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Coworking Spaces

How Coworking Spaces Are Getting Their Business Up & Running Again

St. Oberholz: A coworking space in Berlin in May 2020.

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How are working conditions in coworking spaces changing?

Shared spaces and infrastructures are foundations of our economy and society. That’s why almost all office buildings used by several people are based on them too: stairs, lifts, air conditioning, printers, kitchens, coffee areas, waiting zones, meeting spaces, or toilets, just to name a few.

For this reason, 'dedicated' solutions such as fixed workplaces or private offices, especially team offices, do not generally offer better virus protection than flexible or open areas. The spreading factors are more complex and extend beyond the type of workspace*. For the same reason, legal standards usually apply to all types of workspaces.

Like many other companies, coworking spaces have been working on implementing new legal guidelines for several weeks now. They are currently focussing more on rearranging furniture and visualizing behavioral changes than on major rebuilding.

A selection is listed here as an example. Rules and recommendations are subject to change depending on the situation! However, they are generally based on three basic questions:

a. What will reduce the potential viral load?

According to current research, infection is more likely to occur through the air than through contact with surfaces, which suggests closed indoor spaces are more vulnerable than outdoor areas. 

Fresh air does not eliminate the virus. However, it lowers the potential viral load most effectively and thus considerably reduces the risk of infection.

Opening windows is the easiest way to bring fresh air into workspaces, which makes the situation easier in seasons that are neither too hot nor too cold. A fan that is facing outside can draw air out of the room, further minimizing the potential viral load.

Air-conditioning systems or air purifiers with Hepa filters also decrease the viral load, but they must be well-maintained. Air-conditioning systems that only circulate air are more likely to spread virus levels than lower them. Cold rooms can stimulate the spread of the virus as well.

Increased hygiene standards means more frequent cleaning, especially of areas that are more commonly used. If masks are mandatory, operators recommend that additional masks be kept available for users in case they forget their own.

b. How can unnecessary physical contact and close interaction be reduced?

One way to do this is by using reservation systems. Not only can you better distribute meeting rooms; you can also manage the desk capacity of work spaces throughout the day in a more optimal way. Many management apps offer such a feature. Customer counters - that are set up online or placed in front of the entrance - provide another self-regulating capacity control.

You can easily create distance by keeping individual tables and chairs free. However, empty places are likely to be taken, which can lead to some time-consuming conversations. You prevent this by using tables and chairs for other purposes, such as placing plants and other alternatives there, by pulling the tables apart or removing them completely in order to comply with distancing rules. 

Significant reconstruction work can barely replace the missing space due to the distancing rules. In general, reducing the capacity per room or changing a room's purpose avoids expensive changes. For instance, small meeting rooms could be temporarily renamed to video conference rooms for single users.

In higher frequented areas, you can use one-way or roundabout systems in order to limit unnecessary interaction. They’re easier to integrate when the coworking space has multiple entrances, and you differentiate them by having an entrance and an exit.

Many are also sticking direction or distance signs on the floor or walls and increasing the number of information signs in the space. You can strike the right balance here by using friendlier alternatives to warning or caution signs. 

Additional walks can be avoided by distributing more high-demand products, such as disinfectants, in the coworking space.

c. How can direct contact with surfaces be avoided?

Frequently touched surfaces can be replaced by a contactless alternative. Motion detectors can trigger flushing in bathrooms. Office and bathroom doors can be opened using smartphone key systems. If this is not possible, it's often recommended to leave them open. In general, the period before you reopen your location is perfect for providing a technical update on your space. 

Are guidelines being observed?

Drawing up and implementing plans is one thing; complying with them is another.

With the shrinking number of new infections, more people won't consider the virus a threat and will ignore or forget virus-related guidelines. Others remain sceptical, especially since a theoretical danger still exists. Likewise, many government authorities want to prevent further waves of infection and may impose very severe sanctions for breaches of the rules despite a more relaxed situation.

This discrepancy may lead to a another conflict in addition to the many other challenges. For this reason, consider beforehand how to react to this potential problem, defuse it in a friendly manner or simply take measures to avoid it in advance. 

In private areas, compliance is rather considered to be more the responsibility of the users. In communal areas, it’s the responsibility of the coworking space. Some operators have suggested adjusting usage guidelines in the contracts. Others are placing added emphasis on more general goals that apply regardless of a pandemic, such as “keeping the community safe.”

▶︎ Next page: Are the measures and terms suitable?

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*A shared workspace in a forest hut cut off from the outside world offers a better virus protection than an individual office on the 40th floor of a city center building in which usually 10,000 people work each day.

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