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Data Opens The Door For Coworking Spaces To Make A Pandemic Pivot

Swiping into a door with a SALTO KS lock

Coworking spaces are facing a unique challenge when it comes to keeping office workers safe.

With many different groups of employees coming and going out of the same office as they please, it can be harder for coworking providers to track where their members are than for a traditional office. And the shoulder-to-shoulder density that has been a hallmark of coworking business models has become a serious liability in the midst of a pandemic.

To bring members safely back into their spaces, coworking operators need a deeper, more data-driven understanding of how their occupants move through the office. But research suggests that while these operators are investing in procedural changes to spread occupants out, they lack the hardware and software to back their plans up with data.

In a Bisnow survey, coworking operators overwhelmingly reported that they are working to prioritize “user health” and “user safety and security” in 2020. A wide majority said they were implementing procedural changes and manual processes to achieve those priorities, but only around a third said they were leveraging “IoT devices or sensors” and around a quarter said they were leveraging hardware and software to keep occupants safe and healthy. 

“It’s right to start with procedural changes and re-establish standard operating procedures, but it's not enough to rely on written procedures and training to be a full virus mitigation strategy,” said David Latreille, director of business development at SALTO Systems, a top global manufacturer of access control systems. “You need both physical tools and data to back those processes up.”

When it comes to collecting data about how people are moving throughout their workspaces, the most valuable tool that coworking operators have are entries, exits and various access points scattered through the space, including offices, conference rooms, elevators, lockers, restrooms and closets. 

As the pandemic has set in, Latreille has been helping his coworking clients understand and leverage the real-time data about the movement of every employee and visitor throughout the building, which is already being collected by their access control systems. Using that data, they can better utilize space, optimize work and traffic flows, and analyze potential virus exposure points.

Often, adding hardware and software capabilities can empower behavioral changes to keep co-workers safe. In a traditional conference room without any access control, there is no way for a coworking operator to tell who is in the room and with whom at any time. 

“If you have an environment where you can use your phone to open doors or present a credential to a wall reader or smart lock to access a room, you have an exact record of who was in the room at any given time,” Latreille said. “Then, if someone in that group tests positive for COVID, your management team can notify the people exposed according to your COVID mitigation procedures.”

Taken up another level, technology from SALTO can lay out a member’s path from a garage, into a stairwell, through an office front door and into a private office, Latreille said. When mapped out, those intersecting paths can show coworking providers how their members use their spaces, and suggest reconfigurations to avoid crossover between unrelated members and eliminate hot spots.

Nearly three-quarters of coworking operators in Bisnow's survey agreed or strongly agreed that their physical access control solution plays a critical role in their facility’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy. But only 17% of respondents report attempting any form of contact tracing or using their data to track how occupants use their office spaces. 

So far during the coronavirus pandemic, Latreille said, coworking operators have tried to spur new memberships and encourage current tenants to return to the workplace by offering discounted pricing and communal perks that work in a socially distanced world, like subscriptions to health and wellness apps. But as cases rise again, Latreille expects that keeping occupants healthy — and being seen as a safe place to come to work — will make the difference in which operators survive and which ones do not. 

“There is a new business model at stake here, and it’s not going to be determined by who has the most appealing pricing plan,” Latreille said. “The question for coworking providers is whether they are going to retreat into the turtle shell and continue with business as usual, or whether they are going to continue their legacy as disrupters of the way we live and work.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and SALTO Systems. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.