Elizabeth Hurt

Coworking operator remained profitable during COVID with coworking software

How one coworking operator pivoted and remained profitable during COVID: A look into Utah-based Avanti Workspace

Workspace Geek helps simplify the operations of Avanti Workspace’s four centers. Their Carlsbad location is pictured here.

When Shauna Holley joined Utah-based Avanti Workspace after leaving a major executive suites company in 2003, she learned the value of flexibility as a shared workspace operator. Leading a locally-owned business with four shared workspace and coworking centers across Salt Lake City, UT and Carlsbad, CA rather than waiting weeks or months for approval from large corporations, Holley could, for the first time, operate carte blanche with freedom to modify products, services and operations quickly and as needed in response to the changing demands of her clients and the market.

Nearly twenty years later, that nimbleness and accommodating attitude has prepared her well to keep Avanti Workspace thriving despite a shared workspace industry turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has been a game changer”

“COVID has been a game changer,” Holley acknowledges. As has been true for most coworking and flex space providers, the pandemic has disrupted some of Avanti’s business streams. The biggest hit has come from larger clients with teams of 20 or more who have encouraged their team members to stay home. But where others see a problem, Holley sees opportunity.

Holley and her team got to work modifying these larger team rooms to accommodate single clients. Using clear plexiglass panels hung from the ceiling to the floor, what was once a large room for one client became a large room for many; fully-enclosed work areas now provide full safety while still offering a feeling of openness and community. What’s more, in a shrewd business move, Avanti reached out to area universities to market these spaces to college students looking for private study areas away from more highly-trafficked libraries and dorms.

Adapting coworking services

Holley also expanded and further promoted Avanti’s virtual office services, recognizing those could help bridge the gap in loss of revenue from traditional in-suite clients. More than ever, she notes, small businesses are seeking virtual offices including mailing addresses, local phone numbers, conference rooms, and receptionist services, proven by Avanti’s 40% increase in this income stream since COVID hit.

And her existing virtual office clients? “Fewer clients want to come here to get their mail,” she comments. In response, Holley developed a new “stout” mail management service through which clients can request Avanti to open, scan, forward and shred mail any time for any duration, eliminating the need for them to come to the office to retrieve correspondence.

Holley put her shoulder behind digital marketing, as well. She continues to run Google ads and has developed a partnership with Yelp to promote her coworking spaces through sponsored ads, and works to encourages clients and guests to check in on Yelp to leave reviews of their positive experience in exchange for discounted meeting rooms. She has created a series of video tours of each center, which have been successful in generating new business without the typical prerequisite of an in-person tour.

Of course, enhanced health protocols including mandatory masks, lower meeting room capacities, and more frequent disinfecting have been implemented to keep clients and staff confident in the safety of their workspace.

Flexible operations is key

During challenging times, Holley maintains it is the capacity to be flexible and make decisions right away that has helped Avanti Workspace – and their clients – weather the storm. She credits the following principles to Avanti’s success and to her personal, long-lasting relationship with its clients, some of whom who have been with her for more than three decades:

  • Honor your commitment to your clients. It is your job to provide them a safe, productive, and pleasant workspace, global pandemic or not.
  • Humanize their experience. Empathy goes a long way in building and keeping long-lasting client relationships. When COVID hit, Holley reached out to individual clients and offered tailored assistance, whether by reducing their rent, helping them acquire PPP loans, or promoting their businesses through Avanti’s extensive network. Remember, we are all going through this together.
  • Know your worth. Especially now, it’s tempting to drastically discount your services just to bring in cash flow. Don’t be short-sighted, and resist the urge to lock into long-term contracts with undesirable or unprofitable terms. Instead, consider offering discounted weekly rentals or another perk which takes less away from your bottom line.
  • Have the right software on your side. Holley manages all accounting and billing for Avanti’s 460+ clients, and knows their needs inside and out. She relies on Workspace Geek to make managing and communicating with her clients a breeze. Holley notes that as “Avanti Workspace evolves our offerings as the market changes, and in particular during COVID, we have been able to modify our service groups easily and with real-time changes to our website for online signings and reservations. Since the launch of Workspace Geek, our workflow has been simplified. We love this platform and partnership and would highly recommend them to any coworking or space provider.”