How Social Distancing Will Affect "Flexible" Workspaces Post the Lockdown
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It kind of feels like we are in that period that Dr. Strange says at the end of Avengers Infinity War: “We are in the Endgame now”. After about a month and a half of the lockdown, trying to hide from our invisible enemy, it does feel like we are now in the Endgame. Every day that passes makes us wonder what next? What do we do when the lockdown lifts? There are two camps that are now emerging and both, of course, are valid in their thinking. On the one side, we are worried because we are fighting a war that we, so far, do not know how to win, and hence it will take many lives. On the other side are those who are coming to terms with the fact that we will need to learn how to live with this virus and that the risk of ruining all our lives socially and economically outweighs the risk of getting the disease. As the lockdown extends, more and more of us are starting to tilt to the latter. The virus has altered our lives forever as we shall always remember this period. We will need to prepare to live in the post-lockdown (not post-COVID, as the virus is not going anywhere) world and there will be a number of changes we will need to make in our lives. Flexible Workspaces and coworking spaces, just like all office spaces, will need to go through a cycle of evolution.
Companies, over the next year, will slowly come back to strength. During that process, in the near term, there will be rotational teams who will either work with a 50% or 33% max company strength. Traditional leased office spaces may not be able to give companies the flexibility they require and more and more companies will need to look for options where they can reduce their capital exposure and try and introduce more flexibility into their office portfolio. Flexible workspaces will be able to offer companies the option of taking up flexible terms along with their flexible requirements for space. Flexible Workspaces themselves will need to rethink their shared areas, open and flexible desks. If a large percentage of their areas have been open and common pre-lockdown, then these may need to be rethought in order to reduce density.
Namaste is in, shaking hands is out. Before the re-opening of the space, a deep clean and thorough sanitization of the space and the air will need to be carried out. The operational SOPs will need to be rewritten and made more stringent. Deep cleaning will need to be done more frequently and commonly touched surfaces will need hourly cleaning cycles. The office space itself will need to go through an analysis of how to enable social distancing norms. Common areas such as the cafeteria and the pantry will need demarcations. There will be a need for shorter and timed lunches so that the cafeteria is not burdened by too many people. The entry/exit guidelines and the movement of mail, packages, food orders will require stringent guidelines to help reduce the risk.
A lot of flexible/coworking spaces used to have events, mixers, meet, and greets for their internal as well as external communities. This is going to be difficult to do given the social distancing norms as well as the fear of large public gatherings. This perhaps will evolve into small discussion sessions, round table conversations that are, via technology, opened up to a larger audience. A lot of them have already moved to the online space. We are seeing an increasing number of webinars, masterclasses, and panel discussions to help us stay engaged and keep learning. In time, as we find a cure or a way to deal with the sickness, the larger events will make their way back as those are the most fruitful. We are social beings at the end of the day and always prefer to communicate face to face with one another.
Going forward into the year ahead, flexible workspaces shall need to stay nimble in helping their members through this tough period. Their nature of flexibility is an advantage that will help them going forward as they will be able to provide not only the flexibility of space but also of service. They will need to extend as far as possible to make their members feel at home, as the trip to work will be fraught with a lot more anxiety than before, and alleviating this will be a top priority.