The global Covid-19 pandemic will permanently change the way we use offices, it is safe to say it will never be the same again. Workplaces will be looking to follow recommended guidelines of how to introduce employees back to the workplace safely, and consultations between governments, employers and public health experts have led to guidance such as staggered work times, de-densification of workspaces, actions to encourage social distancing, and additional hygiene procedures such as creating a touchless workplace.
Before any type of return to work is even considered, businesses need to understand key concerns from employees and the requirements from local government, and review policies accordingly. Only then can they build trust and confidence among their staff to ensure they feel safe to return to the workplace.
One thing is for sure, the return to the workplace can only be Covid-safe if everyone participates. If things are overly burdensome, there’s not enough thought given to privacy considerations, or the policy sounds a bit too authoritarian, they will not get adopted and confidence in the workplace’s ability to adapt will be compromised.
As previously touched on during our interview about seamless business continuity with Keerti Melkote from Aruba, health and safety measures are the basics and top priorities for many businesses.
We looked at some of the best practices that are developing and actions that they are taking to ensure a Covid-safe and productive workplace experience for their returning staff. This will require smart integration of workplace technology to map and aggregate data on how spaces are being used, as well as integrating systems to create and trigger great experiences in those spaces.
Change is never easy. It takes time, clear direction and guidance as well as excellent communication to be successful. On a high level these are likely to fall into two categories, environmental changes and behavioural changes. Environmental changes are easier and more straightforward, such as HVAC, airflows and more operational aspects of the building. However, behavioral changes require the workforce to do things differently, for example adhering to policies to ensure workstations are cleaned thoroughly and coordinating use of shared desks, so that social distancing can be respected.
These habitual changes will take time to develop, and can be accelerated with the help of good training and clear communication. Data will also be the key for workplaces to make data-driven decisions, and the ability to take actionable insights on change.
One aspect that is sure to change is how we approach high-touch areas in the workplace. Many workplaces are currently investigating how the number of touch points can be reduced, but also looking at different contactless or touchless technology that does not require physical touch. Today, many of the solutions put in place have been reliant on touch technology, such as touchscreens to book a room or space, or to launch video conferencing. These conveniences now start to look like health risks in light of a pandemic.
One possible solution is to shift the control of workplace environment to the one piece of technology that every employee has, the smartphone. A “tap to start” action on their smartphones triggers different experiences like check-in to a desk or meeting room, without the need for a physical touch with hardware. This is particularly relevant in an increasingly device-centric world, given the shift toward mobility and workplace apps where smartphones are at the centre of workplace experience.
With the need for social distancing in mind, many businesses will need to rethink their real estate and workplace strategies. There will be tension between optimizing real estate and cost per sqft, but also using space to allow for social distancing and de-densification. It is now more important than ever to use data to understand how spaces are being used, and make data-driven space planning decisions moving forward.
The pandemic situation will permanently change the way our workspaces are designed, and the technology that is needed to manage the use of those spaces. Some are saying that it could lead to a decrease in open-plan offices and a new mode of flexible working for smaller, more separated groups of staff to work in the office at the same time. Space requirements might not decrease, but there will be new space arrangements to allow for social distancing, and also identification of which and when spaces need to be cleaned and which are safe to be used.
Cushman & Wakefield has recently shared their vision of what the post-coronavirus pandemic office could look like — “the six-feet office” designed to encourage employees to intuitively practice social distancing. Installing beacons and sensors to track employee movement and seating which means employees can be directed to less busy areas. Co-working giant WeWork responded to coronavirus with a new proposal that would see new, less-crowded floor layouts and meeting rooms.
With the shift to de-densification and more flexible modes of working in the new normal, shared seating needs technology to help employees identify available desks in accordance with cleaning schedules and socially distanced arrangements.
Desks also need to be clutter- and cable-free to enable them to be cleaned quickly and not be a safety risk. Only monitors and stands should be shared, employees should use their own personal keyboards and mouse set-up, and should be suitable to carry in their bag.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has heightened sensitivity to cleanliness and employees will only feel comfortable at work if they know there are stringent policies in place for their safety. Effective workplace policies need to be driven and enabled by data and technology, and spaces need to be created that can respond to how they are being used. The use of spaces needs to be intuitive to enable a truly frictionless workplace experience.
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