WeWork, the shared office space company, is making plans to change its workspaces in the post-coronavirus world, proposing new floor layouts, adding sanitising capabilities and shifting office traffic flows.
Others agree this will be the way forward. David Seinker, founder and chief executive of The Business Exchange, believes there will no returning to normal anytime soon, if ever.
“The traditional office space as we once knew it is now dead.” He adds businesses of all sizes can be expected to reduce lease investment and overall property costs, including fit-out and furnishings going forward.
“Employees are going to be much more demanding of their bosses in terms of taking care of their health needs, while companies’ financial security is going to require smarter thinking about how money is spent.”
In an email to brokers and other industry clients, WeWork chief executive Sandeep Mathrani said the company will be posting new capacity signage for meeting rooms, applying “every other” desk occupancies in private offices and enhancing cleaning while adding sanitising stations in common spaces.
“While we don’t know for certain the long-term impact Covid-19 will have, there is no doubt that our re-entry back to the workplace will require a greater emphasis on professional distancing – providing products, design and services that make us prepared for a post-Covid-19 environment,” Mathrani wrote.
The document reflects several probable long-term effects of the pandemic, such as an expansion in the number of people who work from home; an expected reduction of office space needs for a crippled economy and greater health concerns about inhabiting shared workspaces.
The proposals, shared in the email and a new white paper titled “Navigating the future of the workplace”, include:
◆ Cutting meeting room capacity in half.
◆ Adding wipe dispensers in common areas.
◆ Incorporating “buffer seating” allowing for 2m of distance between workers.
◆ Adding signage about hand-washing and social distancing and “creating ‘one way’ primary circulation paths to avoid bottlenecks in hallways”. The email is a first step in a conversation about the future workplace which includes experts in design, construction, health and safety.
Seinker says we are likely to see:
A shrinking workforce: “Unfortunately, the human workforce is going to be a big casualty of the Covid-19 lockdown.”
Higher health and safety expectations: “Going forward, employees will expect cleaner offices and better measures to ensure their safety,” says Seinker. Those who can afford it will look into automatic doors and lifts that don’t require users to even press a button. Those who can’t will need to provide hand sanitiser at all public touch points as people’s concerns about possible contamination will be with us for a long time.
Cost savings: Larger companies will try to better utilise their office space by reducing the overall size of them and reducing rental costs at the same time. Managing long-term risk will also become more important, so corporate companies can be expected to seek more flexibility in their lease terms, he says. They might even look to decentralise their head offices and possibly locate different departments at different addresses.
No more open plan: “With Covid-19, and the heightened awareness around how easily germs spread, many companies are going to have to rethink their open-plan spaces and find ways to keep staff more separated from one another in order to lower the risk of the spread of infection.”
*Additional reporting by Washington Post