We are at a pivotal point in time, surrounded by growing uncertainty. Yet we know one thing for certain: The way we work will change following this pandemic. That includes everything from the ways we interact with one another, to the tasks we take on, and the physical environment we work in. Organizations carefully planning their safe return to the workplace will find key allies in corporate real estate experts who specialize in office location, planning, layout, and design.
The workplace structure will need to be reimagined as employees cautiously return to the office and employers prioritize their safety and well-being. Aided by the experience of workplace planning and reentry experts, organizations can begin creating safe and efficient workspaces in the post-COVID world.
Through our industry experiences, we’ve uncovered five key opportunities for corporate real estate leaders to make the most of innovative strategies and technologies that will alter the workplace as we knew it.
1. Reentry Planning
The full workforce cannot return to the office all at once; effective reentry planning calls for a slow, strategic transition. Organizations can start by looking across the board to understand which roles or activities rely on in-person interaction. They can then outline a set of detailed criteria regarding when those selected should come into the office, how often, and to what extent to help ensure that safety remains a priority. These are guidelines that corporate real estate leaders should help formulate, as routine work continues remotely.
2. Safety, Resilience, and Operations
Employee health and safety is everyone’s top priority — and can be boosted through a two-pronged approach: reconfiguring operations and increasing facility cleanliness. The traffic pattern at the office may be shifted, with screening protocols deployed at each entrance. Limiting occupancy will also reduce office density — a key element of reducing risk.
Organizations may also wish to source and provide personal protective equipment to their people returning to work on-site. Coupled with enhanced sanitation procedures, organizations can help ensure the safety and resilience of the workforce.
Corporate real estate leaders have a significant role to play in helping their organizations manage continuity amid this pandemic. They will also help their organizations learn and emerge from the crisis and prepare for the new normal.
Darin Buelow, Principal and Global Location Strategy Leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP
3. Workspace and Materials
Office layout and design are also crucial to helping ensure worker safety in light of the coronavirus pandemic. For the foreseeable future, physical distancing practices will likely remain prevalent and may affect the usage of spaces and office furniture.
Organizations should promote personal safety measures by first implementing alternate seating charts. They should also repurpose small, enclosed spaces for individual use and larger meeting rooms for smaller-sized meetings. Built-in distance between employees will be key.
Furniture and finishes are also a crucial piece of the puzzle. Leaders should identify high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons, or light switches, and consider implementing safer, self-cleaning materials.
4. Employee Experience
Beyond the physical workspace, it’s important to remember the value of the employee experience — no matter where they work from. Leaders should enable remote work as best they can through enhanced infrastructure, flexible policies, and increased training. Feedback channels will be crucial to understanding whether remote work is effective for managers and contributors and gathering a full snapshot of any concerns as workplace conditions change.
5. Digital Workplace and Smart Building
The pandemic has also opened the door toward a more digitally connected workplace. Smart technologies deployed throughout office buildings can help monitor wellness and prevent the spread of illness. They can also help employees become more productive.
By partnering with technology leaders, the corporate real estate team can help enhance digital infrastructure, collaborative technologies, and hardware to support increased connectivity with remote teams. They can also evaluate smart building management capabilities across leased and owned facilities, looking for opportunities to address the challenges of bringing the workforce back in the coming months.
Corporate real estate leaders have a significant role to play in helping their organizations manage continuity amid this pandemic. They will also help their organizations learn and emerge from the crisis and prepare for the new normal. From reentry planning to workplace operations and safety, corporate real estate leaders are crucial to realizing success in this pandemic and beyond.