With more businesses relying on remote work, coworking spaces may not be a niche much longer


Jamy Kunjappu has run his 3D graphic design company Enhanced 3D remotely since he went self-employed in 2013.

For those eight years, Kunjappu’s workspace has been in The Candy Factory, a Lancaster-based coworking space established in the city’s downtown in 2010. At the beginning of the pandemic, Kunjappu, like all office workers at the time, was forced to move his operations back home– a particularly difficult transition to make with five kids at home all taking online classes for the first time.

“During the early part of COVID they were doing virtual at home stuff,” he said. “It was kind of a challenge to work at home when they were.”

Coworking spaces in the midstate began the difficult process of reopening their work early last summer and found that while it would take well into 2021 before daily visits returned to pre-pandemic levels, many members came back immediately.

“We had a lot of folks tell us that they tried working from home but it just didn’t work out,” said Adam Porter, co-founder of [email protected], a coworking space founded in Harrisburg in 2013. “We had one member who joined before the end of the year, left for a few months and is now back because it just wasn’t possible to be productive. A lot of it settles around kids and pets.”

[email protected], 922 N 3rd St., Harrisburg, reopened with precautions last July. Now, with vaccinations more commonplace, the coworking space is nearly back to its membership numbers from February 2020, the company’s best month on record.

While many coworking space users made offices for themselves at home, many found that their coworking spaces were best for social zoom gatherings during the pandemic, and they missed the community that the spaces offered.

“Here you get lots of startups and people with lots of ambition,” said David Cawley, an independent SAP Consultant who rents private office space from [email protected] “You get to work with people focused on their business, versus a coffee shop where people are doing different things. Based on the business you have, there are networking opportunities here.”

The move to coworking

Over the years, one of the biggest challenges for any coworking space has been convincing a community that it need a place to work away from their homes, said Porter. He noted that until more people had their own experiences with remote work because of the pandemic, many didn’t understand why someone would need to work out of home.

“There wasn’t that hands-on, true understanding of what this is and isn’t,” he said. “That lived experience is probably the best marketing we’ve had. I just wish it hadn’t come from such difficult circumstances.”

Many members of a coworking space come for a change of scenery, better Wi-Fi and access to conference rooms, but what they find are like-minded people they can bounce ideas off of, network with and befriend, said Anne Kirby, founder of The Candy Factory.

“What makes us unique is the community, the people,” she said. “I would always say that the community would survive without the space and with the pandemic I was able to see that for real.”

One of the benefits of that community is that members have access to a wide variety of industry professionals outside of their scope of practice, something that came in handy during the heat of the pandemic.

“We had CPA’s, attorneys and accountants all in our community,” Kirby said. “I would say ‘here are the things you need to know about these loans’ and someone would chime in and say ‘make sure that you have this or that document.’”

That interplay of different industries is even more obvious in person, according to Jose Johnson, speaker author, consultant and mindfulness coach at Jose Johnson Enterprises.

“You have all these different people, perspectives and experiences and for the most part they are all willing to share their insights,” he said. “I come from a creative space but it can be nice to talk to someone from a programming, accounting or media perspective.”

Expanding within a community

With membership numbers returning to normal, coworking spaces in the midstate have an opportunity to reevaluate their plans for expansion. Those plans look very different depending on where a space is headquartered and the members they have.

Nonprofit coworking space, The Grotto Community Center opened in York months before the pandemic shut them down again. Today, The Grotto has 24 active members utilizing both dedicated desks and flexible space for more drop-in drop-out use.

Something that leadership discovered while operating the space is that local artists were interested in renting out space to work but were afraid that it was too nice for them to work in. In response, The Grotto opened artist studios on the fourth floor of its 2 W. Market St. headquarters.

“When we acquired the fourth floor, that space was raw,” said Chelsea Foster, president of The Grotto’s board. “We let them paint and add flooring in each one of those studios– it’s great for creatives.”

Bringing artists into The Grotto could give the nonprofit’s corporate members a chance to network with creatives, said Benjamin Spangler, The Grotto’s current executive director.

“You have creatives lacking in a certain set of skills but they may have a skill advantageous to a business,” Spangler said. “Our goal is to form this collaborative space where these individuals are part of the same community and they can do that collaboration.”

The Grotto also offers a photo studio with rentable equipment, which it saw a demand for on the heels of the pandemic. Similarly, The Candy Factory is expanding its media studio — growing it from a small room for its in-house media club to a 3,000-square-foot media floor in an adjacent building.

Using the media studio, members of The Candy Factory have access to lights, mics, cameras and sets for filming podcasts, live streams and more. The space is a good example of an offering by a coworking facility created out of a need from its membership, said Robert Diggs, community and partnerships lead with RSA US and a member of the media club.

“It may not make sense for another coworking facility,” Diggs said. “They happened to realize that they could put together this wonderful engine that is the media club that allows folks to be expressive in a digital forward way.”

Porter and his team are looking to expand [email protected] with a second location. The company is not yet ready to announce the location, but Porter said that when looking for a new coworking space, the focus is on finding a vibrant neighborhood that gives members direct access and not something like a suburban business park.

“We want a neighborhood with amenities around it– we exist to help small businesses grow,” he said. “We help neighborhoods and they help us.”

Remote working as a benefit

Companies that are staying remote post-pandemic could profit from viewing coworking as a potential benefit if they don’t want to lose their workers to pre-pandemic remote employers, according to Kirby.

