Returning to the workplace post-COVID-19: building resilience and reimagining the purpose of the office.
In the early days of COVID-19, employers faced an unprecedented challenge to quickly relocate their workforce. With this adjustment came the unavoidable pressure and necessity to continue “business as usual” in new environments apart from the collective team. Some organizations were better prepared to adapt to remote work with relevant procedures, protocols, trainings and digital tools developed and in place. However, many organizations did not, and still do not, have the digital infrastructure and policies for their workforce to effectively work from home.
Organizations continue to balance remote work while evaluating who and when the workforce will return. Some organizations are speculating that the desire and need for a workplace will significantly decrease, while others are suggesting the value of offices and need for space will become greater post-COVID-19.
Reimagining the office
As we begin to consider a return to office, the purpose for the workplace will be challenged. Understanding who needs to be in the space and how employees are motivated is core to rethinking the need for square footage, where space is located and how it’s designed.
We expect the renewed purpose for the workplace will be on supporting humans’ foundational need for safety and social connection. Offices will continue to act as value drivers by providing the workforce with secure and optimized environments that support active collaboration and informal community bonding.
How do we build a resilient workplace post-COVID-19?
With safety as an underlying principle, these emerging workplace trends can enable a resilient workplace post-COVID-19.
1. Healthy buildings that manage health risk and optimize wellness
Touchless and hands-free considerations in facility design will be key. The focus will be on limiting contact with high-touch surfaces, such as elevators, entrances and shared spaces, by implementing hands-free alternatives. Examples include motion sensors, voice recognition and retinal recognition; all of which will facilitate creating a cleaner and safer workplace.
Heightened levels of sanitization and deep cleaning protocols, as well as active communication on good hygiene practices, with the implementation of visual cues will become a common practice.
2. Advanced digital capabilities
Collaboration and communication technologies will become omnipresent in offices. Meeting spaces can be equipped with seamless video conferencing technologies. Immersive digital collaboration spaces with virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies can advance and support teaming capabilities.
Hoteling and reservation systems can accommodate individual workstyles, while sensors and badges can be activated to provide utilization and occupancy tracking and wellness data.
3. Human-centric work experience
A distributed activity-based workplace that supports the overall work experience will be important. As greater portions of the workforce embrace working from home, the office can reduce individual workspaces and increase flexible spaces for purpose-driven collaboration.
With increased remote work, the office will play a more significant role in promoting an organization’s culture and brand by acting as a showroom or innovation hub where employees and customers can connect. The design of the space will highlight human ergonomics and biophilic elements to promote occupants’ health and wellness.
4. Real estate considerations
Reassessment of the current portfolio against business needs will be critical for successful activation of flexible working strategies. Organizations should be considering all savings instruments related to physical space and technology to lower workplace costs. For example, organizations can identify employees who can work remotely on a permanent basis and adjust space needs accordingly.
A balanced approach to footprint reduction can accommodate optimal square footage assigned to a person while addressing de-densification strategies to allow for six-feet physical distancing needs. Staggered work shifts can be another way to reduce the number of employees in the office and allow for physical distancing. Organizations can survey their workforce to understand employee workstyles and preferences in order to deploy appropriate workplace strategies.
What are the key questions in considering how and when the office is ready to be reopened?
Business leaders should consider the following pillars of a resilient workplace when evaluating the efforts of re-opening the workplace:
- Safety and health — What must be put in place to safeguard employees and visitors against major threats? What can we do to support and promote healthy work and lifestyles for our employees?
- Agility and flexibility — How can we facilitate business continuity in an uncertain environment? What plans should be put in place might we see another event? How can we manage shifting business, regulatory and governmental requirements?
- Productivity — What can we do to support our employees’ productivity? What tools should be put in place to support remote and collaborative work?
- Transparency and visibility — How can we effectively monitor our employees and their experiences? How can we ensure compliance with regulations and reporting requirements?
- Cost effectiveness — Are we using our space efficiently and effectively? Are there savings opportunities on which we could capitalize?
The office can unlock significant value with its renewed purpose post-COVID-19, with opportunities to embrace collaboration, wellness, and resilience. While ensuring workforce safety is paramount, our “new normal” will encompass developing and implementing comprehensive and cost-efficient workplaces that keep employees healthy and productive.