After almost a year of working apart due to COVID-19, employees who worked in traditional office spaces state the number one reason they wish to return “is to be with other people, socialize, and collaborate in ways that just aren’t possible remotely,” according to Steelcase. Employees displaced from their offices by COVID-19 find that the work culture at companies has been tested by the transition to online social connection and collaboration. CMS Wire, a publishing platform for “digital leaders,” reports that remote work has challenged employee relations as remote work lacks the tools needed for proper collaboration and communication. As a result, working from home has taken away the “social aspect that defines a company’s culture”.
This social loss may not only affect the relationships between co-workers, but also the quality of an employee’s work as “it has meaningful effects on employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity”. Workest, a workplace magazine, confirms work culture is closely related to social engagement which increases employee productivity. Even though a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way, CEO and co-founder of the Digital Workplace Group Paul Miller questions how long employees can stay socially distanced and disconnected in this new era of work. The growing industry of coworking may be the answer to increasing physical connection and collaboration faster than in a traditional office.
Coworking is the utilization of physical space by similarly oriented independent and mobile workers. These spaces offer desks, offices, and conference rooms to rent primarily on a membership basis. The coworking industry has dramatically grown within the last 15 years. In 2017 alone, there were approximately 1.8 million people who worked in one of 19,000 co-working spaces worldwide. That number is predicted to reach nearly 26,000 spaces by 2022 because of the disruptions COVID-19 brought onto the workforce. Although these spaces were originally designed for freelancers and mobile workers prior to the pandemic, the concept uses interior design to offer employees from traditional offices a chance to re-establish a physical connection and collaboration faster than would be possible in a traditional office. Since traditional office spaces are designed for traditional work, COVID-19 safety guidelines are a limiting factor to collaborate together.
How the Coworking Design Allow Employees to Work Together Again
Traditional office spaces face obsoletion, as they cannot support COVID-19 safety measures. Co-working layouts will take their place with Steelcase’s research-based “performance principles” that create “both desirable and productive places to work”. These principles pilot the design of co-working spaces and “remain the foundation for designing high-performing social and collaborative spaces.” They solve traditional office design challenges in the COVID-19 era by considering density, division, and geometry. Here’s how:
Steelcase’s research finds that proximity and density correlate closely, “pos[ing] some of the greatest design challenges for shared spaces that are intended to bring people together” in the COVID-19 era. Their design considers social distancing and the proximity of people-to-people, people-to-technology, and furniture-to-furniture.
This ensures that tools for working in a collaborative space consider density and proximity in new ways and commit to social distancing rules. Traditional office spaces— such as cubicles that keep employees within close proximity of each other— breach social distancing restrictions. Steelcase’s prototypical layout ensures co-working spaces meet the worker’s needs to complete their tasks while feeling as if they are in a social and collaborative environment.
Although coworking spaces are built to share and collaborate in a communal environment, Steelcase accomplishes privacy through screens and divisions to create territorial privacy in order to “create a sense of psychological comfort and security– helping people feel at ease, free to share ideas, and make work visible”. This allows for claimed spaces and the creation of boundaries which “protect users from people in adjacent workspaces or direct traffic flow”.
Steelcase’s model calls for varied micro-workspaces, such as couches, seated and standing desks, and high-seats. These variations allow for workers to take different “postures” catering to their individual work styles. Additionally, many of these postures are portable, providing flexibility and distance in coworking spaces because of the geometry and versatility of furniture. Traditional office spaces make this difficult to achieve as desks and cubicles aren’t as easy to rearrange, and in some cases, are bolted to the floor!
What Else Can Coworking Offer to Employees?
Harvard Business Review researchers studied how employees thrive in the workplace. The researchers were surprised to discover that individuals who worked in coworking spaces reported having a 6 out of 7 on a “thriving point scale”. This number is at least one point higher than the average employee who works within a traditional office space. So, besides condensing the timeline for reuniting in person than what a traditional office, what makes the membership-based, communal space so effective?
