As work from home takes precedence, shared workspaces get in battle mode

Better safe than sorry is the best strategy against the snowballing coronavirus or Covid-19 crisis
Avoid sharing, avoid meeting anyone - these tips have a top of the mind recall when it comes to preventive strategies against the snowballing coronavirus or Covid-19 crisis. But what happens when your business model itself is based on professionals, often not bound by a single company code, congregating at confined spaces offered by you? The challenges mount as the risk intensifies.

The real worry is reducing footfalls. Some workspaces sell space in bulk, for longer terms, and against upfront payments. They have less to lose compared to the many smaller outfits that operate on a per seat basis, and on monthly rentals.

That said, co-working spaces like Oyo's Innov8 and BHIVE in Bengaluru have seen falling attendance over the last few weeks. "After the death of the 76-year old man from Karnataka, which was reported last Thursday, the number has been even lower," says a Bengaluru-based professional whose company works out of one of these shared workspaces. "Though there are measures being put in place like better housekeeping and cleanliness, people are wary and don't want to take a risk," he adds.

Some players say this threat would be limited to the short to medium term. "We believe that offering work from home is an essential step towards controlling the spread of the virus. As an engaged and responsible organisation, we have also deliberately put a pause on in-person site visits and have started to explore the alternative route of virtual tours to ensure business continuity," says Akshita Gupta, co-founder and CMO, ABL Workspaces.

So how does one work around or mitigate the threat? Players in the co-working industry realise that they have to step up the game to achieve the two-fold objective of managing day to day operations, ensuring better focus on hygiene by stocking up on and encouraging the use of soaps and sanitisers like everyone else, and taking customised approaches keeping their clientele and the nature of their businesses in mind.

Take WeWork. The company now has a mandatory 14-day work from home policy for every employee who has recently returning from high-risk regions, as well as those who exhibit flu-like symptoms, such as respiratory distress, fever, cough, shortness of breath, said a spokesperson. Documentation from a medical provider is required to return to work, the spokesperson added.

Awfis, another player in the segment, says it has placed posters/tent cards in common areas with detailed information on the virus and how to prevent it. Since the seats that the company offers are at different centres, it has worked out localised contingency plans besides following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and training the staff to handle basic queries. "We have a list of hospitals and doctors handy for each of the centres. We have adequate quantities of hand sanitisers and masks for members and staff at all our centres. We have partnered with vendors in case we require additional quantities," says Amit Ramani, CEO & founder, Awfis.

Atul Gupta, founder and CEO at CoFynd, that has presence in Gurugram, Delhi and Noida, says it has advised its team to bring home-cooked meals to avoid eating outside. "We have also provided the team with thermos flasks to have warm water through the day," he says. But that is more applicable to the staff. For those who come and work, the company has ensured that coffee and tea machines in the office are cleaned thoroughly twice a day, increasing the frequency of the exercise from it was earlier.

Two other crucial factors are screening and communication and there also more steps are being taken, assert companies operating in the co-working space. For example, at all centres run by Smartworks, the temperature of every individual is being checked at the time of entry. "All individuals entering Smartworks office premises are checked for their body temperature (using an infrared thermometer) as a precautionary measure and any person with a temperature higher or equal to 100 degrees is requested to go for medical consultation," says founder Sarda.

Awfis, too, has enhanced its efforts to improve the hygiene standards while dealing with food consumption within the premises. It has advised its housekeeping staff dealing with food and beverages to be extra vigilant about respiratory hygiene, asked them to regularly sanitise their hands and briefed them on the proper method and frequency of washing hands, especially when handling food. "We are also closely monitoring our vendors to ensure they are following the best hygiene practices while handling and packaging food items," adds Ramani.

Two other crucial factors are screening and communication and there also more steps are being taken, assert companies operating in the co-working space. For example, at all centres run by Smartworks, the temperature of every individual is being checked at the time of entry. "All individuals entering Smartworks office premises are checked for their body temperature (using an infrared thermometer) as a precautionary measure and any person with a temperature higher or equal to 100 degrees is requested to go for medical consultation," says founder Sarda.

OYO Workspaces, which claims to be the largest in the country in the space, did not address the queries on additional measures and shared the online links for couple of advisories it has circulated to its centres. Among other things, it has advised visitors to adhere to advisories issued by local governments and health and safety guidelines as prescribed by WHO and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On the communication front, Smartworks has been educating users of its workspaces on the dos and don'ts during this time through digital signages and internal posters. Awfis is playing informational videos on TV screens across centres. Additionally, all community members have been sent detailed emails and have been requested to maintain hygiene, avoid large gatherings and keep Awfis informed about their travel plans.

Beyond Guidelines 

  • Checking the body temperature of individuals entering office premises and advising users to go for medical consultation if temperature crosses 100 degree Fahrenheit 
  • Educating users on the dos and don'ts through digital signages, internal posters and even informational videos on TV screens across centres
  • Cleaning coffee machines more frequently, twice a day in some cases, monitoring vendor hygiene practices
  • Updating the database of hospitals and doctors in the vicinity of every centre to save time in case of an emergency



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