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