The impact of Covid-19 on coworking spaces located in regions attracting digital nomads.

A conversation with Ruba Nemekh, General Manager at Porto i/o, Mayur Sontakke, Founder of NomadGao and Moe Tomoe of Founder TAO HUB. Moderator: Sara Magnabosco, Head of Operations Hacker Paradise.

Posted by [Pauline Roussel] on Monday, August 17, 2020
Share on:

Table of Contents

During this session, our panelists discuss the challenges and benefits of coworking spaces in the context of Covid19. They share their experiences and advice on coworking and provide an overview of how coworking spaces have been evolving in various countries. 



The resumption of tourism and nomadic travel in Portugal, India, and Thailand. 

Ruba started to talk about the situation in Porto, Portugal with regard to the resumption of air travel and the readiness of coworking spaces to welcome digital nomads, mentioning that Portugal has done a good job in resuming flights and is being perceived as a safe destination for travel. She also notes that there is an increasing interest from people abroad in visiting Portugal and joining the coworking community. The author emphasizes that everyone is welcome as long as they follow the new safety rules that are in place.

Mayur went on to discuss the current state of domestic flights in India, which he describes as looking like “spaceships running around” based on photos they have seen. It will take at least a few months for domestic tourism to start returning to normal, and the monsoon season will further delay progress. Mayur and his team expect that it may not be until next year that international nomads will be able to visit India and that flights will likely be expensive due to safety protocols. That being said, Mayur recognizes that they are fortunate to be in a market with a large local population and that for now, they will focus on domestic tourism.

Thailand, according to Moe, is currently offering free visas until the end of July. The government believes that Thailand will be a desirable destination once the borders open again and that people will miss the relaxed and caring atmosphere, great food, and diving industry. Moe is concerned that the diving industry may not return to pre-pandemic levels but is hopeful that more people will come for longer stays. She is also cautious about a large-scale opening of the country and believes that safety should be a top priority. On her side, she also admits not currently receiving many requests for accommodation and is not expecting a surge in visitors until later in the year.

The Current State of Mind of Nomads: Traveling vs. Not Traveling: that’s the question!

For Porto i/o, Ruba confirms that their nomad community has been active online and many nomads have expressed their desire to visit. The nomads who were in Porto had to leave when the situation became complicated in March. The community is composed of a mix of experts, slow travelers, and people who have decided to stay in Portugal long-term. Ruba values the love for Portugal and communal reasons as a reason for people to stay in the community and sees it as more than just a label of being a nomad.

At Gao Cowork things are slightly different. As Mayur explains, they are part of a small and well-connected community that started in November last year. They are considering changing the name of the space to better reflect their community’s values. Due to travel restrictions and the pandemic, past members are not in a position to make travel decisions and prefer to stay close to their families and friends. A survey conducted by his team revealed that most digital nomads would prefer to travel shorter distances in the next few years.

How are coworking spaces adapting to the pandemic?


During the COVID pandemic, a group of coworking spaces in Porto came together to support each other and create a safe working environment for their community. They have agreed on measures to form a safe working image, which will be launched in the upcoming weeks. Ruba’s team has also been running a national community conference called Cowork Buzz for the last four years, which has helped to connect with other coworking spaces and support each other. She believes that such initiatives should be replicated in other countries, and mentions the UK’s petition for keeping coworking spaces alive. Ruba acknowledges that the upcoming months will be challenging for coworking spaces, especially since government support will not be available anymore, and hopes that the coworking community stays strong.


Mayur mentions that their coworking space is unique because it also includes coliving, and they are trying to bring together other coworking spaces to see how they can survive during these difficult times. He notes that the economics of coworking has changed due to physical distancing and that it will be a harder time for pure-play coworking spaces. Nonetheless, he expresses support for other coworking spaces and is hoping to weather this period together.

Ko Tao

Ko Tao being a small island,  TAO HUB is the only one in their area with a focused local model. That being said, Moe has connections with coworking spaces in Japan (where she is from) and works to connect coworking spaces in their area with the local government. They do not have much communication with other coworking spaces in Thailand but are open to it in the future.

Physical Distancing, a challenge to nurturing communities in coworking spaces?

Mayur is experiencing a drop in the number of seats they can sell in their coworking space, so he is focusing on building personal relationships with resident members and connecting people who can benefit from each other’s services. As the community grows, there will be challenges with physical distancing, but he is confident that they will find ways to overcome them.

TAO HUB is a smaller space with a capacity of 10 to 20 people, and they have a garden where they work and hold online meetings. Moe mentions that they used to have weekly dinner parties, but they had to stop due to physical distancing. They have a small community of members who stay for long periods, and building a close-knit community is important to them. They used to invite outsiders, but they do not do that anymore due to concerns about the pandemic. She hopes to have large parties in the future, but they are currently uncertain.

Porto i/o can’t complain much about the situation and followed the news and government updates to narrow down ideas for adapting their coworking space during the pandemic. They conducted a simple survey and one-on-one talks with the community to ask them what measures would make them feel safe. They implemented measures such as extra hand sanitizers, tutorials for disinfecting, and new house rules. They are not running events, and they put strict rules in place to understand the experience of people in the space during the first month. Ruba emphasizes that they are very strict with the idea that there is no social distancing in a coworking space, as it is a continuation of the house and physical distance is needed to ensure people feel comfortable. (Similar to what Bertie Van Wyk from Herman Miller was mentioning in his talk here).

The relevance of coworking spaces post-pandemic

Ruba believes that coworking spaces are safer than restaurants and coffee shops. She suggests that people who previously worked from cafes may switch to coworking spaces or Airbnb and mentions an example of a person who opted for flexible coworking membership to work on a side project. 

For Moe, the choice to work from a cafe or coworking space is more about lifestyle than safety, as some people prefer the social atmosphere and collaboration of coworking spaces while others prefer the quieter atmosphere of cafes. She also mentions that even though cafes may have more spread-out tables and less interaction between people, the choice of where to work will ultimately depend on where the individual feels more comfortable working.

Mayur discusses the importance of safety in coworking spaces and mentions a recent conference where the topic of safety came up. He talks about how being part of a coworking community is important for people, especially during times when people feel lonely or afraid. He also emphasizes that coworking spaces offer more than just a desk and chair, but also a caring community and notes that while some may not understand the difference between a coffee shop and a coworking space or may think coworking is expensive, he still believes that coworking spaces provide valuable benefits.

Keeping your coworking community engaged during the lockdown

Mayur says that they tried to keep the community engaged during the lockdown by organizing webinars and shares but the engagement was low due to the saturation of webinars. They are now focusing on maintaining the connection and ensuring that people do not forget them.

In Ko Tao, Moe said they prioritize the safety of their members over engagement and kept communication to what was essential, sharing information on their Facebook page. 

Last but not least, Ruba from Porto i/o shared that they held online events during the pandemic to provide social time for their members and help them stay engaged in their projects. They also provided materials from the government and shared information to help members understand what was happening during the pandemic. Porto i/o emphasized one-on-one conversations to ensure members were safe and checked in with them virtually. However, Ruba notes that virtual communication was not as effective as face-to-face communication. She is happy to see their coworkers safely socializing together in person and values this as an important part of their organization’s culture.