How to Combine Social Distancing and Flexible Office Space

By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist

Pre-COVID-19, flexible workspaces were synonymous with collaboration. Now, as social distancing defines office floor plans and workplace interactions, there’s uncertainty surrounding the role these workspaces play. How should employees treat them? Are they safe? These questions are top-of-mind as facility managers try to make social distancing and flexible office space work together.

The solution is something of a compromise. Flexible workspaces can still be the central components in an agile office. They can also meet social distancing guidelines. Marrying social distancing and flexible office space takes a considerate approach by facility managers—one that involves floor plan adjustments, new policies, and careful oversight.

Types of flexible office space

Identify the flexible workspaces in your office. Hoteling and hot desks are simple examples of flexible space, but they’re not the only ones. Look for the hallmarks of flexible space:

  • Areas without assigned seating or assigned uses
  • Spaces that play host to different people and groups throughout the day
  • Workspaces that accommodate broad work styles

Workspaces that meet this description demand consideration in the current climate of social distancing. Without new rules and processes to govern them, they’re exactly the type of commingling areas employees should avoid! However, with mindful oversight, they can function as safer versions of their intended design.

Plan with distancing policies in mind

The first step in reinventing flexible space is to infuse it with distance. Be mindful of proximity and space capacity. If a breakout area can accommodate 12 people with a 3-foot radius, recognize the new capacity of that area as accommodating six people with a 6-foot radius. Before you can modify a space, you need to see it for its real-time parameters.

With actual capacity in mind, reestablish the layout of the space and try to preserve its flexible nature. If the space had breakout areas for small groups, you might consider a reduction to the number of group areas and instead, introduce more space for fewer clusters. Likewise, you can keep a room full of hot desks, provided you reduce and reorganize to create appropriate proximity.

Make the goal to preserve the spirit of the space: an agile environment that’s accommodating to the broad needs of employees.

Manage employee/workplace interactions

Physical distance only works if it’s reinforced. The second step in maintaining flexible workspaces is to implement the policies and protocols that keep employees distant and engrain good distancing habits.

Some flexible workspaces already have these controls built in—namely hot desks and hoteling, which require check-ins and scheduling. Room reservation systems can also double as social distancing workplace software and prevent overlap and overcrowding in flex spaces. Even posting the new room capacity outside of a space can be enough of a reminder to keep employees distant.

Leaders need to take the time to guide adoption of new flex spaces, as well. School team leaders in how to answer questions about space usage and best practices, and encourage team meetings about how to stay safe while flexing in and out of workspaces. Managers should also encourage good habits like space booking to help their teams stay accountable.

Sterilize shared work environments

The final piece of the puzzle that links social distancing and flexible office space is a rigorous sterilization schedule. These are shared spaces, which means they’re hotbeds for viral activity if not properly sanitized.

Sanitization and sterilization should be frequent. Employees should practice basic sanitizing steps—wipe down their workstation before and after use, clear away rubbish, and practice good hygiene. On a facility management level, deeper disinfection should happen daily. Nightly commercial janitorial services are a smart solution, as is the investment in an electrostatic sprayer to sanitize rooms on-the-spot.

Cleaning efforts in flexible workspaces need to be comprehensive: surface and air. Disinfecting wipes and sprays are a good start, but also consider air purifiers for enclosed spaces. It’s not unreasonable to thoroughly wipe-down and disinfect flexible workstations after every use, before another employee can use them. Just make sure there’s a process that turns the space quickly, so it can remain agile.

Keep workspaces agile and safe

To stay viable, flexible workspaces need to keep employees agile. Even under social distancing restrictions, it should be easy for employees to reserve a hot desk or flex into a breakout space. Once there, employees should feel comfortable and safe in an environment that’s semi-isolated and routinely cleaned. The goal is to promote efficient work. If your flexible office spaces can do that and keep employees 6 feet apart, they’re worth the logistical effort it takes to manage them.

