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?

Socially distanced shared workspaces offer countless benefits for those who work from home, including:

  • The ability to quickly have a quiet (clean) space for important meetings
  • Reliable internet and WiFi
  • No distractions like children, family, landscapers, and other home interruptions
  • A professional location and background for interviews

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:

  • Abide by state and local government reopening regulations
  • Communicate all operating procedures to on-site employees and all location visitors before they arrive to the workspace 
  • Post signage in-person outlining your safety guidelines
  • Sanitize and disinfect the space regularly, including: hourly cleaning of common areas with a focus on high-track areas such as door handles, elevator buttons, kitchen appliances, and meeting areas.
  • Communicate to all visitors that they will not be permitted if they have COVID-19 symptoms, recently visited high-risk cities, or recently came in contact with a known carrier
  • Use split shift working patterns when possible to minimize in-office traffic
  • Cancel any buffet style or community catering that is regularly offered
  • Cancel all events and gatherings above 20 people or transition to virtual events 
  • Conduct temperature checks for all guests upon entrance
  • Enforce the necessary wearing of masks by all guests
  • Install clear signage directing one-way traffic and promoting personal hygiene best practices in all common areas
  • Provide hand sanitizing stations at all location entrances and communal space entrances
  • Spread out coworking spaces to promote social distancing at all times

How are Flexible Workspaces Incorporating these Recommendations?

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:

  • Due to an increase in working from home, coworking spaces may see a reduced daily headcount translating to a need for fewer desks which will lead to an increase in natural social distancing
  • Organizations have built internal COVID-19 steering committees that meet daily to discuss short and long-term plans to enhance safety and trust
  • These committees are focused on establishing new operational guidelines for density, air quality, and cleanliness as well as new property technology that includes proactive health indexes for buildings, people traffic trackers, timed ticketing, and remote temperature reporting
  • For example, WeWork is “de-densifying” their spaces by improving interior airflow, monitoring regular cleanings, and adding hands-free wipes and sanitizers throughout common spaces
  • Coworking spaces have reconfigured their spaces to ensure members can remain 6 feet apart, including the removal of up to 50% of desks and chairs and the replacement of shared seating with individual chairs
  • Installing plexiglass sneeze screens between desks and at reception
  • Flexible workspaces have limited their conference room room capacity by 30% and incorporated an online reservation system for members, that includes leaving a time gap between meetings to allow for cleaning


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.

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