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Workplace Thought Leadership

Technology Drives Safer Back-to-School Efforts Amidst COVID-19

By Ian Morley
Chief Product Officer
SpaceIQ

What is your new student capacity under social distancing?

This simple question can flummox even the most seasoned campus planner or school district facilities specialist. Many smaller universities and larger school districts don’t have a ready way to access this information, which can complicate efforts to ensure a safe school year.

With an integrated workplace management system (IWMS), education leaders can uncover important insights about their space inventory. This data empowers schools to quickly identify, modify, and repurpose square footage to satisfy COVID guidelines while supporting student learning needs.

Establish Usable Square Footage

Understanding revised building and classroom capacity based on COVID-19 impacts is a unique challenge. It’s not a simple mathematical formula run on a spreadsheet. Space planners need to aggregate data from multiple buildings across an entire district or campus. Educational leaders depend on accurate insights in order to safely bring back students—yet many do not have a system that can collect and analyze this important information.

The process starts with establishing a precise overview of your school’s space inventory. You need to know what type of space you have, how much square footage it contains, where it is located, and its condition. Even the American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends ascertaining “allowable occupancy in order to control workflow and/or establish maximum attendance.” But without being able to view space inventory in an easy-to-digest format, schooler planners have a difficult time implementing social distancing.

And it’s not just classroom spaces—schools are appropriating rooms that were once gathering areas and turning them into learning zones. Ancillary areas like gymnasiums, auditoriums, theater stages, and music rooms are prime spots to spread out students. Even a cafeteria can be transformed into a classroom under these circumstances. This strategy is echoed by the ACHA, which encourages schools to “post maximum occupancy in common break areas and configure to accommodate appropriate physical distancing.” This information is not only essential for applying physical distancing but also tracking areas that require sterilization and disinfection.

Real-World Education Applications

Bob Lawn, a CAFM Specialist with California’s Long Beach Unified School District, oversees 87 sites. His experience implementing social distancing underscores some of the unexpected complications that can arise. His department used a 20% reduction of classroom capacity to account for shelving, cabinets, etc. and estimate the usable classroom space across the district, which resulted in a decrease of students from 30 to 16. To gain a more accurate percentage, he calculated each room’s usable square footage by subtracting space occupied by woodwork, desks, and shelves.

“By making the necessary calculations in Archibus, we established that each student needs 46 square feet. That’s when we had to start thinking about alternative spaces beyond traditional classrooms. So we ran an analysis for spaces over 100 square feet to give us a new list of learning areas to work with,” Lawn explained.

Michael Chambers, a design and construction project manager for St. John’s University, ran into the same challenge of calculating class capacity. He stresses that it’s not enough to assume seat count will be reduced by a fixed 30%. For example, an architectural feature like a column could easily affect the layout.

“We also needed to locate all common spaces on campus, especially since they will likely be empty through the fall. Using the [Archibus] Space Console solution, we could determine if those areas have the appropriate infrastructure, such as HVAC and electric, to accommodate a classroom or online learning resource,” said Chambers.

Locate and Mitigate Hot Spots

In addition to classrooms, COVID-19 is forcing modifications for faculty and support staff spaces. Everything from break rooms and reception areas to benching and shared offices need to be scrutinized for exposure risks. It is imperative to quickly identify where people are in close quarters and what solutions can reduce risk in these hot spots.

For example, new features in Archibus V25.2 allow users to put a 6-foot radius around each desk to determine where there are conflicts. This provides an accurate list of people who need to be moved. In many cases, layout modifications aren’t feasible because campus space is already near capacity pre-COVID.

“Based on the insights from Archibus, we decided to implement shift schedules for departments,” Chambers explained. “We classify spaces as essential, reservable, and work shifts. Now we have reservable spaces for touchdown spots, rotating schedules, and every day seats.”

Both Chambers and Lawn leveraged data from an IWMS to run space scenarios. Without this type of software, however, they would be forced to use spreadsheets, manual measurements, and other cumbersome methods—none of which ultimately provide the critical insights schools are depending on to modify their layouts.

“These tools are allowing us to solve needs,” Chambers stressed. “This has been essential to us feeling prepared and ready to welcome faculty, students, and admin back to some form of normal. We can leverage our data to answer and solve tough questions in preparation for reopening.”

Keep reading: What is a Smart IWMS and What are its Features?

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Workplace Thought Leadership

The Rise of Hoteling During the COVID Era

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Well before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forever changed global markets, many business owners discovered the strategic value of workplace hoteling—a workplace management process that allows employees, visitors, and guests to search for and reserve a workspace (desk, cubicle, phone booth, etc.) for a specified period of time.

COVID-19 forced most business owners to shut down as the pandemic spread. But like most crises, the danger died down enough for office doors to reopen. As employees return to work, employers are enacting guidelines meant to keep workers as safe as possible: social distancing, intense cleaning, and contact tracing.

