By Luis De Souza
From the June 2020 Issue
As offices in the United States and around the world are re-opening for business after the onset of COVID-19, companies are working hard to overcome the fear factor, setting the office up for safe working while assuring staff that is okay to come back. No part of this is going to be easy.
Social distancing creates issues ranging from the number of staff you can accommodate to potentially providing extra equipment such as screen dividers. And, hygiene criteria are far tougher than ever before.
But dealing with the fear factor will engage all of us. After months of being told to stay at home, workers are understandably cautious—or even downright scared—about sitting in their old seats.
In looking at your Safely Back to Work strategy, it may help to break the challenges into these three stages. So, here are tips for each of these stages in bringing your staff back to the office.
- Now: Immediate action plan
- Next: Medium-term: (pre-vaccine) solution
- Then: Long-term: (post vaccine) “new normal.”
Immediate Action Plan
Reduce your space density by at least 50%: Identify and block out office, meeting room, and desk space that does not allow proper social distancing
Brush up your hygiene policies: Set new standards, and communicate them to your staff and service providers (who may be in short supply at the moment, so efficiency is key). You’ll need to provide hand sanitizer and provide extra cleaning of surfaces throughout the day.
Implement zero touch strategies: Workspace scheduling technology provides your staff with touch-free access and space use, via mobile apps, QR codes, and RFID features on room panels and self-service kiosks.
Keep staff in the know: If they are able to use mobile apps to pre-book workspace, these can also share important information on who has been using the space and how recently it was cleaned.
Manage visitors: Limit the number of guests you allow into your premises, and consider asking if the meeting can be carried out by videoconference instead, if that suits your needs.
If they do need to come in, reduce face to face engagement with your reception during the access process with secure check in/out panels, and use digital signage to guide them to the right place without having to wander around the building.
One thing we know for sure—thanks to the massive increase in home working, occupancy levels are changing all across the realm of corporate real estate. Chances are this is happening at your organization, too, and you need to know exactly what difference it is making so you can adjust your real estate footprint accordingly (and perhaps save money).
So, gather this data to support your future space decisions:
- What’s the actual utilization of meeting rooms?
- How many people join virtually?
- Is the check in/out process working and providing useful data?
- Could service provision improve? (e.g., catering—is restaurant delivery a new model?)
- Is staff productivity and collaboration being maintained?
Organizations with workspace technology are in a good position to answer these questions. When the software integrates with other technologies such as sensors with people counters, digital signage and in-room panels, it captures real-time data and provides reports that removes the guesswork.
It’s invaluable when supporting an agile workforce, too, providing the facility to locate and book space via an app before they even arrive at the office. Because they can arrive, check in and go straight to their booked desk or room, it reduces unwanted movement around the office and supports social distancing.
On a broader level, workspace technology is a great enabler for collaboration when it comes to a remote or roving workforce. It makes it simple to organize a video conference, for example—rooms and equipment can be found and booked in a few clicks, with all attendees invited and even catering organized. Even multiple locations and time zones can be managed—and then if any details of the meeting change, the workspace scheduling technology informs everyone automatically.
Long-Term Office Tech: The New Normal
What this will bring is not clear; that depends on when a vaccine is developed, and how our workplaces and practices have evolved by then.
However, two things will certainly dominate: the space footprint will change, and staff will demand a more agile mode of work (some countries, such as Finland, have already embedded the right to working from home into law).
Workers worldwide have reported high levels of well-being while working at home, so it’s likely to become an important plank of attracting and retaining talent.
Luckily, during this pandemic productivity levels have often been maintained, even though many organizations had to rush to implement home working with cobbled-together systems and practices. Imagine how much better it can be with more time to plan, and the right technology in place to support these efforts.
De Souza is CEO of NFS Technology Group, the UK-based international provider of leading workspace management technology Rendezvous Workspace.
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