“Businesses will want to be smart about that. People are looking for companies that will provide workplace flexibility,” she said. “It’s not just about working from home. Talent will go elsewhere and go to companies offering them that flexibility.”


Training program helps companies build on the tools they already have

Mark Boldizar and Johane Ligondé. PHOTOS PROVIDED.


Following a chance meeting during an online leadership program, a former Armstrong Flooring senior manager and a New York-based educator teamed up to build their own business leadership program that challenges clients to use the tools they already have.

Mark Boldizar and Johane Ligondé never met in person but spent the last few months building a three-month-long leadership program for small to mid-sized businesses.

The program, “Science of Self Mastery: Business Leadership Edition,” is a virtual class where participants assess their organization’s needs and work with Boldizar and Ligondé to see how they can accomplish those needs using what is available to them.

“Sometimes you’ll run into a client that says ‘you don’t know my business’ and that’s one of the signs where they are stuck in their paradigms,” said Boldizar. “Really, what we are trying to bring are simple measurements that apply to all industries. We bring a more general overarching approach and people ask how that will help them but it’s about boiling it down into the basics.”

Boldizar is a former manufacturing operations and research and development executive. He founded his consulting firm, Boldizar Consulting Services, in 2018. He held a number of roles ranging from principal scientist to plant manager at Armstrong World Industries and remained as a senior manager after Armstrong Flooring split with Armstrong World in 2016.

Ligondé is the principal for Freeport School District in Freeport, New York, and founder of Joyous Leader International, a consulting firm that teaches, trains and equips leaders with self-care and leadership skills.

Ligondé said that while she and Boldizar have different skills and levels of expertise, the two of them share a desire to give back and help smaller businesses have access to training.

In building out the program together, Ligondé said that she and Boldizar complemented one another because of their different perspectives.

“Mark works with formulas and I work more on the people aspect of it,” she said. “We talked through things but we had different responsibilities. We would share documents, text each other and talk through the different elements. That’s what makes our course and program so complete. Because of the level of attention that we gave to the details.”

The program’s focus on helping clients use the tools at their disposal is a response to the many times Boldizar’s clients have made statements like “If only I had more money,” or “If only I had the right people.”

“Why is it that you think there is this magical pool of outstanding employees waiting to come to your organization?” he asked. “Usually you have good people or the potential for good people. The framework to help people become self-aware and develop, that’s about coaching individuals to rise to their highest potential.”

For Ligondé and Boldizar, every issue brought to them through their program can be boiled down to a key problem that needs to be resolved through a comprehensive look at the business.

Ligondé said part of that comprehensive approach is cultural diversity training, but not the kind that many businesses already do. “We are talking about race, economic status, different ethnicities and perspectives that people bring to the table,” she said. “The foundation of the work we do is comprehensive and that cultural diversity training is part of it. If an organization comes to us and says this is what we need, we can show up and get fully engaged in that work.”

The program operates on a three month schedule, but clients are able to choose aspects of the program they would like to use if they don’t want all three months.

For businesses that do enroll in all three months, the program is split up into three parts titled game plan, scoreboard and winning.

After assessing what problems need to be tackled in the game plan phase, businesses work on how they will monitor their success in the scoreboard phase, something that Ligondé said was crucial to the program.

“It’s important for us to measure their success,” she said. “Part of that is always creating different ways to allow for progress. How do you measure improved collaboration or improved emotional intelligence?”

The final phase of the program is winning, where Ligondé and Boldizar argue that clients will have developed strengths and innovative solutions and increased profitability. When completing work meant to help a business see results, it’s all about taking action and pushing for retention of whatever is being taught through outside assignments and through accountability and audits of progress, Boldizar said.

“We can say here is what should work, but unless employees take ownership, the changes won’t happen,” he said. “I’ve worked in big companies and small companies. A lot of times in big corporations, when you talk about development, it turns into a performance review and they focus on what you aren’t good at and that doesn’t encourage change.”

Lancaster software company offers online scheduling for contractors

Schedule Engine builds mobile apps that contractors can use to communicate with clients. PHOTO PROVIDED

Lancaster-based contractor scheduling software company Schedule Engine lets contractors offer their clients remote consultations to limit in-person house visits.

Founded in 2016, the software developer builds web widgets and mobile apps that contractors can use to offer online booking, live chat support and online diagnostic support to clients.

The virtual offerings have become even more important for contractors as safety concerns related to home calls grew as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Austin Haller, founder and CEO of Schedule Engine.

Prior to the pandemic, the company had an average monthly growth rate of 20%. Haller said that as of May, that rate tripled to around 60%.

“Recent circumstances have demonstrated that virtual service is essential for contractors,” Haller said. “Remote assist and Schedule Engine’s other virtual services like online booking and 24/7 live chat support, present an opportunity for contractors to scale their businesses efficiently.”

For Haller, Schedule Engine’s growth validates the company’s decision to provide virtual solutions such as its remote consultations, which the company refers to as Remote Assist.

According to the company, 50% of problems reported through Schedule Engine’s Remote Assist are resolved virtually, with 80% of remaining calls being solved during the contractor’s first visit.

“COVID-19 accelerated a trend that was already in progress for home services contractors, and that actually validates the direction we’ve been headed in,” Haller said. “Consumers have wanted easier, more convenient ways to engage with local home service providers for a long time, and Schedule Engine helps contractors deliver that.”