Make Workplace Safety Your Key Concern in Return to Work Planning
When the first wave of COVID-19 hit, it was time for the world to react—businesses, including FWI and SmartSpace Global (SSG), took action to transition to a remote workforce model with the intent to weather the storm. There were many opinions as to how long we would need to be remote to help flatten the curve… some said two weeks, some said two months, but all were wild guesses. Being five months into the first wave of COVID-19, we’ve figured out how to find efficiency where possible in fully remote models—and have also discovered under what circumstances being in the office environment is best. We, like many other businesses, have embraced a hybrid workforce model, with a mix of fulltime remote employees as well as employees who split their time between the office and home. And we’ve learned a lot from this hybrid workforce model.
As the world enters what appears to be the second wave of COVID-19, we must use these learnings to respond rather than react. Some employees are heading back to the office simply because they are more efficient in that setting, some are heading back to the office based on business need. According to Gartner, 74% of businesses plan to implement flexible remote work and work from the office programs on a long-term basis. One fact is universal, regardless of why your employees are heading back into the office—providing for employee safety has to be your primary concern in these “return to work” efforts.
Health and Safety at Work
Employee sentiment about health and safety isn’t currently in employer’s favor — there is a trust issue that must be addressed. According to a recent Edelman survey, only half of employees feel that the office environment is safe for their return. Compounding that concern, there also is a lack of universal agreement about what measures must be in place to create a safe return. Practices such as use of masks and mandatory social distancing are favored by roughly half of employees surveyed worldwide. Clearly, employers must put solutions in place for these practices, among others like contact tracing, to create the kind of workplace environment employees will feel safe returning to before they can scale their “return to work” initiatives.
It’s undeniable that the corporate office is changing. Many who have transitioned to a work from home model are finding there are both benefits and detriments to it. Managing in-home family obligations, limited space to dedicate to video meetings, and “zoom fatigue” are all challenges that employees are faced with in work from home models. Those challenges aren’t present in the office. From a company culture and team collaboration perspective, there’s no doubt that in-person interactions are best. Clearly, concern about employee health and safety and the benefits of being in the office must be balanced. How office space is used is certainly changing—but still plays a key role in the success of businesses.
Return to Work Policies
Dropbox is a great example of a company that’s meeting these employee health and safety challenges head-on. In a recent CNBC interview, Drew Houston, CEO at Dropbox, discussed how they were modifying the use of their real estate investments to both support the flexibility of working at home while also maintaining the benefits a corporate office provides. Dropbox had signed a 15-year deal for a 736,000 square foot office in San Francisco—the largest commercial real estate deal in San Francisco history—before the transition to working at home began due to COVID-19. While they made the shift quickly to a work from home model, they are now beginning to welcome employees back to the office on an as-needed basis, recognizing the undeniable benefits to team collaboration and company culture. They are referring to this as their “virtual first” initiative. Most solo work happens at home, but the company will provide conference spaces called ‘Dropbox Studios’ for in-person collaborative working. The vast majority of their employees have commented that they do not desire to return to the traditional office model, even after the pandemic subsides. This is just one example of a company with sizeable real estate investments that is grappling with how to address health and safety in the workplace, recognizing that their future incorporates both the benefits of a work from home model, and the value of making office space planning software available to employees.
Many businesses today are transforming the workplace to meet the health and safety needs of their employees through practices such as modifying floorplans for social distancing, moving from assigned desk space to hot desking and desk booking technology, and making conference space bookable via the same application—with an added benefit of enabling usage tracking for contact tracing. Some are going even further by equipping their offices with sensors to understand things like what desks and conference spaces were occupied at what time and how many people were making use of those resources. Essentially, businesses are relying on technology to enable a safe “return to workplace” initiative and help create employee confidence.
Technology for Employee Health and Safety
SmartSpace Global, an FWI company, is helping our customers undertake the challenge of providing a safe ‘return to work’ experience for their employees with desk and conference room booking solutions that support key needs such as social distancing and contact tracing. Your business can use SSG to indicate what desks can be booked and which cannot to ensure proper distancing, and also indicate what resources have been used and therefore need to be sanitized. SSG also provides conference room booking capabilities—this can provide your business an understanding as to who used what resources at what time to support needs such as contact tracing if an employee who visited the office were to test positive for COVID-19. We can also provide sensor integration to help you understand if social distancing guidelines are being followed for conference room usage by enabling reporting about how many employees are using a given conference room at a specific time.
COVID-19 won’t last forever. The current pandemic will subside eventually. SSG can provide your business benefits that surpass the needs that COVID-19 introduces into the office experience today. SSG can provide metrics around how your real estate investments are being leveraged. Once we see what the workplace looks like post-pandemic, there are bound to be many questions businesses must answer:
How many bookable desks do you actually need, now that the concept of the assigned desk space is likely a thing of the past?
How many conference rooms are being used, and how many people are in them when they are in use?
How should you size your real estate footprint can help control one of the larger costs many businesses face?
This blog is the first in a series of posts that will help you understand what we can do to help you implement and execute a safe transition back to the office, operate that office with safety in mind, put the power in the hands of your employees regarding where they work and what resources they use in your offices, and learn how to right-size your real estate needs based on usage metrics. We hope you’ll find this information valuable as your business navigates these challenges, and we’re here for you to provide solutions as you do.