Everything we knew about workplace utilization has changed forever
At some point, it’s going to be time for us all to leave home and return to work. Many countries are already lifting lock-down restrictions and opening child-care centers, schools, and wellness services.
As offices reopen, we’ll enter our workplaces hyper-aware of how easy it is for viruses to spread through close contact.
You need to address people’s fears with innovative solutions for workplace layout, flexibility, and cleanliness.
“For all the terrible tragedy caused by COVID-19, this turmoil is unlocking innovation. Companies who figure out how to use today’s adversity to invent tomorrow’s workplace will be the ones that prosper in the long term.” - Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School in Fortune Magazine
It’s time to reassess your assumptions.
Any information you have collected on people’s workplace usage – and satisfaction – is now out of date. You’ll need to adjust your assumptions and provide solutions to create a workplace that fits the new reality.
Here is how you can adapt your practices to ensure a more confident post-COVID workplace.
First and foremost, post-COVID confidence means transparency between leadership and staff. Employees want to know that companies are doing all they can to keep them healthy, both physically and mentally. As you make adjustments to layout and schedules, let employees know how you are making decisions.
Share the data you’ve collected to back up your decisions and involve your employees in the decision-making process. Keep the lines of communication open to ensure employees feel their voices are heard. This may entail employee surveys, push-button feedback mechanisms, or discussions and town halls.
Be open to new work schedules, especially as the pandemic continues. Employees might be affected by COVID-19 in more ways than you think. They could be battling symptoms, anxieties and loneliness, or they could have family members or loved ones that are affected.
More so, employees might find it hard to be productive in times of high anxiety. The current situation can take a negative mental toll on many. Try to be understanding and flexible as we all try to physically and emotionally navigate this new terrain.
Together, we can come through this pandemic with stronger relationships than ever.
There is growing evidence happy employees are more engaged, creative, and productive. A recent Oxford study found that productivity increases by 13% when people say they are “happy.”
What does it mean to feel happy?
A fundamental requirement is feeling safe, both physically and psychologically. Employees need to feel that their well-being matters to their employer.
When people come back into your building, they’ll be looking for evidence that leadership has taken steps to put their fears at rest.
In some organizations, changes will come from facilities managers and building owners. For others, Human Resources teams will lead the charge. Company leadership will also be essential to driving and supporting necessary changes.
As you plan for the return to work, you’ll need to focus on areas of workplace operations that impact employees most. Data can help guide the way.
Open office plans and shared “hotdesking” strategies were once hallmarks of modern workplaces. Now, they may make many employees uncomfortable.
In anticipation of workers returning to headquarters in New Jersey, Verizon is now shifting from an open plan. Instead, it is installing old-school “cube walls” to separate desks.
In the Netherlands, Cushman & Wakefield rapidly redesigned the company’s office space to encourage better hygiene and social distancing.
Ensuring that there are six feet between people at all times is a challenge. Properly spaced desks and visual signals, such as a circle embedded in the carpeting around each desk can help.
Fire doors may play a larger role in limiting exposure to particular groups or sections of a building, especially for large facilities such as schools, hospitals, and government offices.
To make the most effective choices for your building, you’ll need to understand the current state of workplace utilization.
Sensors that collect and aggregate data can help you determine how often desks, conference rooms, and other spaces will be used, and by how many people. Sensors that track how often doors open and close can tell you if they’re being used properly.
The pandemic has shown people can work from home effectively, relying on email, chats, and videoconferencing instead of commuting to an office. As businesses reopen, many organizations are gradually bringing people back and staggering work schedules.
As a result of these changes, companies may find that they require less office space and look to reconfigure the space they have. Sensors can help you determine when people are in the office so you can configure office space to meet their needs.
Hourly checks on communal areas and restrooms may not be frequent enough to allay people’s fears and meet their demands for cleanliness. They’ll also worry about everything people touch while working. Desks, chairs, whiteboards, elevator buttons, stair rails, and door handles have now become dangerous territories.
But, constantly cleaning every location isn’t workable for staff. Cleaning would be wasteful (financially and operationally) if rooms and equipment aren’t being used.
You’ll need to know which locations need rapid attention by tracking their usage. A feedback panel or button can also provide ways for employees to request cleaning on demand and update you in real-time.
With fewer people in the office, you’ll also want to reassess how much water, power, lighting, and other equipment you use. You may need to adjust your energy planning and the frequency of maintenance checks on critical systems.
Less body heat in an office also means changes in temperature. You may find that what worked for a dense office of 100 is too cold for a room of 25. Ambient temperature sensors can give you accurate temperature readings. With their help, you can identify areas of your building with different temperature requirements.
For actionable insight, you can gather and track relevant data yourself or integrate it into an existing system. You can make data-backed decisions that improve employee wellness, peace of mind, and productivity, as well as lower costs and save energy.
For example, you may choose to:
According to Morgan Stanley, 50% of the workforce could be back in the office this summer.
Are you ready?
How well you respond to this change will help determine how quickly we all get back to work. Make sure you have the most accurate, up-to-date information to help you make informed decisions.
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