With the rollout of vaccination accelerating and COVID-19 restrictions easing offices worldwide are getting ready to welcome back the workforce.
Especially for shared flexible workspace operators one key area of concern is how can their coworking spaces safely reopen to members. This article by Cecilia Amador de San José, Senior Associate Editor of Allwork.Space offers some useful tips and safety measures coworking space operators can implement before welcoming their members back to their workplace.
- Operators are working to make their spaces safer as people begin to head back to the workplace.
- Before people can safely and comfortably return to their workspace, some changes will need to be made.
- These steps offer guidance on how to reopen your flexible workspace safely.
Around the world, businesses are starting to slowly reopen and welcome people back into the workplace. As governments continue to lift lockdowns and restrictions, organizations across industries are still figuring out ways in which they can safely reopen their workplaces.
Though some flexible workspace operators kept their doors open throughout the pandemic, others chose to temporarily close. Regardless of which group you’re in, it’s highly likely that you will have to make some changes to your workspace before people can safely and comfortably return to it.
In an effort to help flexible workspace operators reopen their spaces as quickly and safely as possible, we have gathered some key steps to help operators reopen safely. We’ve attended webinars, read government guidelines, and explored various resources from leading organizations to better understand some of the key things businesses could be doing.
The following steps were gathered with flexible workspace and coworking operators in mind. Bear in mind that we do not have all the answers; these steps are meant as a starting point and to offer guidance.
Some things to keep in mind before opening your space:
- Spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person most likely occurs during close contact with an infected individual.
- Person-to-person contact is believed to occur mainly via droplets of respiratory secretions (coughs or sneezes).
- Transmission can also occur by touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes.
- The CDC has found that there is also growing evidence of transmission risk from infected persons without symptoms or before the onset of recognized symptoms.
Before you open your space, you need to ensure that you are following state and local guidelines. Be sure to check your local government’s page and follow all mandatory guidelines. Also visit the OSHA’s website to ensure that you are compliant with their guidance on limiting exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
Steps to Safely Reopen the Workplace
What can technology do for you?
Think about common touch points throughout your workplace. Could any of them be eliminated by use of technology? Some examples include automatic door openers, smart lighting, and automatic faucets in the bathrooms and kitchen. What about the check-in process? Do you typically use an iPad where people sign in? If so, you might want to consider removing them or asking guests to wipe the surface before and after they touch it. Check in with your coworking software provider, some of them support automatic door systems, automatic check-ins, and automatic billing and payments (encourage people to pay with a credit card rather than cash or a check). Some also allow various integrations should you want to manage your lighting or air system remotely.
Plan for physical distancing
Cushman & Wakefield came up with the 6 feet office concept. It consists of six elements:
- 6 feet quick scan: a thorough analysis of the current working environment in the field of virus safety and any other opportunities for improvement.
- 6 feet rules: A set of simple and clear workable agreements and rules of conduct that put the safety of everyone first.
- 6 feet routing: A visually displayed and unique routing for each office, making traffic flows completely safe.
- 6 feet workstation: An adapted and fully equipped workplace at which the user can work safely.
- 6 feet facility: A trained employee who advises on and operationally ensures an optimally functioning and safe facility environment.
- 6 feet certificate: A certificate stating that measures have been taken to implement a virus-safe working environment.
You can read more about the 6 feet office here.
When planning for physical distancing, you may need to rethink your workplace layout, particularly if you have a lot of space dedicated to shared, open workstations. A recent survey by HubbleHQ found that “there was a general aversion to open-plan offices, given the increased risk of contamination, and 87% of respondents felt that increased boundaries between desks would make them feel safer.”
To this point, flexible workspace operators might want to space out chairs in shared areas to allow for 6 feet of distance between workers, add more private offices to the space, remove hot-desking memberships and lean more towards assigned seating, convert meeting rooms into private offices, or add plexiglass between seats in shared areas.
