COVID-19 has marked a before and after when it comes to social and labour relations all over the world, transforming work models that had never been questioned until now. Following a period of ´enforced´ remote working, coworking is now emerging as an opportunity for companies and an alternative to traditional workspaces.
The approach to work has changed. Although some workers may have been working from home for months, the pandemic has made them aware of the role that physical and social relationships play in their working day. On the other hand, many of the organisations that, until recently, were opposed to remote working, have come to realise that it is possible to downsize office space and reduce costs without having a negative effect on productivity.
The demand for decentralised, digital and flexible workspaces, has led to coworking spaces emerging as a solution for many companies that, for quite a number of years, have spotted opportunities to innovate and collaborate in external spaces. With a multifunctional and versatile structure, a robust infrastructure that enables any activity to be carried out, these spaces offer the perfect alternative to offices that cannot ensure that social distancing measures are adhered with.
Renting large spaces on long-term contracts, paying high supply costs and having many employees in the same place at once is no longer the only or best way forward for companies. The possibility of working in a space with all the services included and with the added bonus of not having to commit to a long-term contract, have led to many of them opting for this working model, which, in turn, fosters networking with other companies.
“Although the majority of our customers were companies before the COVID-19 pandemic, at Utopicus we have noticed an increase in demand for greater flexibility”, states its CEO, Rafa de Ramón. The manager stresses the need to redesign these spaces, taking into account staff turnover and the incorporation of a hybrid and delocalised model, which combines presential and remote working.
In order to offer a quality alternative to the home office and traditional offices, many coworking spaces are starting to thoroughly reassess a business model that, a priori, didn't seem to be the most compatible with social distancing measures. A restructuring that not only calls for a change in layout and design, but also an offer adapted to new user profiles, with more flexible contracts, lower prices, and more private, compartmentalised and secure spaces. All this as well as speeding up the digital transformation, with work station booking applications, touchless technologies, voice commands, online workshops and virtual collaboration spaces between companies and workers.
“The demand for greater flexibility has accelerated a type of digitalisation that makes us much more efficient”, states Rafa de Ramón. The CEO explains how Utopicus is already working on a new interpretation of the concept of the 'useful square metre', “not only from a real estate point of view, but also by analysing just how much surface area a worker uses and how this improves the company. Both when it comes to attracting talent, increasing work efficiency or boosting the well-being of employees”.
In this changing environment and uncertain backdrop, furniture poses as a powerful design tool, fostering collaboration, socialisation, learning and privacy, capable of creating different environments according to the operational and security needs at any given time. Stackable and lightweight chairs, such as Whass or Wing; mobile, foldable and height-adjustable tables, such as Talent; versatile office chairs that look after well-being and ergonomics such as Stay or TNK Flex; modular screens such as Link that allow for a greater number of configurations; office cabinets or protective panels, are some of Actiu's proposals for these spaces to change their layout with the minimum effort. A strong commitment to functionality, flexibility and the well-being of people, which has led the company to equip some of the coworking centres that Utopicus has in Madrid and Barcelona, among others.
Redesigned under the strictest cleaning and disinfection protocols, coworking spaces must safeguard the health and safety of users, by increasing the frequency of cleaning and ventilation, incorporating biodegradable disposable utensils, avoiding the use of paper and promotional material among many other measures, and with health, safety and capacity control measures in place for both collective and individual spaces.
However, these spaces not only provide economic and business benefits. At a territorial level, coworking spaces could become the main actors in the social and ecological transformation of the city, by bringing the workplace closer to where workers live, therefore, limiting commutes while reducing CO2 emissions at the same time. Trends indicate that many of the new coworking spaces will move away from city centres to the outskirts as a way of reducing costs and fostering optimal urban mobility.