OPINION: Covid-19 has changed the South African office
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By Paul Keursten
Covid-19 has seen much of the globe encouraged to work from home where possible.
With so many people operating remotely during this pandemic, we are all experiencing an unprecedented blend of work and private life. Businesses lucky enough to have survived the ravages of the Covid-19 lockdown have been forced to quickly adapt to new ways of working. In response to market demand, South Africa’s top workspace solutions provider, Workshop17, has taken the lead to provide a continuum of work environments that blend physical and virtual workspace services.
The office of the future will no longer be a specific space in one building, but a combination of physical spaces accompanied by virtual office resources that enable online meetings, planning and collaboration.
The future of the office became clearer to us during Covid-19 lockdown. Physical workspaces will always be relevant, but the need to keep our members connected inspired us to re-evaluate our value proposition and shift our focus to provide flexible solutions offering an interchangeable mix of physical and virtual spaces and functionalities. We intend to be a work solutions provider to enables corporates, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and others to be productive wherever they choose to operate from – at home or in one of our physical workspaces.
The company also has the benefit of insights from local market research on how Covid-19 and technology have reframed our understanding of the work-setting. More than half of the SMME’s surveyed in the #CombatCovid SMME Survey (co-sponsored by Workshop17) reported that they had used technology to keep their businesses ticking over during these trying times. 54% of businesses had adopted and/or increased their use of technology, with tools such as online video conferencing, in order to work remotely, run their businesses and streamline processes.
A remote revolution for corporates and beyond
By all accounts, remote work is here to stay, for a growing number of workers, and this has a major impact on the future of offices. Despite the easing COVID19 restrictions, many companies, big and small, are continuing to allow their employees to work remotely. This shift has had an impact of the traditional idea of the office.
In recent months, Workshop17 has seen an increase in enquiries from large corporates and smaller business alike looking for more flexible workspace options.
The corporates who have reached out to us, are telling us that while they recognize that employees do not necessarily need to be based at a corporate head office to be productive, the long-term work from home arrangements are not a solution for everyone.
The reality is that some employees may not necessarily have all the resources they need at home to handle their professional commitments, including adequate workspace, ergonomic furniture, certain office equipment, a stable internet connection and in some cases enough quiet time to work. And that is before the predicted load shedding kicks in. Further, there are some professionals who find it challenging not to have regular in-person interaction and engagement with their colleagues when working from home full time.
In order to adapt to the new world of work, we are hearing from corporates that they are open to limiting their traditional office space environments, in some cases reducing their office premises by more than 50%. There is a real appetite for a so-called ‘third space’: a mailable office concept that is relatively close to their employees’ homes to avoid long hours in traffic, that is ergonomic and functional, and just offers a great atmosphere in which their staff can be creative and effective, as well as interact and be inspired by others.”
These fundamental shifts led us to develop new offerings next to our ‘traditional Workshop17 full’; from the ‘office for the day’ for small businesses, all the way to the larger ‘serviced white box plus’ for larger companies who want to keep dedicated space with their own identity, while at the same time tapping into shared Workshop17 offerings.
Online platform keeps entrepreneurs together while working apart
When the workplace stops being one location and co-workers are working from home, a corporate office, or a Workshop17, a virtual platform is needed to tie it all together.
One solution is Workshop17’s new W17 World online platform, which contains a wide range of secure features for co-working, co-learning and well-being. The platform provides access to the company’s fully encrypted video conferencing platform, available to all members as well as the public. The secure W17 Meet video conferencing solution provides a secure and efficient alternative to Zoom. Hosted by Workshop17’s servers in South Africa, the platform allows for free unlimited calls and call time.
W17 World also facilitates ‘blind networking’ for members who may be looking to expand their business network, share a business idea, or connect with a specific industry expert. Already renowned for its event hosting facilities, Workshop17 now in addition provides members with comprehensive virtual event management services for webinars, seminars and workshops.
Members also have access to the W17 World ‘Entrepreneur Toolbox’ for crowd-sourced content including useful apps, online courses and free learning, eBooks and templates. Other features include a community notice board, playlists, workout tips and favourite recipes.
Meeting the demands of working from home
To cater to a world where the home also doubles as a workplace, Workshop17 will be teaming up with talented local designers to launch a custom-made ergonomic office furniture range which will be on sale to both members and the public. If remote work is becoming more of a norm, it becomes increasingly important for there to be appropriate, work-efficient facilities and resources available in all environments. Workshop17 is also in talks to provide other services to people who are now working from home, including internet solutions that offer stable internet at home with added data security, which is important as internet security becomes a challenge for the private sector – especially as more people work outside the corporate head-quarters.
Increased focus on health and well-being
In another immediate shift to ensure a healthy working environment for members, Workshop17 has redesigned its physical office areas and shared workspaces at its eight locations across Gauteng and Cape Town to comply with the all the new Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
To share what they have learnt in preparation for Covid-19, the company has created a post-lockdown e-document outlining the steps implemented to make spaces fit for operations during Levels 4 and 3. This plan is freely available as a guide to other businesses.
All our shared workspaces now allow 1.5m radius of space between people, in adherence to requirements. We have designed transparent screens for desks in shared spaces and added items such as disposable paperwork mats to protect surfaces. All members and employees are screened upon entering the space and we are also tracking members’ movement at our sites with QR codes, allowing us to allocate the number of people in the space at any given time,” adds Keursten.
“We have learnt a lot during this pandemic and have taken the opportunity to reflect on new ways to support our members in a changing world. We have embarked on a journey of innovation with a focus on flexibility and workspace customization that will have us best placed for the new normal after Covid-19; a world in which physical and virtual (co-)working spaces will be blended. We are committed to helping our business community in any way we can. We were inspired most by witnessing the sheer motivation and ability of professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses to adapt at lightning speed during these uncertain times and uniting to keep our country’s ecosystem alive.
Paul Keursten is the Workshop17 co-founder and CEO.