Coworking in the COVID Era – A Look Into Lisbon’s Coworking Spaces

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, Lisbon’s coworking spaces are being forced to adapt to new restrictions and work habits — and banking on a comeback.

There’s no question that the pandemic has created new challenges for Lisbon’s coworking spaces. But as people around the world are increasingly encouraged (or required) to work from home, will the resulting rise in remote work lead to a boon for this sector?

Rebecca Crespo is the Lisbon city manager for Croissant, a popular app that allows subscribers to access a vast network of coworking spaces around the world for a monthly fee.

According to her, “In Lisbon, the spaces closed around the months of March–June, and began to open up slowly following the guidelines of the government. At Croissant, we moved from supporting in-person events to online events and took the time to focus on digital content that features entrepreneurs and freelancers within the Lisbon community.”

“In the public health sense, we always recommend people follow health guidelines, and in general, less people have been visiting spaces this year in order to maintain social distance — understandably so,” says Rebecca.

At least one space in Lisbon closed its doors permanently this year. House of Maria Amalia was a small space near Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, known for its homey atmosphere and pet-friendly policy. A representative from the space confirmed to Atlas that it had to close due to the pandemic.

However, many of the city’s coworking spaces have managed to survive and are starting to recover from this year’s losses.

Avila Spaces is a business center and coworking space located near Saldanha. Founder and CEO Carlos Gonçalves told Atlas that although it had to close from March 14 to May 4, the space is already recovering, and has about 50% of the members it had in January and February.

Carlos Gonçalves, founder and CEO of Avila Spaces. Photo courtesy of Avila Spaces.

Like most coworking spaces, Avila has implemented changes in response to the pandemic. Its Work Safe plan lays out seven measures to maximize safety, from temperature checks at the door to individually packaged cutlery in the kitchen.

Hyggelig is another relatively small coworking space located near Largo do Intendente. It opened its doors at the beginning of the year, and was still trying to gain visibility when the coronavirus pandemic began to affect Lisbon. 

Nikolaj Tørring, founder of Hyggelig, tells Atlas that the space closed in March and reopened in June, but with less desks available than the usual 16. They put a halt to all events and removed the space from coworking platforms (such as Croissant).

As a result, Hyggelig has seen much less business than expected in its first year. Nevertheless, Tørring is hopeful for the future.

“We are now waiting, riding it out and hoping for 2021 to be better… I think there is a short-term fall in usage of coworking spaces, but I do also believe that the world has opened its eyes [to] remote working and its possibilities. We already now see an increase in people’s interest in coworking spaces,” he says.

It seems that other coworking experts agree. “We believe the demand will grow in the short term, as the pandemic boosted the flexible work trends,” says Carlos Gonçalves.

And according to Rebecca Crespo, “With the rise of remote work, I think in the future we will see an increase in people using coworking spaces, as companies have seen the benefits of having their employees work from home. I still think people still want a sense of community and flexibility, which they can find at coworking spaces — along with good coffee.”

This sense of hope for the future is also supported by sizable recent investments in coworking spaces.

In early November, the sitio network announced that it would open three new spaces in Lisbon and Porto by the end of the year. And in June, the Portuguese government dedicated 20 million euros to the creation of new coworking spaces in the country’s interior, pointing to the possibility of a bright future for the industry.

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