After being out of the office for several months due to the global pandemic, reopening the workplace won’t be as simple as walking in the door and picking up where we left off.
Forward-thinking businesses need to adapt quickly in response to employee needs and circumstances that are changing daily. Now more than ever, companies that take an agile approach to office space planning will gain a competitive advantage that extends beyond the current crisis.
If the future of work pans out as experts predict, there’s nothing to fear from workplace transformation as long as you’re prepared.
1. Consider how expectations have changed
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has already changed how we work, where we work, and the way we experience work. It's unlikely that those changes will revert back to pre-pandemic conditions.
According to recent Gallup Panel findings, 54% of U.S. adults believe these disruptions will last for the rest of this year and beyond.
Even as restrictions begin to ease, many employees remain confined to their homes by local, state, or country-wide stay-at-home orders. When they do go back, most companies will start off by phasing the return and bringing employees back at reduced capacity.
Now that there's no denying the viability of remote work, those changes may have a reverberating effect on what employees expect.
2. Engage in transparent two-way communication with employees
During tough times, organizations need to remain committed to keeping communication with staff open and ongoing. You can use an employee experience mobile app like iOFFICE Hummingbird to send important updates.
Let your team know what to expect during the transition back to the office. Emphasize how you plan on protecting their safety and wellbeing. Explain what steps you will take to follow rules and regulations, and your expectations for employees, as you have likely changed guidelines on working hours, workspaces, and even flow of traffic throughout the office.
If you're starting to prepare for a return to work, there are several aspects to consider. First, physical distancing will require changing how employees are able to utilize the space.
With the Space-Right™ strategic facility planning feature, you can automatically reconfigure floor plans based on safe distancing parameters. That will allow you monitor and recalibrate the workplace, adjusting your space to meet shifting needs.
It's important to incorporate feedback from staff and to demonstrate that you're responsive to input. An employee experience app can make it easy for team members to submit questions, reserve spaces, or submit work request tickets.
You may also want to consider using sensors to passively gather anonymous usage data and monitor which spaces are being heavily utilized so you can schedule sanitization or adjust floor plans. Workplace sensors can give you a competitive edge by creating a seamless, intuitive experience for employees and helping you optimize space usage to keep real estate costs down.
3. Reassess your real estate
"The return to work will be a perpetual experiment," said workplace specialist Neil Usher in an interview with GQ Magazine. "No company will get it right the first time."
When you embark on the journey back to the office, your inaugural challenge will be to provide the right kind of space, at the right time, and in the right place. Before you plan to reopen, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my portfolio match up with current workspace requirements?
- Will we need less space due to a higher percent of employees working remotely? Or more space to accommodate safe distancing practices?
- Which employees can expect to work from home in the future, and which need to be present in the workplace to perform their roles effectively?
- Who will go back into the office, when?
- How can we address employee concerns during this transition?
- How can we best support remote workers during this time?
With so many unknowns looming, the growth process will be full of trial and error and will require workplace leaders to remain flexible. The most successful organizations will be the ones that can look beyond the focus on surviving today and build scalable real estate strategies to succeed in the future. With effective leadership and strategies to accommodate change, leaders can shape a viable plan to guide our return.
4. Identify and bridge technology gaps
Before the pandemic hit, boundaries between the digital and physical workplace were already blurred. Given the speed at which the workforce had to adapt, it's no surprise that this has pushed digital transformation objectives into overdrive.
Traditional ways of working were overthrown by new technology. Teleconferencing replaced in-person communication and manual processes were digitized. On the other hand, the pandemic may have exposed some weaknesses. After responding to the sudden shutdown, you may have identified some areas where you felt unprepared or under-equipped.
It'll be important to bridge any areas where you lack capabilities that you need from your technology. You should also anticipate what needs may arise as you move forward. Take this as an opportunity to get ahead of any existing and future challenges.
For instance, have you considered what you'll do the first time visitors arrive?
When they enter your office, they will expect you to have taken the necessary steps to keep them safe. With visitor management and wayfinding software, you can create a touchless experience and make their entry and office navigation more efficient.
By preparing for what's ahead, you can focus on strengthening your organization's ability to weather future disruptions.
5. Leverage lessons learned
Forward-thinking companies will use this time as a chance to build resiliency and restore confidence. This comes down to preparation, which requires perspective.
As you return, here are some ways to make the most of this challenging time:
- Get visibility into your operations
- Measure the impact of your decisions
- Assess risks and anticipate future impacts
- Re-evaluate your workplace policies
- Note changes in technology, processes, or support
- Get ongoing feedback from employees
- Revisit existing disaster recovery and business continuity plans to address gaps
Though we may be uncertain about how current circumstances will ultimately shape the future of the workplace, facility managers and commercial real estate leaders are uniquely positioned to convert these challenges to opportunities by creating adaptable strategies.
Staying agile as you move forward
This is a defining moment in history, with a clear delineation between pre- and post-coronavirus life. For months, the workplace has experienced a massive disruption. In response, it'll be more important than ever to prioritize specific needs, define your goals, and adapt to the situation as it evolves.
How you respond and support your team throughout each phase of this crisis will play a critical role in what consumers and employees expect from you during future disruptions, and in gaining a competitive edge for your organization.
Workplace leaders who keep the employee experience in mind from the beginning will stand apart from those who don't prepare a coordinated plan for office re-entry.