The COVID-19 Impact on Flexible Office Space
By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
The coronavirus business shakeup is broad and ongoing. Different workplaces have faced varying levels of disruption—from the total closure of coworking spaces to relatively undisturbed cubicle farms. The COVID-19 impact on flexible office space hasn’t been as cut-and-dry, and many companies face questions and considerations about their flex spaces.
Are flexible workspaces safe during the coronavirus pandemic? Can employees still use them in the same capacity? What changes do facilities managers need to make to maximize flex space potential? Let’s take a look at the relationship between coronavirus and flexible workspaces, and what to expect from these types of offices as the pandemic runs its course.
Is the flexible office dead?
Not at all! Like most aspects of work during the COVID-19 crisis, the concept of flexible office space has merely changed. Flexible workspace is still geared toward providing the right environment to employees, but there’s more control over how and when they use that space.
Take coworking, for example. Pessimism about the future of flex space likely stems from the fact that many coworking spaces shut their doors during the pandemic. But this doesn’t mean flex space is dead! Coworking spaces welcome diverse clientele and rely on varied operating procedures. It’s not the flexible space concept that’s a problem—it’s the uncertainty of those using it.
Conversely, look at hot desks or hoteling in the workplace. Employers can control who’s using these spaces and when. The result is better management of flex space, as well as opportunities for safeguards like contact tracing. It’s the same concept as a coworking space, with better execution.
At a time of broad adaptation in the workplace, flexible space is more important than ever. It affords companies the means to pivot and regroup in the face of a new floor plan or uncertain workplace environment.
How can flexible workplaces pivot?
In many cases, companies will lean on flex space as they transition to new floor plans and socially distant workplace policies. Hot desks may take the place of desk neighborhoods as teams separate into individual workstations. Open-air breakout spaces may become the new conference rooms. Flex space becomes a solution to desking arrangements rendered unsuitable in the coronavirus climate.
Flex spaces aren’t an end-all, be-all solution. Many companies that already lean on flex space need to make adjustments that ensure those areas can continue to operate safely. Flexible workspaces need to pivot to align with broader company standards concerning COVID-19 measures. Examples include:
- Turn hot desks into hotel desks via a reservation system
- Change occupancy in breakout spaces and other group flex areas
- Put up partitions in open-air environments with many flex spaces
- Reconfigure flex space layouts to implement distance
Reflect on the idea of social distancing as you look at flex spaces. Do they promote distance between people? Do they limit face-to-face interaction and possible exposure? Do they follow standards for contact tracing? Flex spaces may offer greater freedom for workplace utilization, but they still need to adhere to coronavirus best practices.
Projections for the flexible space market
Pre-pandemic, the flexible space market was a booming one. Estimates put the office space market share of flexible space at as high as 25% before coronavirus—and industry experts expect it to return to those levels before too long.
What does the future hold for the flexible space market? More of the same, according to leading industry market research firm JLL. A recent report from the company states, “while we anticipate that operational models will shift to investor-driven flexible space solutions; the need for pre-built offices, lease flexibility, and workplace mobility options will continue to increase.”
A second JLL report suggests that by 2030, as much as 30% of all office space in the U.S. will fall under the flex space moniker, with utilization rates as high as 80%. While much of this ties into coworking, flexible space as a category expects to see massive growth as companies pair its benefits with that of a growing decentralized workforce. As remote work becomes a mainstay, so will flex space.
Flex space is adaptable
As the name implies, flex space is flexible—not only in execution, but in how the concept adapts to the needs of employees. What was once a breakout space might be an employee’s desk for the whole day. What might’ve been a conference room now houses three socially distant desks.
With social distancing and remote work headlining current approaches to safer work, flexible spaces have become less social, yet more accommodating. In lieu of interaction between employees, there’s better utilization of facilities. The ability of these spaces to answer demand is what’ll ensure the continued success of flex spaces in the post-pandemic workplace.
Keep reading: Guide to workplace social distancing software