1. How can we inspire confidence?
How do we give people the confidence to come back and work in our environments?
Regardless of when lockdowns are lifted, it’s clear that the health crisis has shaken people’s confidence levels to the core. It will take some time — months, possibly years — before we are once again confident sitting down among other people, and working together.
Even then, participants in the unconference session suggested that things will never quite go back to how they were. Standing six feet away from other people has suddenly become normal social behavior. How long will it take before people are happy to share desk space, or spend time in a room full of people?
Nobody knows the answer, yet. But it will most likely require change in the design and layout of work and communal areas to create more personal space.
The challenge then is, do you sacrifice part of your open space to create cubicle-style areas for private use? Do you build more private offices? Or phone booths? Do you offer dedicated rather than shared desks? Or do you reduce the number of memberships to ensure fewer people are in your space at any one time?
Some of these changes carry significant investment, some of which may be offset by providing more (premium) private space. That said, switching your business model during a global crisis is a major consideration that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
One participant noted: “We need to make a difference between when the virus is a threat and when it’s not a threat. Keep in mind that this time is temporary. Can you change the design of your space without investing too much money?” — implying that any changes you make now may need to be switched back as perceptions around the virus threat relax.
2. Will executive suites make a comeback?
The health crisis has already re-introduced some of our industry’s more traditional elements, such as private serviced offices and virtual offices.
3. Cleanliness: How often should you clean?
The topic of cleanliness dominated the conversation, as participants swapped notes on how, and how often, cleaning routines were being implemented.
One coworking owner said they have hired hospital cleaners throughout the day, while others said they are taking on extra cleaning duties themselves.
In addition to carrying out extra cleaning, make it easy for members to do it themselves, too. Offer cleaning kits such as wipes, sprays and disposable towels, so they can clean their own workstations and any other surfaces before — and after — using them.
Participants also recommend putting sanitizer in all the major foot traffic and crossover areas, such as entrances and exits, elevators, and conference rooms.
Above all, make it clear that you are investing in sanitation and taking it seriously, as this will give members confidence to use your space.
4. Should you replace soft furnishings?
As work and life have blended over recent years, coworking design has introduced home-style features such as armchairs, sofas, cushions and other soft furnishings.
But in light of COVID-19 and the ease at which potentially fatal germs can be transmitted, simply by touching surfaces or objects, an interesting question was raised: will members still want to use soft furnishings? Would you?
Initially, it seems unlikely. So how do you replace soft materials and still keep spaces looking soft and cosy?
One suggestion is to switch soft seating for plants. This would maintain the comfortable, cosy appeal of your space while offering multiple health benefits.
Plants improve air quality and can help to reduce stress, enhance productivity, and improve overall wellbeing.
5. Will community managers’ roles change?
“When our managers were on site they were cleaning and disinfecting main surfaces every hour,” said one coworking owner. “Now I’m wondering, will it become part of the community manager’s role?”
Straightening and tiding has always been a community manager’s duty, but what does it mean when they are asked to put on rubber gloves and disinfect every day, every hour?
This particular question highlights the potential changes coming our way. Should community managers be expected to carry out extra cleaning duties?
Extra cleaning by managers could be a short-term solution as coworking spaces transition to the new normal. But community managers are already busy people. So long term, it will most likely be necessary to invest in extra cleaning from accredited professionals, potentially several times per day.
6. What will coworking post-COVID look like?
The following comments offer some insights into the way coworking is adapting to the health crisis, and how operators plan to take their businesses forward in a post-COVID world:
“The onus is on all of us to work together. People will come back when they’re ready, and we need to be ready for them. Things will find their own path to normality. That will be led by confidence in general, not just confidence in workplaces.”
“A lot of folks are finding out that working from home is not ideal. They’re going to come looking for us. Some of you may already have that opportunity. One small example, we had a virtual meetup yesterday and a brand new member turned up. She is going to sign up when the lockdown is lifted.”
“Hunker down, make it through the next 2-3 months. People have learned that working from home with kids and dogs is not optimal. They need communal spaces. On the other side, this could be a real moment for coworking.”
“We’re not just space. We have to be much, much more than that. It’s about the value that we add to our members.”
“The industry will boom when we emerge. Get ready for that.”
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