In the coming weeks, several coworking operators will release a playbook for the return to work during the ongoing pandemic. Deemed the Workspace Operator Readiness Coalition, the group consists of 15 providers across four continents, including Convene, Industrious, IWG, CBRE’s Hana in the U.S., Mindpsace and Talent Garden in Europe, and JustCo and Awfits in Asia.
The playbook will be released after a host of experts from the fields of epidemiology, real estate, architecture, and engineering weigh in on the safest solutions for flexible office spaces moving forward.
This initiative shows the extremity of the current situation: how will coworking spaces — which are shared, open spaces where people regularly interact — adapt their protocols to become virus-proof work environments?
As the playbook will undoubtedly emphasize, inspecting a space’s architectural and behavioral interventions will expose key issues. Once a space recognizes these issues, operators can then begin to address the most pressing concerns, such as airflow, disinfecting, social distancing, and testing, to name a few.
For operators looking to reopen and welcome members back to their workspaces, there are numerous safeguards that have already proven effective in mitigating the spread of viruses.
1. Offer COVID-proof private offices
Spaces like B.Amsterdam in The Netherlands are providing special-edition offices for people who want to work outside of their homes, but in a secure setting. B.Amsterdam’s private offices offer “a safe and clean environment with limited physical contact,” according to the coworking space’s website. Each office is equipped with an LCD screen, free parking, quick and easy booking with online payment, and a safe environment. The offices are available for half-day or full-day pricing and can occupy a maximum of two people. This presents a lucrative opportunity for spaces to make the most out of their private office capacities and to appease professionals wanting to steer clear of communal settings for the time being.
2. Implement “escape labs”
Similar to specialized private offices, an escape lab can provide members with a safe, separate alternative to open seating. For example, A Lab (also in Amsterdam) converted unused meeting rooms into escape labs, where people can work if the main workspace is overcrowded. By created a dedicated space where members can go without having to rent a private office, they won’t have to worry about working alongside hordes of other people.
3. Create one-way routes and visual guides
If the space allows, configuring one-way routes is definitely worthwhile. Having a structured plan for foot traffic will limit interaction among members, which means limiting the chances for virus spreading. Just make sure that the new one-way routes don’t disrupt the flow of the workspace; members won’t be happy if their particular path to the kitchen now includes five different diversions. Also, visual guides like stickers on the floor can do a great job in keeping people spaced six feet apart.
4. Require temperature-taking
While this may seem extreme to some, installing a thermal camera at the space’s entrance that measures a person’s body temperature is the best way to combat the spread of viruses. “In terms of [tactical]intervention, you need to minimize the chance that someone with COVID enters the work environment in the first place,” said Jamie Hodari, CEO of Industrious. If someone’s temperature is outside of the healthy range, spaces can deny them access for the day. Being proactive and taking these types of extra steps to protect health will pay off; plus, members will feel cared for and comfortable.
5. Extend virus safeguards
According to an article by Tribes Inspiring Workplaces, many coworking spaces in Germany have implemented mandatory distribution of protective gear for members such as facemasks, gloves, and sanitizer. Tribes also plans to follow these and other guidelines provided by government health agencies, including making vitamins available for members.
In Spain, OneCoWork has also implemented measures regarding air ventilation and quality. The operator has installed wifi-enabled pollution particle measurement devices in each building, which measures the average size of the particles present in the air and can be a good indicator of the cleanliness of the air in a specific space. With this knowledge, members can trust that the workspaces are properly ventilated at all times. Extending safeguards like these will put members’ at ease in the space, allowing them to work as they normally would.
6. Make sure virtual services are available
All business owners can now acknowledge the importance of having a plan for continuity in place. When disaster strikes, businesses still need certain services, like receiving deliveries, processing shipments, having a receptionist, and printing. Coworking spaces can capitalize on this by offering a virtual office option. Virtual assistance not only allows members to stay connected in the unlikely event that the physical space closes, but it gives them peace of mind that their operations will be sustained and serviced as usual. Depending on a space’s capacity, virtual services can include administrative support, training or meeting room availability, online networking, and much more. In emergency situations, virtual services can help coworking spaces stay in business, too, which is key.
7. Allow 24/7 key card access
There are many advantages to round-the-clock availability for spaces looking to virus-proof their office. While most spaces already offer 24/7 access, there are many that still rely on community managers to approve members’ coming and going. This is inherently problematic, causing an additional interaction that could be avoided. Further, it leads to overcrowding during the space’s restricted hours of operation, which means increased density. When the societal norm becomes being spaced out and de-densifying office spaces, being able to access coworking beyond normal working hours is essential.
8. Prioritize cleaning and sanitation
According to a study by Coworker conducted in mid-March, 84.56% of coworking spaces surveyed said they had made frequent sanitization of all high-frequency touchpoints a new protocol for their staff. Spaces will continue to make sure the hygiene of their workplaces is a top priority, from installing touch-free soap dispensers to more regular cleaning schedules. In WeWork’s new social-distancing design plans, the company will add hand sanitizer and wipe stations to each space.
While not all methods will be accepted or practical for all cultures and geographies, it is important for members to see coworking spaces taking action to virus-proof their offices. The only way forward is to incorporate efficient architectural, behavioral, and technological interventions that will facilitate good health and safety among members.