office with plexiglass barriers
Daily antiviral spraying is one way coworking spaces are trying to create sanitary and safe working conditions for employees. — Getty Images/mixetto

COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know in a multitude of ways, particularly when it comes to how we work. Coworking and remote work were on the rise before the pandemic, but now demand for coworking spaces has sufferedand spaces are struggling to provide safe desks, equipment and professional networking opportunities.

Coworking spaces have pivoted and adapted to the new normal in smart and creative ways. Here’s how coworking spaces are being revamped in the face of COVID-19.

Remote work isn’t going anywhere

As the virus takes its toll on the economy and, of course, the actual workforce, many people will permanently work from home. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and many more companies have all implemented work from home policies that extend at least until the end of 2020, if not longer.

A report by MIT in April 2020 confirmed that 34% of Americans who previously commuted to work were staying home. Before COVID-19, the number of remote employees remained at 4%. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that 30% of people will continue this trend for the foreseeable future.

“Once they’ve done it, they’re going to want to continue,” Lister said. COVID-19 has eradicated the employer’s skepticism in one fell swoop, proving that remote work works. Lockdowns will end, but this doesn’t signal a return to the traditional office.

[Read more: Co-working Space vs. Working Remotely: Which Is Right for Your Business?]

However, many employees like separating their work and personal lives. Eventually, when the risk of transmission goes down, people will want to commute somewhere. Companies will need to provide “de-densified” spaces closer to home.

How can coworking spaces provide a solution?

The coworking model has undeniably taken a knock, but there’s still a real appeal for companies big and small. Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, describes his new approach as “one floor in ten cities versus ten floors in one.” Enter the new and improved co-working spaces: the perfect solution for companies that need multiple locations with flexible layouts. Coworking can thrive again as companies are forced to restructure and rework their finances.

WeWork, one of the leaders in the global co-working spaces market, has adapted its strategy in several ways, catering to the pandemic and anticipated aftershock. With over 100 locations in New York City alone, WeWork offers an array of sites for a dispersed workforce. The company recently added software to help HR departments map out their locations, reducing risk of transmission during a commute for employees.

Coworking spaces are also reassessing their floor plans. After the last recession, companies spent millions of dollars packing as many people as possible into office spaces. Today, it’s quite the opposite. “Every configuration of every floor plan should be adjusted to look at distancing and safety,” said Kate North, vice president of the workplace strategy at Colliers International.

For more on how to create a safe and socially distant business, check out this episode of CO— Blueprint.

In the past, cleaning was something that happened in the background, mostly when people weren’t occupying the space. Today, visible cleaning is a necessity in making employees feel comfortable in a shared space.

What are the critical safety measures co-working spaces should implement?

Cushman & Wakefield have introduced the "6 feet office" concept, helping their clients create safe spaces. The concept includes elements like new and improved rules of conduct, unique routing for each office, adapted workstations and optimized shared facilities. Using technology to revamp your workspace is a no-brainer: think automatic doors, hands-free check-ins and smart lighting.

A recent survey by HubbleHQ found that increased hygiene measures would be critical for employees to feel comfortable in these spaces again. Introducing detailed cleaning protocols with daily antiviral spraying came out as the most popular measure among respondents.

Close behind spraying in popularity was compulsory hand-washing, readily available masks and sanitizers. Plexiglass shields between desks will be the new norm; gone are the days of communal meeting rooms. The appeal of a different desk every day has lost its spark as employees crave something safe they can trust.

In the past, cleaning was something that happened in the background, mostly when people weren’t occupying the space. Today, visible cleaning is a necessity in making employees feel comfortable in a shared space.

What about the coworking community?

Pre-pandemic, one of the most significant benefits of coworking spaces was the interaction and sense of community they provided. Coworking spaces are attuned to this need and are investing in their online community offerings. Companies like Workbar have introduced virtual programming on their live platform while Dayhouse Coworking continues to host its weekly events virtually. Networking can continue to thrive in this new environment if we adapt accordingly.

[Read more: How to Build a Community in Your Coworking Space]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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