Five Ways To Support People In A Post-COVID Facility

While the workplace will undoubtedly come back, it will also look very different. A JLL expert shares insight and practical strategies.

By Peter Ankerstjerne

The job of facility executives is increasingly to create a collaborative, innovative space that breaks down the silos of an organization and helps a company’s culture thrive. That has always been a very interesting aspect of facility management, but too often a focus on cost savings and operational optimization has received the bulk of the attention. As the world begins going back to work, facility executives are having to juggle both tasks with an even greater awareness of health and safety.

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Photo: StockByte

Globally, more than 50% of companies still do not have a set target re-entry date, according to the JLL’s global survey on workplace re-entry during COVID-19 (May 2020). Only 6% of companies in the Americas had started re-entry by the end of May, but planning and preparing for this eventual return is top-of-mind with many executives.

While the workplace will undoubtedly come back, it will also look very different and impact facility management decisions. Increased density, a decade-long trend in office planning, has halted and reversed in the wake of COVID-19. Between 2018 and last year alone, average rentable square footage per employee in North America fell 14.3%, from 228.2 to 195.6 square feet per employee, according to JLL’s annual Occupancy Benchmarking Report.

Now, with social distancing, density will have to fall, with some offices are looking at a loss of about 50% capacity or more. This puts new pressure on facility executives to do more with less — while supporting a positive human experience as people return to their workplace.

Navigating Spatial Distancing

Fortunately, there are many ways for facility management to support health, safety, and wellness, from facilitating distancing floor plans to rethinking collaborative spaces with a safety-first mindset.

First, there’s the essential business of reducing workplace density. Many teams are creating appropriate distance between workstations of 7.5 feet, or 2.3 meters, which can be as simple as removing a few desks and chairs. Where that’s not possible, some are setting up clear plastic barriers between workstations.

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Example of a social distancing office configuration (Image: JLL)

Many organizations will also need to adjust personnel schedules to ensure only a certain percentage of the workforce is physically present at any time. For example, across Asia and Europe, companies are bringing people back to the office in a phased approach, starting with 20-30% of the workforce, then slowly ramping up. Rotational scheduling can help keep occupancy in check, too, while ensuring everyone gets at least some time in the physical workplace.

facility management
Photo: JLL

Now is also the time for facility management to assess HVAC functionality, revamp janitorial protocols, and make personal protective equipment (PPE) available throughout the facility.

Looking ahead, effective facility planning won’t just be about moving chairs and juggling schedules, but rethinking the value of proximity to others in an even broader sense. After all, the reality of work today is that it is no longer station-based. The workplace has become a destination for employees, a place to engage with colleagues. We are amid a great work-from-home experiment, one that has already shown that employees can be productive from home.

But people miss the social aspects of their workplace that ultimately drive collaboration and innovation. The human desire for community and experience in a shared, physical environment will outlive the pandemic. And facility leaders can help make that possible, keeping safety as a top priority.

Five Ways To Support Your Occupants

COVID-19 has accelerated workplace trends that were already underway. Few if any people are championing a return to the old ways, where people come in, sit at their desks, and work straight through the day without casually engaging with coworkers.

By doubling down on health, safety and well-being, facility leaders can shape positive human experiences in the post-COVID-19 workplace. Following are five ways forward:

  1. Safeguard collaborative areas. Make collaboration areas accessible with spatial distancing. This could mean removing chairs from a conference room, still allowing people to meet but with fewer shared surfaces. If you offer food services, take other measures, like replacing buffets with carry-out kiosks and spreading out tables — including outside, ideally.
  2. Make it easy for people to move around safely. It’s natural, but no longer healthy, for people to cluster around points of entry and elevators. Reduce crowds and save people time by managing entry during peak hours. For example, you might use an app to give people time slots for when to come and go. Guiding people, kindly, through new office rules like this will help control crowding, and avert frustration.
  3. Support health with clear communications. Nurture a safe culture with thoughtful communications and signage, whether you’re reminding employees to distance in the lobby or sanitize their hands. Champion individual wellness where possible. For example, to reduce crowding in an elevator, save lines, and support physical fitness all in one go, make signs nudging people to take the stairs. (Did you know you can burn 1.2 calories per step?)
  4. Deploy connective technology throughout the facility. People may want to be in the office for all-hands meetings, but the fact is that’s not likely to happen for a while. The next normal will be a blend of physical presence and online meetings. One way to help: add videoconferencing screens in the lobby, so folks working from home might enjoy casual encounters with those on site, too.
  5. Plan for healthier, more experiential workplaces. From WELL Building standards that promote health and wellness, to embracing an office that blurs the lines between work and leisure, today’s workforce craves unique, positive experiences. Collaborative spaces will still be possible in a post-COVID world–they just may need to include wider aisles and broader staircases.

It will take time to understand the broader effects of the pandemic on long-term facility strategy. For now, consider what inspires people to want to come into the office in the first place — and plan accordingly.

Your Post-COVID Job Description?

Facility leaders’ roles had already been changing over the last 10 years – and more change is on the horizon. Increasingly, facilities leaders will become collaborative partners in organizational strategy. They will work across the aisle with HR and IT to foster community and culture in a time where safety and well-being have become more challenging to secure.

As organizations navigate the next normal, facilities leaders will play an important role in not just keeping all systems go, but in giving employees what they crave most: comfort and inspiration in a workplace community.

Ankerstjerne is global facility management & employee services lead for JLL Corporate Solutions. He was recently elected to chair the executive committee of IFMA’s global board of directors, beginning July 1.


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