- Networking and Collaboration
It can be difficult to be a freelancer or a small business without a sense of community, which is why coworking spaces allow employees to work alone, without necessarily being alone. One of the biggest advantages of coworking is having other individuals present who “serve as a resource or sounding board.” The open concept and collaborative environment allow members [of different entrepreneurships] to approach other members who have unique skills and experiences to gain new insights into their own work. Sometimes, the only thing missing is a project or task is the creativity of another nearby business owner, freelancer, or employee.This advantage can help employees who are originally from a traditional office to approach others to advance their work from an outsider’s perspective. Additionally, it encourages employees from a traditional office to bring creativity and new ideas to the company they work for. Even more, coworking spaces generally see less direct competition and more collaboration amongst members. This is because there is little internal politics, making members feel like “they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in.” This benefits a team that generally works in a traditional office space to complete work while decreasing conflict and internal competition.
- Increased Productivity
Because a coworking space has more structure than one’s own home, it is less likely to have distractions such as other family members, the mail postman, or cats walking across the keyboard. As well, coworking spaces are designed without the overcrowdedness of a corporate office, minimizing formalities and distractions and maximizing productivity. Having a dedicated work-oriented space allows employees to “solidify a work mode that increase[s] productivity”. As well, co-working spaces are known to be accessible 24/7, meaning if granted, employees could have more flexibility in their work schedule and use their time more proactively.
Even with a vaccine on its way, traditional office spaces could be waiting a while to work at full capacity compared to coworking spaces that have the proper design to work at full capacity. So, why not reduce costs by relocating team members to coworking spaces, allowing company buildings to be sold or rented out and not continue to stand empty?Becoming a member of a co-working space is a cost-friendly way to eliminate utility bills, service providers, rent, and even coffee and snack prices. Coworking spaces come fully equipped with all these perks in one package at a monthly rate. For example, Launch is a new coworking space based in Winnipeg, Manitoba with three different locations that offer a variety of membership packages. The Full-Time Crew Member package provides 24/7 office availability, 30 “check-ins”, four hours worth of meeting room time, two hours worth of conference room time, and 50% off after plan usage for $399 per month per person. If you’re an employer relocating your team to a coworking space, Launch offers three different team memberships. Each membership comes with the same benefits as listed above and is applicable for teams between five to fifteen members. The team plans can be as low as $499 per month and as high as $999 a month, all with 50% off after plan usage.If an employer has a team greater than fifteen people, they are in the perfect position to create flexibility within their company. Flexibility here would look like redirecting employees to collaborate in a coworking space within close proximity of each others’ homes while another team collaborates at another coworking space in close proximity of their homes. Not only would this be more convenient for employees to gather together, but it also allows for less transportation time which also becomes an eco-friendlier option.
Who is Already Making the Switch?
Duluth, Georgia-based executive office rentals CEO Centers Flex understands there is already a surprisingly large demand for coworking space from bigger companies and corporate entities. They account for about 40% of demand and have even utilized shared spaces prior to COVID-19, as corporation demand increased by 21% back in 2018.
Although choosing to relocate employees to a coworking space over a traditional office space keeps costs down, companies are seeing additional benefits that go beyond savings. CEO Centers Flex understands that when employees from traditional office spaces work and spend time around others who are not their immediate coworkers, it “spark[s] creative discussions, open doors for new collaborative endeavours andlead[s] to unexpected opportunities”.
Leaving Cubicles Behind
COVID-19 has tested how companies will maintain their work culture after almost a year of transition from the office to working from home. As a result, the quality of employees’ relationships, satisfaction, and productivity lowered due to the loss of human connection and collaboration. Although a vaccine is on the way, the design of coworking spaces would allow employees to collaborate sooner than a traditional office would, resulting in an increase in satisfaction and productivity. When CEO Centers Flex studied employees transitioning from traditional office spaces to coworking spaces prior to COVID-19, they found 89% of respondents were happier, 83% were less lonely, and 71% felt more creative after the transition.
This year has forced almost everyone to adapt to new circumstances, especially businesses and employees. With available and statistically proven resources, why not push the new era of work forward rather than in reverse? Transition is scary, as COVID-19 has proven. Though, it offers a window for employers to be innovative and creative in getting back to business.