “And it might be for people who don’t have great Wi-Fi at home, or don’t have home offices, or just can’t work and live in their house all the time. Some people can’t set their hours or are working at home from a kitchen table with too many distractions.”

Finding the right rhythm with working at home doesn’t come easily to everybody, which is why places like CoHo help people find a creative and productive workspace.

“Even older kids don’t necessarily respect the fact that dad is home working,” Hardwick said.

The other aspect missing from CoHo’s current work model, is the number of live events which have not happened under COVID-19.

“We haven’t had any in-person events,” Hardwick said. “That’s probably the biggest hit that we’ve taken. That was our whole marketing strategy. We held roughly four in-person events per month and we’ve dropped down to virtual events, like virtual book clubs.”

Muddling through the health crisis has been a challenge for most businesses, with parents being no exception, as they’ve had their kids home from school for months and the outlook for the fall is still a bit blurry.

“I think 90 percent of our members are parents,” she said. “Without knowing what the fall looks like in terms of schooling, and really none of us do, it’s so hard for anyone to make plans for September.”