Whilst most of the world remains in lock down, parts of Asia have returned to the office. In China, we are seeing the impact of commuting, social distancing and PPE on the working day. Parts of Europe are now actively preparing to return. Hopefully this begins to signal two things, a return to a new normal working life, one without kids and illness looking over our shoulders, but also the opportunity for a better working life than we had before. This starts with understanding how people are working now, who can stay remote, who needs to come into the office, why and how often?
Anecdotal evidence over the past two weeks suggests that occupiers are looking at anything from 10-50% of their workforce returning to the office in the short term. For those preparing to return, the Recovery Readiness Guide Safe Six are:
- Prepare the Building
Safety, mechanical, HVAC systems, cleaning and compliance.
- Prepare the Workforce
Plan for who returns and when, advise on journey to work, communicate new protocols, mitigate anxiety, offer choices.
- Control Access
Entry points, deliveries, PPE, temperature checks, lobbies, reception, lifts.
- Create a Social Distancing Plan
Staggered arrival times, explore 6FeetOffice protocols, one way circulation routes.
Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning
Low touch access, circulation and technology, sanitize surfaces, clean desk policy.
- Communicate for Confidence
Recognise fear in returning, be transparent, listen and talk to staff. Set expectations for visitors, staff, travel and time in the office.
Whilst social distancing may be with us for longer than anyone imagined, it shouldn’t stop us planning for a post vaccine better way of working.
Who Needs to be in the Office?
The ability to work remotely will vary by sector, job role and activity. Some sectors are more location dependent than others. Manufacturing, distribution, retail, leisure and hospitality for example, are connected to physical locations such as warehouses, logistics centres and leisure facilities. Research and development organisations are tied to physical space too. Whilst remote monitoring of laboratory kit is increasingly common, people also need to physically handle samples and equipment. Other sectors can work well remotely including professional services, insurance, financial services and tech firms. Any reluctance to continue working remotely for these sectors is likely to be driven by management choices. Certain activities such as training, social events, staff inductions, elements of teamwork and serendipitous interaction are more effectively done in person. The need to go to the office will not go away, but we should more fundamentally question why we are going there.
No Touch Technology
The value of intelligent buildings and Internet of Things (IOT) is clear during this period of remote access. There is likely to be an increased investment in virtual solutions such as; remote operated security, drones for building viewings, deployment of cleaning robots and virtual receptionists. Biometric security and space management systems will allow no touch access and circulation through buildings, workspace and meeting rooms. Technology will soon enable the touchless office where access is powered through biometrics and voice.
Intelligent Building Information Management (BIM) systems with embedded analytics will enable more efficient management of energy use and occupancy. In the short-term, occupiers can temporarily shut down floors that are not being used; and in the longer-term right size their real estate requirements for a distributed workforce.
A positive workplace experience increasingly relies on the close collaboration of HR, IT and Real Estate. These functions usually have separately allocated and managed budgets. A distributed work force could fundamentally shift the kind of support required. If larger populations are working from home more permanently, IT could offer home packages e.g. paid for superfast broadband, screens, headsets etc. Corporate travel should be reviewed with guidance put in place as to when travel is required. We may find surplus travel budgets emerge as people become accustomed to virtual meetings. Budgets should be reviewed with any excess channelled into other areas such as support for remote working, training, ergonomics and technology.
Occupier interest in wellbeing and sustainability was steady pre COVID19, the current situation especially pre vaccine, is sharply increasing this interest. Organisations are setting their targets towards carbon neutral operations. We will see increased demand for buildings with wellbeing and sustainability certifications.
The Well Living Lab, Delos, Cushman & Wakefield and Hines have aligned to advance thinking on Return-to-Workplace Guidelines. The Well Living Lab is a Delos and Mayo Clinic collaboration focussed on pioneering research at the intersection of health, building and behavioural sciences. The research will look to reduce viral transmission, strengthen physical-distancing measures and enhance employee performance in the office through prototypes in Europe and the US.
Communities of Work
Work follows people rather than places. We will start coming into the office for specific reasons not simply by default. People will work across a network of places including city centre offices, campuses, local hubs close to where people live and individual homes. Local community workplace hubs will help connect colleagues, collaborators and like-minded people. New roles are already emerging including a community manager who looks after employee engagement inside and outside the office. Local co-working hubs could have an important role in re-imaging our high streets.
Key contributors: Despina Katsikakis, Nicola Gillen, Antonia Cardone, Rachel Casanova, Carol Wong, Steve Zatta, Bryan Berthold, Caroline Gardiner, Emma Swinnerton, Stefanie Woodward, Andrew Baker, Joe White and Karon Woodcock.