Here are 4 challenges businesses will likely face over the coming months as they work towards a safe return to the office, along with guidance and insights on how to overcome these challenges, from both organisational and technological perspectives.
For most the idea of ‘work’ now compared to a year ago is vastly different, and the same will likely be true again this time next year. In 2020, businesses and employees were forced to adapt to the impacts of COVID19, overcoming physical, technological and behavioural barriers. Teams proved themselves to be highly flexible, and many long held preconceptions around the role of the office have changed.
However, 2021 presents an equally large opportunity for change in the workplace as companies develop and employ new, resilient workplace strategies which reflect the new capabilities and desires of their workforce.
1. Adapting the workplace
COVID19 turned our traditional work life upside down, highlighting the fragilities in the traditional office setup and accelerating existing calls for workplaces to modernise and increase flexibility.
However, working from home full time also has clear drawbacks for many, such as:
Collaboration and technological challenges
Lack of social interaction
Maintaining a defined work life balance
Organisations therefore, need to take stock of how, where and when their employees want to work.
Louis Lhoest of Veldhoen + Company recommends that organisations first need to define and lay out the desired outcomes; and look closely at why change is needed when redefining the workplace experience.
Here are 5 areas to keep in mind when setting your workplace strategy:
Agility: How to create a workplace that can react quickly with ease and minimise business risks.
Flexibility: Providing choice for employees to choose the right set up and workspaces to perform their tasks.
Security: Instilling confidence in employees and providing the support they need to be productive.
Technology: Enabling employees with the necessary tools, skills and collaboration to perform in any work setting.
Changing behaviour: Recognising that work patterns and expectations will change and there will be a need to change the culture and organisational structure to adapt.
2. Finding new ways of working
Organisations now find themselves in a position in which they need to provide a workplace which is not only resilient to disasters, such as COVID19, but caters to the varying work styles and preferences of employees.
Below is a brief guide on the steps to take when planning a workplace journey from goals to implementation:
Purpose: Clearly define and understand the need for change and what support employees require
Scope: Translate goals into tactical steps and take into account how technology, communication, people and the physical workplace will be affected
Solution: Understand the impact the chosen solution will have to deliver in order to address these effects
Implementation: Understand how and when solutions will be implemented to best deliver the results set out in the your workplace strategy
3. Instilling trust
There use to be an underlying suspicion in many organisations that remote work threatens trust and productivity as managers are unable to directly see employees working.
COVID19 has shown that working remotely is viable and recent surveys suggest that employees want it to stay. According to HubbleHQ, 86% of UK employees want to be able to work from home at least one day a week. Therefore, the question is, how do organisations overcome their fears or risk losing talent?
Louis recommends organisations foster trust through a top down ethos of support and accountability. In this context ‘support’ relates to organisational commitments enabling employees to succeed, such as providing the spaces, technology and training required for employees to work their most effectively. Similarly, accountability is part of a move from a fixed seats approach to productivity towards personal responsibility in a results driven environment.
4. Returning to work
The final hurdle organisations will face is the safe return of employees to the office itself. Be it those who choose to work there 5 days a week or those who need to come in for a 3 day sprint.
Employee safety will be paramount and organisations will need to be in control of and monitoring a number of factors.
2 key areas are highlighted below:
Current occupancy levels: With social distancing protocols in place to reduce the potential spread of a virus, organisations will need to closely examine their spaces, set occupancy limits and put in place systems to ensure that these are not surpassed.
Historic occupancy: In the case of a viral outbreak, organisations will need to know who has been in contact with one another. Therefore, not only is the live monitoring of spaces required but so is historical data of who has been in contact with who and strict guidelines regarding employee interaction and space usage.
Monitoring occupancy rates and booking data
Occupancy sensors alongside a central booking system provide the framework for managing spaces in this way, affording businesses a birds eye view of their space in real time whilst also providing direct control over access to spaces themselves.
It is however, vital to remember that these technologies must be deployed in tandem with cohesive policies which are communicated clearly to employees.
Monitoring indoor air quality (IAQ)
Recent research also indicates that monitoring and controlling indoor air quality is central to reducing the risk of transmission.
By monitoring factors such as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, organisations can ensure that their office does not encourage the spread of any viruses. Keeping an eye on particulate matter in the air is also critical as studies have shown a link to COVID19 mortality rates.
By monitoring these environmental factors alongside live and historic data, organisations will be able to not only react immediately to threats or dangerous situations but also make better decisions when gauging the success of their internal policies.