The Revolution Of The Workspace As We Know It
A fixed office or workspace is a sign of stability for a company, its employees and its customers. But these perceptions are now called into question in light of the pandemic. Much like minimalists who believe in de-owning their possessions and swear by the merits of voluntary simplicity, Covid-19 is inspiring a back-to-basics approach in the workspace with a focus on cost-cutting, safety, simplicity and efficiency underpinned by advances in technology.
In just a few months, it seems difficult to imagine going to work in traditional offices with ventilation systems that are often outdated or not adapted to contain the spread of a virus such as SARS-CoV-2. At the same time, both employees and employers are beginning to realise that work from home can be a viable alternative without neglecting performance or communication with the team.
The developments raise some important questions regarding the future of work. Will the office workspace become redundant in the aftermath of the pandemic? If not, how will they adapt themselves to cater to emerging public health challenges like Covid-19 and future pandemics? Will the measures adopted by businesses be adequate to protect the health of their employees? What impact will it have on productivity?
How Covid-19 Will Transform The Workspace
Apart from being a place of work, offices play an important social role by promoting interaction among colleagues. So it comes as no surprise that the rise in the number of people working remotely from home has been accompanied by increasing concerns about workplace loneliness. The social role of offices is an important reason why it is too premature to contemplate the end of the office workspace as we know it despite these playing out empty in the last few months.
But while the office will endure, it must undergo several important transformations to adapt itself more readily to the pandemic. These transformations will encompass all aspects of workplace design and management—from layouts to attendance—in a way that was inconceivable even half a year ago. We can divide the changes into three broad categories.
Focus on Safety
With informed assessments putting the likely duration of the pandemic at two years or more, businesses will need to revamp offices by prioritising workplace safety. This will require them to remodel the work space with a focus on pandemic prevention measures. Specifically, it will call for steps such as the placement of workstations at least six feet apart or partitioning them through various means, minimising contact with surfaces, and installing an effective ventilation system to minimize the spread of viruses.
Focus on Attendance
Companies will adopt a range of policy measures to thin out workspace crowds. Work from home could be here to stay as employers and employees discover its many benefits and get comfortable with the model. Some companies may opt for rotating attendance to prevent large indoor congregations. Employees could be classified into segments based on possibility of remote work, with workers that are fully remote, hybrid remote, and on-site.
Focus on Office Plans
We are likely to see a shift from open offices to closed office plans that are more conducive to preventing the spread of infection. Offices with partitions, private cabins and cubicles could make a comeback as the emphasis shifts from communication and collaboration to a safety-first approach.
Some businesses may also opt for distributed offices spread across the city catering to smaller workspace groups. A key requirement of distributed offices relates to keeping units connected to facilitate communication and synergy within the company. This is harder than it sounds because it requires more than just IT-driven connectivity.
The Relevance Of Coworking Spaces In The Current Scenario
The shared workspace model could provide a practical solution for companies and individuals looking for a safe premise to operate from. The model is not only cost-effective but also highly flexible in terms of time period with rental plans offering monthly, daily or hourly options.
Coworking businesses are also more likely to make safety a top priority because their revenue depends on it. Flex offices can benefit both sections of the commercial populace—employers and employees—by providing a safe, affordable, flexible solution for all their workspace needs.
Ideal for Employees
The rise of the work-from-home model overlooks an important issue—that not everyone can, or is able to, work from their residence due to reasons like interruption by family/kids, network and connectivity issues, lack of space etc. They may also not have access to all the necessary tools of work such as printers, and meeting/conference rooms.
Coworking centers offer a readymade solution to such obstacles through the provision of dedicated workspaces, including workstations, printers, meeting rooms and high-speed internet, for use by remote employees and freelancers.
What’s more, coworking companies are likely to adhere to stringent safety standards in keeping with global best practices to keep infections at bay as it is directly linked to their bottom-line.
Ideal for Employers
After undergoing heavy losses due to shutdowns, companies are likely to focus on cost optimisation. As economies reopen and businesses gradually restart operations, managements would want to avoid heavy capital expenditures, leading them to choose shared workspaces over commercial property leasing. Flex offices are a perfect solution for employers because they are cost-effective, scalable and flexible. In contrast, the traditional method of renting through commercial lease agreements is both rigid and costly.
Commercial businesses can leverage their size and financial credibility to get attractive deals from the coworking company. The phenomenon of big companies working out of shared workspaces is not new and WeWork itself has hosted a large number of the world’s top multinationals in its premises. WeWork is equipped to provide office customisations and operational support for large corporate clients through its enterprise solutions arm.
How Coworking Can Thrive Amid The Pandemic
The opportunities for shared workspace companies are premised on service providers reinventing the client experience to provide more relevant services to members. We have already discussed the importance of health and safety measures in the context of the pandemic. Coworking businesses must relentlessly explore ways and means to make their offices more secure to provide a safe work environment to clients.
At the same time, the emphasis on pandemic prevention measures like sanitisation and social distancing is likely to drive costs posing a big challenge to the sector. The onus will fall on managers to find a balance between rising expenses and the paying capacity of customers to enable the model to function successfully. Some of the key changes that coworking companies may consider are:
Covid-19 has highlighted the role of information technology as an enabler in the seamless functioning of businesses. When the pandemic ends, it is important that coworking companies not slacken in terms of technology adoption with a view to enhancing customer experience and making membership even more advantageous. Some of the important measures they could adopt in this regard include building a workspace app, making web conferencing facilities available to clients (including remote workers), building intranet, creating a member directory, etc.
Focusing on a high-tech workspace not only improves customer experience, it is also an opportunity to be ahead of our future.
At a time when work-from-home is gaining traction, shared workspaces could offer virtual subscriptions enabling clients to enjoy the same facilities extended to them in the office premises from the safety and comfort of their homes. These may include services like IT support, access to virtual meeting platforms, access to online libraries and educational resources.
One of the fundamental effects of Covid-19 relates to behavioural changes it has catalysed in different sections of the corporate world. This is most apparent with regard to internet usage. With the thrust on remote work, internet usage has risen dramatically among all segments including business owners and decision-makers, employees and workforce, and independent contractors and freelancers, making the internet the best place to reach out to them.
The developments have improved the intrinsic worth of digital marketing which is more effective than traditional marketing channels, especially in today’s context. Businesses will do well to reorient their marketing strategies to focus on digital marketing options such as content marketing, social media marketing and paid marketing with the objective of reaching out to the target audience.
A Model For The Future?
Office towers and shiny workspaces are in danger of decline in the post-pandemic period. The average employee wants more freedom, less stress related to transportation, more flexibility in their schedules. They can enjoy all this and more by opting for working from home or from a shared workspace that is close to their residence, yet comes with all the advantages of a full-service workplace.
With a few strategic adjustments, shared workspaces could complement the work-from-home phenomenon thereby providing a viable paradigm for professional engagement in a post-pandemic world, bringing flexibility, agility and affordability, making it an intrinsic part of the new normal.