GRAND RAPIDS — The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the opening of a coworking space this summer in the historic Harris Building downtown, so the business is pivoting to offer digital memberships.
Little Space Studio LLC was wrapping up extensive renovations when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Michigan in March, around the time Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the stay-home executive order.
Owner and founder Alysha Lach White had planned a soft launch in March and a full opening in June for the coworking space, located at 111 S. Division Ave. Despite not yet fully opening, Little Space Studio started operating in a beta testing phase in 2019, hosting workshops and classes and operating a coworking space on a small scale.
“A lot of people we serve are creative freelance professionals that got hit pretty hard from the pandemic,” Lach White said. “All or a lot of their work has been cut. I know a handful of people still working, but the work dried up really quickly.”
Without being able to work in the physical space, Little Space Studio is expediting an affordable digital membership that’s expected to launch this summer. The membership will include an online message board, job search portal, digital workshops and online classes. Lach White also is starting a remote mentoring program to connect fellow creatives who want to bolster their careers or pick up a new professional skill.
“This was a pivotal moment,” Lach White said. “We have a lot of excitement because we don’t know how else to be right now. Our big mission over the summer and fall is to continue to engage our membership and continue to educate.”
Because Little Space’s services will be mainly on a digital platform for a while, people from outside of West Michigan will be able to take advantage of online programs, Lach White said, adding she has seen some non-local interest. All of the studio’s workshops will be online until at least 2021. The coworking space also offers an internship program that it switched to a remote model and has since received applications from across the country.
“It’s really exciting to see that people are reading about our studio and get really excited about the momentum,” Lach White said.
As far as opening up the physical coworking space, Lach White is taking the virus seriously, and does not anticipate being able to fully open the space until there is a vaccine or other proven way to safely operate. Her company could capitalize on some opportunities for private rentals or rent out some individual offices, she added.
The golden question, Lach White said, is how soon people will be comfortable coming to work again in a coworking setting. More and more people are working from home, and some are adjusting better than others, Lach White said.
“It really doesn’t matter what restrictions are in place, it matters how members feel and how clients feel,” she said. “I’ve been getting mixed signals on that. Some people are not meant to work at home and need human interaction, others are adapting but still miss the community so they are looking for more digital ways to connect.”
Despite the setbacks, Lach White said Little Space Studio is there to stay in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
“It’s heartbreaking not being able to use (the studio) but I would kick myself if I didn’t do it safely,” she said. “We are in it for the long haul and we’ll be in that location for at least five years. We’re building something that will be steady and last.”
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