How will office space change after Covid?

A question I get asked at least once a week.

There’s no denying that since the arrival of Covid, the way we use office spaces has changed. Before Covid, and dare I say when things were normal, companies had no hesitation in signing that 3 to 5-year office space lease. That has changed.  

I will try to unpack some of my observations from a coworking perspective.  

Financial impact 

With the advent of Covid, nothing in this world is certain anymore. Businesses, especially small ones, are at the forefront of this fight. Cashflow, even before Covid, was a huge challenge for most of us and the dream of having a full year of operational costs saved up, well for most that remains just that, a dream.  

Therefore, it’s no surprise that committing to an office space in this economic climate is very difficult to do. In the flexible office space and coworking world, this is not new. Agility is king and businesses who adopted these practices long before Covid are thriving.  

These businesses were able to quickly scale down and allow their employees to work from home. They had also, perhaps more importantly, invested in training and coaching for their staff on how to be as productive working from home as they would be from the office. 

Not having to waste time in the wake of the Covid lock-down and mandated “work from home” playing catchup, meant that these early adopters could operate at optimum levels.  Other businesses, particularly larger ones who may have been reluctant in the past to embrace the world of remote working were subjected to a baptism by fire when Covid hit and some are still playing catch up.  

We’re yet to calculate the financial impact of Covid, but it’s my view that it will be big.  

Flexible Office Space  

It’s true to say that even before Covid the trend toward flexible office space was on the rise. Coworking is of course a big part of this movement and some might argue even pioneers. The idea that you can do your work productively from any location, provided the necessary infrastructure was in place, had become mainstream in 2019 

In fact, in the past year or more at Cape Town Office, we saw a growing number of small and medium size business ditch the more traditional office space to opt for a coworking space.  

Why? Well, for several reasons but the main one must be flexibilityFlexibility on cost, terms of agreement and number of seats. Second to that, reduced costs followed closely by location advantage. Now employers and indeed their staff can simply choose an office space that’s close to home, cutting out the commute and costs associated with that.  

The advantage of not being tied to a fixed office space is perhaps one of the biggest positive outcomes from Covid.  

Facilities Management (FM) 

Facilities Management is no longer optional, nor a part-time role in any office. Office managers would often need to be employed to fulfil this role and not always be well versed in the full extent of what facilities management entails.  

With facilities management in mind, as we continue to collect the data from around the world, we learn more and more about how the virus spreads. For example, a recent study published by the ECDC (European Center for Disease Control) provided more detail on how the infection spreads in office spaces.  

Central to the findings of the ECDC, the need for adequate fresh air in the work place. Studies seem to indicate that if people are sufficiently spaced apart and have a good supply of fresh air in the workplace, it dramatically decreases the risk of infection. Coworking spaces, like Cape Town Office, follow a community approach when it comes to facilities management. Taking the community views and concerns into account, the office space is adapted quickly to ease concerns and improve the environment.  

The study also indicates that the circulation of the same air may pose a higher risk.  

Extracts from the ECDC report

“In an epidemiological investigation at a call centre in South Korea, there was an attack rate of 43.5% among 216 employees on the ninth floor of the call centre, indicating extensive transmission in a crowded indoor workplace environment [13]. Nearly all of the infected employees were sitting on the same side of the ninth floor.” 

“The second outbreak was associated with a training workshop from 12—14 January in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province. It had 30 attendees from different cities, who booked hotels individually and did not eat together at the workshop facility. The workshop had four 4-hour group sessions, which were in two closed rooms of 49 square meters and 75 square meters. An automatic timer on the central air conditioners circulated the air in each room for 10 minutes every four hours, using ‘an indoor re-circulating mode’. No trainees were known to be symptomatic during the workshop. During the period 16—22 January 2020, 15 of them were diagnosed with COVID-19.” 

Reference to the full report, here  

The above examples would indicate that we need to think about how we seat employees, ensuring adequate space from one another and more importantly, the  optimum level of fresh air in the space. Therefore, it would also appear that air conditioning systems could also pose a potential risk in the workplace.  

Smart office spaces  

Reentering the world in a Covid reality means our office spaces need to be smart. Minimizing the risk to our employees is the most important factor.  

At Cape Town Office we couldn’t have preempted this terrible global pandemic in the design of our coworking office space, yet by a lucky coincidence it seems we nailed it.  

  • All our workstations are spaced 1.6m apart 
  • Each workstation has a divider between them 
  • Workstations are divided into groups of 4 to 6 seats, thereby limiting the number of people per pod  
  • We have no air conditioning  
  • We have large windows on all sides of our office allowing fresh air flow all day  

Positive changes  

It’s my view that the change in office spaces after Covid is positive. The benefits of moving your team to a flexible space or indeed a coworking space far outweigh the disadvantages.  

The cost of placing employees in a safe space with all the necessary infrastructure is less. The choice of where you’d like to base your team is greater. And perhaps most of all, you’re free to focus on your business all the time.