In March of 2020, as businesses around the world closed their offices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of employees transitioned into a new work from home lifestyle. No longer permitted to operate out of their on-site office or flexible workspace, many of them were adapting to working from home for the first time with the help of remote communication and collaboration tools.
Now, as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, many organizations are busy creating return to work strategies that prioritize the health and safety of their employees. While some companies have pledged to extend their work from anywhere policies indefinitely, others are stocking up on hand sanitizer and welcoming employees back into their offices to work at a distance.
For flexible workspaces— fully-functioning communal offices that provide individuals and small businesses with all the features of a conventional office— return to work policies look a little differently.
The Rise in the Need for Private, As Needed Office Space
COVID-19 sparked the largest remote work experiment the world has yet to see and in turn, companies all around the world experienced first hand the benefits of remote work. Many new remote employees found success and sustained productivity while working remotely, and now that they’ve tasted the benefits of the work from anywhere movement, they hesitate to return to the office.
Enter: flexible workspaces.
In a pre-COVID-19 world, coworking and flexible workspaces were on the rise around the world and across-industries. Since the first modern coworking space opened in 2005 over 35,000 flexible workspaces have opened around the world, by 2018 they accounted for more than two-thirds of the U.S. office market occupancy gains. Then, COVID-19 hit and coworking spaces closed their doors along with the rest of the offices around the world.
Now, as COVID-19 business operation restrictions loosen, flexible workspaces are eager to open up again and welcome back their previous occupants, while welcoming in a new class of co-workers.
Sandeep Mathrani, CEO of flexible workspace organization WeWork, believes coworking spaces are a natural solution to the problems associated with returning to on-site work. “The key to WeWork is flexibility—flexibility of space, flexibility of time,” Mathrani said. “If you actually come visit our WeWork locations, you’ll see that people can sit six feet apart. There’s distancing available. It’s very easy to reconfigure our spaces to make it safe for the employees. It is not conventional space where you have walls or cubicles that cannot be relocated so quickly.”
With organizations around the world reconsidering when, how, and if they return to on-site work, flexible workspaces such as WeWork stand to benefit. Due to COVID-19, businesses have learned that most of their employees prefer to work remotely, but not all of them necessarily can or want to work from their home. So, where can they go to be most productive while prioritizing their health and safety? For companies whose employees flourished as remote workers, but who occasionally need to meet in-person, coworking spaces are the obvious solution to this problem. Instead of owning office space that goes unused in a post-COVID-19 world, why not rent office space based on need?
How Shared Workspaces have Adapted to COVID-19 Guidelines
Coworking spaces, while innately more open and flexible than traditional offices, still come with their fair share of health concerns in the face of COVID-19. Many shared workspaces are thinking beyond the short-term requirements of opening up for use, and investing in mid- to long-term changes in order to support productivity with a focus on health.
What are the CDC Flexible Workspace Recommendations?
Reopening flexible workspaces is possible in the time of COVID-19, when coworking organizations take these health and safety steps:
As coworking spaces move toward reopening while adhering to these guidelines, many of them are incorporating these recommendations and taking them a step further to include:
As we all navigate the future of work, whether it is fully-remote, back to on-site, or somewhere hybrid in-between, if we keep communicating and continue to prioritize our health, we will come out the other side more productive than ever. Remember, you aren’t navigating this alone, here's how 6 other top businesses are returning to work.