Keep reading: COVID-19 and the Workplace of the Future


Five Top Strategies for Maximizing Hoteling in the Workplace

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing

Hoteling is a simple way to bring oversight and order to flexible workspaces. It can prevent logjams and overlap, and the wasted time and productivity that come with them. A desk reservation system set up the right way is also a boon to employees. It affords them more control of their work habits and practices, and gives them the personal space they need to feel safe and comfortable—a timely benefit considering the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Here’s a quick dive into five of the top strategies for companies to maximize hoteling in the workplace. Lay the groundwork for these before shifting to a reservation system. Or, if you already rely on office hoteling, use these tips to refine your existing system.

Diversify booking options

The convenience of flexible workspaces is that they’re open and available when employees need them. For hotel desks, availability is governed by reservations. If employees can’t book a hotel desk, they can’t use it. Companies should diversify booking options and methods to maintain broad—yet controlled—accessibility to workstations. Examples include:

  • Email reservations via an automated system or administrative booking process
  • Messaging apps with real-time access to desk availability and booking options
  • Portal booking on a company’s intranet site or through a workplace mobile app
  • Live booking at a kiosk or touchscreen located at the hotel desk

Make it simple for employees to see available space and book through many channels. On the flipside, have a system in place that can organize and process bookings from various inputs.

Centralize workstation management

Companies should centralize their reservation management systems. Without a clear-cut funnel for booking requests and desk management, the hoteling system begins to break down. Automated efficiency comes via an integrated workplace management system (IWMS). Serraview and SpaceIQ offer real-time desk booking and oversight capabilities that make workstation management easy.

  • How many desks are available right now?
  • How are requests processed and reservations made?
  • What confirmation standards are in place?
  • How can employees change or cancel their reservations?

Workstation management software automates everything from reservation requests/changes to utilization metric measurements so facilities managers can better shape their hoteling systems.

Track occupancy and utilization metrics

How do you know if your hoteling system is efficient? Like all workplace development initiatives, hoteling benefits from key performance indicators (KPIs). Occupancy and utilization metrics shed light on how well you’re managing hotel desks, as well as measure demand.

Hotel desks occupied 100% of the time each week indicates a need for more workspaces, while a 15% usage rate offers opportunities to use space for other options. Other factors like the length of a booking, types of employees who book space, and the physical location of popular/unpopular bookings all contribute to hoteling best practices. The more you know, the more you can improve.

Tracking hotel desk utilization also supports contact tracing for COVID-19. In the event of a confirmed case, facilities managers can pull the hotel desk log for recently used workspaces to begin the contact tracing process and notify employees who booked and used desks. An IWMS is key to collecting, pulling, aggregating, and analyzing usage data.

Define and enforce space parameters

Part of maximizing hoteling is acclimating employees to the practice. Teach them how to book space and illustrate the benefits; then set expectations for how, when, and why hotel desks are convenient. As employees acclimate to hoteling, their confidence will grow.

Start with rules, expectations, and general hoteling parameters. Establish and explain the following concepts to employees before introducing a desk reservation system:

  • The parameters of desk booking (how long, where, how, when, why)
  • Hotel desking etiquette and reasonable expectations for use
  • Best practices for rebooking, changing reservations, or cancelling
  • How to handle conflict or get answers to questions about hoteling

Think of this as an education primer. People are much more willing to try something when they understand it. Educate employees on hoteling before urging them to adopt it and the prospect of reserved desking won’t seem so complicated or uncertain.

Offer diverse and ample space

Space diversity is one of the hallmarks of flexible space and broad office utilization. Not everyone needs the same type of workspace, and different types of work necessitate different types of work areas. Hoteling allows you to provide booking opportunities for different types of space to increase adoption and stay true to the concept of a flexible workspace.

Some employees may prefer a blank-slate desk where they can open their laptop and spread out to work. Others may prefer a standing desk near a window. Some may need a room with A/V capabilities. Hoteling can even extend to conference rooms and other gathering spaces. Any space that supports reservations becomes part of the hoteling ecosystem. Make sure your ecosystem is rife with diverse workspaces.

Make hoteling more effective

Combined, these tips culminate in a workplace hoteling system that’s user-friendly, easy to manage, and creates a gateway to better workplace utilization. Hoteling isn’t just a solution to office adaptation during the COVID-19 era—it’s a smart way to create certainty for your workforce in how, when, and where they work.

Keep reading: Office Hoteling Best Practices