COVID-19 has been a major disruptor in the coworking and shared office space sector. It has reshaped some of the core factors businesses weigh when evaluating their workspace needs. While the scale and reach of the coronavirus is unprecedented, it has highlighted some key areas that have the power to transform your office environment for greater success.
I recently participated in a ULI WNY Women’s Leadership Institute webinar on this topic with Ann Casey and Matthew Baron of Wendel, and moderated by Shana Stegner of CBRE|Buffalo. In our conversation, we uncovered the key areas affecting businesses and identified how office space leaders will move forward to provide safe and productive working environments yet again. This was a very timely conversation for me because COVID-19 has led to enhanced health procedures and updated plans as we prepared to open HANSA, our 32,000-square-foot hub for coworking, shared offices that also includes both small private office space and large office suites in downtown Buffalo, New York.
The key areas that are now in focus include safety and wellness, office layout, facility management, workplace equality, and flexibility and adaptability. Let us examine them:
Safety and Wellness in Shared Office Spaces
Peace of mind cannot be underestimated. The most urgent solution to supporting coworking office users is to provide and foster an environment where they feel safe so they can be productive. Fear of crowded spaces or places that are not following property COVID-related protocols are a major concern for serviced office space operators. Mitigating those safety risks are key to a successful and more enjoyable shared office workspace.
Core elements of fostering a safe workspace include signage highlighting the rules and protocols for those in the office, appropriate information regarding social distancing and wayfinding—such as floor decals indicating appropriate spacing—as well as full compliance of CDC guidelines such as wearing a facemask in common areas and routinely washing hands. These visual reminders support proper safety compliance and allow users to focus on their work rather than fears of contamination.
Office Space Design for Coworking Members
Office workers are seeking more personal space. This is a notable change from the pre-COVID trend when long workbenches and dense desk space was prevalent. The average square foot per employee was declining over the past decade, an office space layout that is now under scrutiny.
Today, greater spacing and barriers are becoming more prevalent in the workspace. While the office cubicle walls were famously brought down in “Office Space” 20 years ago, it may be ready for a comeback in a modern form. HANSA workspace was an old industrial warehouse that was gutted and fully renovated with design elements that incorporate more openness, while also providing ample personal space and safety features, for working during Covid.
Facility Management for Serviced Offices
People who work in office buildings do not give much thought to how their office building is operated, unless, for instance, the air conditioning or heat is not to their personal temperature preference. Similarly, as long as the office and restrooms were clean, attention was not paid to the cleaning service logistics.
COVID-19 has created greater interest in their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, indoor air quality and circulation. Clean surfaces have gone from being an aesthetic issue to a serious health concern. Indeed, the furniture of our HANSA center are made of more sanitary materials for easier cleaning and adaptable for various space configurations.
This major shift has created more pressure on building operators to highlight their HVAC and cleaning procedures and standards. While this may give maintenance and cleaning staff greater appreciation, it also creates opportunities for facilities to highlight their operations and the steps they are taking to create a more quality environment. Perhaps this will also be an opportunity for building operators and employers to champion the caliber of their workspaces. Just as LEED became a broadly known standard for environmental design, air quality and other wellness-related certifications may become popular and provide a way for organizations to differentiate themselves based on the quality of their workspace, as an extension of their corporate culture.
Workplace Equity and Societal Pressures
Physical health and safety are not the only major concerns facing many organizations and their employees currently. Our society is also grappling with systemic racism, inequity, a divided country and a highly charged political atmosphere preceding a Presidential election. A national conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be punctuated by the tragic deaths and injuries to black men on the part of police officers, both peaceful and violent protests with armed and unarmed civilians, and a lack of decorum on some city streets, including those right here in Buffalo.
With diversity and inclusion becoming a more central part of the business and recovery conversation, workplace equity is a growing issue, one that well may be exacerbated as schools resume instruction. While many white-collar workers have been able to work from home, it is not an equal remote playing field. Many workers, disproportionally minority ones, lack the high-speed internet access, technical-support and the space to successfully work from home. One way to address this issue is to offer all employees access to equitable workspace, such as a coworking center, where they can work safely and peacefully without concerns about internet connectivity and interruptive housemates.
Flexibility and Adaptability of Coworking in Buffalo, NY
The global pandemic and equity conversations have injected a lot of uncertainty into companies’ cultures and their employees’ lifestyles. The world looked a lot different in the first weeks of 2020 than it does today. Business needs to adapt, something that will take time, especially as the overall situation remains fluid. In this environment, flexibility and adaptability are key assets. Organizations need to emphasize collaboration and productivity while addressing public health concerns. As schooling, childcare and personal obligations fluctuate, employees want more autonomy over their work schedules and the ability to recalibrate their work-life integration as needed. Again, remaining fluid and flexible.
Turnkey. Flexible. Remote. These words represent an emerging path for companies to thrive in our current environment. The ability to quickly locate an organization or teams in a workspace with multiple options, adjustable monthly plans and remote office services for mail, phone and more is a cost-effective option. With a shared office workspace like HANSA in downtown Buffalo, entrepreneurs, teams and organizations can mitigate risk, control costs and advance their workforce recruitment and retention in a safe, welcoming and centrally located hub for Buffalo’s next chapter.
Yes, 2020 is a year for the history books. While the full scope is still being written, HANSA is opening to support you and your business. As workspace evolves, we have the space, solutions and support to offer the best flexibility for Buffalo’s business community.