However, physical distancing must be respected throughout the entire workplace, including common areas, hallways, and elevators. Some additional steps to consider:
- Limit the number of people that can use the lift.
- Consider marking the floor to prevent choke points in the hallways.
- If allowed by your space and layout, consider implementing one-way hallways.
- Implement floor markings throughout the space so that people find it easier to adhere to the six-foot rule.
- Consider closing off communal areas, at least initially.
- Reduce the capacity of meeting rooms to allow for physical distancing.
- Evaluate whether you need to restructure some of your communal areas, including the kitchen, dining area, lounge areas, and reception.
- Limit the number of people that can be in communal areas at the same time, including the kitchen, dining areas, and lounge areas.
- Limit or postpone all large events, at least until a vaccine is found. If feasible, consider hosting some of your events virtually.
Revamp Your Cleaning Protocols
Most likely, new cleaning protocols will need to be established in your space. Consider using new disinfectant technologies like UV light, ionization, and nano-tech coatings. Such measures can help neutralize germs on contact surfaces.
HubbleHQ’s survey found that “detailed cleaning protocols with daily antiviral spraying” was one of the most popular measures with respondents, citing that 94% of respondents said it would make them feel safer.
In the past, cleaning used to be something that happened in the background, mostly when people were no longer occupying the space. This practice will need to be changed. Visible cleaning could help members feel safer and more comfortable in your flexible workspace. Additionally, cleaning will need to take place more often and regularly; this is particularly true for shared workspace areas where different people use the space throughout the day. Cleaning and disinfecting hot-desking and open workstations should take place after each use.
Flexible workspace operators might want to think about implementing a system through which staff and members can know if a surface, workstation, or meeting room has been cleaned or disinfected after use. This could be done through an app that people check on their phones or by having a color-coded system.
In addition to cleaning surfaces and workstations, consider installing boot sanitizing trays in your entrance points and having a compulsory handwashing policy upon entrance to your space. You will also need to think about how often and how bathrooms, breakrooms, dining areas, and kitchens will be cleaned.
Consider adding sanitization materials for staff, members, and visitors; such as how to properly wash hands, providing supplies like paper towels and disinfectant spray, and tissue disposal options. Encourage members to clean and disinfect after themselves, similar to what gym facilities ask of people when they are finished using a machine.
Plan for a Worst-case Scenario
Before you can safely reopen your doors to staff and members, you need to ensure that you have a protocol should someone in your flexible workspace test positive for COVID-19.
If this happens, you need to think about whether you’ll want your workspace to have contact tracing capabilities, what steps you’ll follow to disinfect the entire workspace, how you will communicate with stakeholders, and what a return-to-the-space plan will look like.
Keep in mind that if someone tests positive for the virus, you will need to get in touch with local authorities.
Below are some additional considerations you might want to keep in mind:
- Mandatory use of face masks within your space.
- Temperature checks upon entrance.
- Limiting or discontinuing any services: if you provided free snacks or free lunch, reconsider this benefit at least temporarily. If you want to continue providing food, consider offering pre-packaged food vs a buffet-style offering or bar.
- Consider having special accommodations for staff or members that are part of a vulnerable population (older workers, people with diabetes, asthma, or any other medical condition).
- Examine your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. Before you reopen your space, make sure to schedule HVAC system maintenance. Also consider revamping your air filtration system.
- Have a strict policy for sick people to stay at home… even if they think they’re just suffering from allergies.
- Regularly communicate with members and staff; keep them informed about the measures you are taking.
- Talk to your landlord to clearly understand which responsibilities are yours and which are your landlord’s. This is particularly important if you share the building with other tenants.
The goal when reopening your space is to continue to provide a productive work environment for your members. Their level of comfort and safety in your space will play a big role in how productive they are. During the process of reopening, reach out to your members and ask them what things they would like to see implemented in your space, and which protocols and policies would help them to feel safer.
This article was originally published on Allwork.Space