By Usman Shuja
As businesses continue to open and employers consider the future of workplaces, the three options being debated are remote, onsite, and hybrid. Facility managers should be prepared to engage in these conversations, offering insights into which work model is the best fit based on the industry, forecasting how much building space is required, and deploying software to oversee their resources portfolio management.
Businesses that opt to remain 100% remote have approximately a year of experience under their belts, along with a wealth of information now available online fleshing out best practices for overseeing a remote workforce. The onsite option comes with its own new guidelines for safety practices and protocol for helping employees feel secure as they return to work.
But what procedures come with hybrid workplaces? Merely creating a mixture of the rules pulled from the remote and onsite setups will not be enough. However, I believe that facility managers should consider this hybrid approach as it may present the best solution for the business and employees.
As a facility manager, one of the most pressing concerns is the rise in real estate prices. When building square footage costs are coupled with the compliance guidelines regarding social distancing, it becomes clear: space is at a premium in today’s environment.
In this way, a hybrid workplace can present itself as a preferred solution as it allows the business to save money in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The Facility Manager’s Way Forward
One of the main challenges for facility managers in a hybrid setup is tracking and understanding the business’ needs.
That is why corporations like Honeywell are developing artificial intelligence (AI) functionality into software services to help companies gather the necessary data points, track metrics, and implement smart decision-making tools, including:
- Smart scheduling: Suppose Employee A only uses a desk Monday and Wednesday, and Employee B only uses a desk Tuesday and Friday. In that case, through the proper resource management facilitation software, one desk can serve both employees’ needs, saving on the company’s real estate footprint.
- Smart tracking: Data points need to be gathered to track energy usage, including outside temperature, amount of people in a property, etc. Based on this information, HVAC settings can automatically adjust in real-time, both optimizing the occupant experience and reducing energy costs.
- AI forecasting: Using machine learning algorithms, these real-time analytics on resource consumption (whether this is space or energy usage) can be combined with historical data to predict the business’s future needs better.
Similar to how Mint.com compiles finances and Salesforce creates a customer management pathway, this state of record will enable facility managers to have a single source of truth tracking their resources in real-time and aiding them in forecasting future needs. This data dashboard will be accessible to facility managers whether onsite, at home, or in a coffee shop.
Remember The Human Element
The other half of this equation is acknowledging returning employees’ concerns while the business strives to adhere to corporate and governmental safety protocols. New expectations and responsibilities are being placed upon facility managers during these challenging times. Engaging with these issues requires additional thought, communication, and empathy.
Some concerns that have already been noted include:
- The possibility of contamination when sharing a desk with someone else
- Having all employees checked for symptoms before entering work when the roster is different each day
- Maintaining social distancing and maximum capacity in public locations such as the breakroom
The questions will likely multiply in the initial phase of this setup, but the overall objective remains the same. That goal is to build trust with the employees and management to gain confidence during this transition and create a consistent safety continuum for your teams.
This doesn’t mean facility managers will have answers to every question that arises. However, in those moments when a solution isn’t immediately accessible, it’s essential to communicate a plan for follow-up steps. Handing this could be merely saying, “That is a great question. Next week we’ll send out a communication addressing this issue. Do you have any additional concerns that should be taken into account as we look at this.”
There is no stepping back from the technological advancements we have made in the last year. The path forward for facility managers focuses on forecasting the business’s needs to create more sustainable solutions now that hybrid workplaces are at the epicenter of the transition.
Usman Shuja is Vice President/General Manager of Connected Buildings for Honeywell Connected Enterprises. He leads a global team that serves customers in commercial, hospitality, healthcare, tech, education and other industries through Honeywell Forge Buildings SaaS applications and Niagara Tridium platform.