Add hoteling to that mix. The days of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at desks are over—for now. Hoteling has gone from a helpful workplace tool to a necessary precaution amid COVID-19. The use of hotel desks—alongside measures such as staggered work shifts and adjusted layouts—allow companies to better manage who sits where and when.

From Office Management to Virus Prevention

Hoteling isn’t a new concept by any means, but it has taken on a new role in 2020 and beyond. For more than 20 years, hotel desks—and the technology that governs them—has been helping companies move from standard to flexible layouts. In an activity-based workplace, employees have the freedom to work in a spot that best suits the task at hand. They can simply reserve a desk at the beginning of the day and have confidence there is a seat with their digital name waiting for them. Since COVID-19 has shifted the way we can safely work in the office, hoteling has morphed into a social distancing strategy.

 

Hoteling combats the risk of COVID-19 on multiple fronts. One major area it helps control is density. In a pre-COVID world, a density of 200 employees was perfectly normal. Now only half of that is permissible. But do you really want dozens of people back on the first day? The right amount is realistically around 20 people, with incremental increases every week thereafter. Or you might implement shift days with a set number of employees.

This is important as back-to-work waves may be subject to fluctuations. Hoteling is one solution that can be employed to have an accurate headcount in real time. “Facility managers will be reliant on proptech sensors for managing real-time data on the crowds within buildings and alerts that signify if too many people are in one place at one time,” according to an article in Facility Executive.

Hoteling is also being repurposed for practical considerations such as cleaning. Without a booking audit, how do you determine which desks have been occupied and need a deep cleaning every day? The CDC’s guidelines for office buildings state “at least daily, clean and disinfect all surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people,” including workstations. Hoteling shows at a glance which areas have been reserved and thus require disinfection. Janitorial teams can prioritize which surfaces need attention, especially as sanitizing requires more contact time to kill germs and bacteria.

Organizations can also lean on hoteling to assist with contact tracing. Identifying a COVID-19 case and investigating its possible path of transmission was once the domain of public health departments, but now businesses must fold this process into their operations. The CDC notes that “prompt identification, voluntary isolation or quarantine, and monitoring of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and their contacts can effectively break the chain of disease transmission and prevent further spread of the virus.” With hoteling, workplace managers have records of exactly where a person sat and who was also in that vicinity.

Technology makes it more efficient for companies to monitor employee movement and enact COVID-19 protocols when needed. For example, SVLive—a SpaceIQ product—converts existing wifi and wired networks into thousands of smart sensors. The system shows what devices are active and who’s logged in and where. This real-time data allows businesses to quickly address possible COVID-19 transmissions within a highly secure network safeguarded by MQTT and HTTPS protocols (both use SSL X.509 certificates).

The Human Side of Hoteling

Having the right technology is critical to managing return-to-work and ensuring the greatest possible safety. But hoteling is far more than a reservation system—it’s actually your secret weapon to preserving productivity during these stressful times. Hoteling empowers employees at all levels to focus on priority tasks.

For example, a space planner can use hoteling to create pre approved zones, which effectively limits where people can work. This approach provides full control over which seats are reservable and which aren’t. Hoteling eliminates possible confusion about which desks are open, thus reinforcing social distancing. Employees will have reassurance that there’s a dedicated seat waiting for them as well as an understanding of where colleagues are booked.

One of the most important benefits of hoteling is that it offers employees a feeling of safety. Remember that a desk reservation is just one piece of essential information they need to process. Hoteling can go a long way toward diminishing anxiety with returning to the office. In fact, that’s imperative, according to the National Safety Council. It advises using respect and transparency to counter employee worry. Hoteling shows that your company is taking active measures to protect their safety.

Keep reading: What is Hoteling and Should You be Using it?

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Employer Liability & COVID-19: No Clear-Cut Case

By Sean K. Palmer
Associate General Counsel
SpaceIQ & Archibus + Serraview

The financial business impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is undeniable. Reports show that more than 100,000 U.S. small businesses have shuttered their doors for good, despite the $700 billion in stimulus funds from the federal government. Companies who have survived are anxiously working to get employees back to work as safely as possible.

Back-to-work initiatives beget an important question: If an employee returns to work, and contracts COVID-19 in the workplace, is the employer legally liable? The short answer is…it depends. The long answer is much more complicated.

Because COVID-19 is new there is no case law with regards to the virus that shows explicit employer liability if an employee becomes ill at the office. There is the argument that it is the same as getting the flu from a coworker. Would you sue your employer for that? Probably not. However, COVID-19 is not the flu, and employees expect their companies to do everything possible to protect them from this deadly disease.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, employers have a duty to “furnish to each of his employees a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” To prove liability, employees must show their employer breached that duty and that the breach is the proximate cause of their illness. In layman’s terms, the employee must show that he/she became sick because of what the employer did or did not do.

One of the challenges to an employee trying to prove COVID-19 liability is meeting the “free from recognized hazards” portion of that clause. Mitigating the danger of an employee tripping on an edge of exposed carpet is easy; tack it down and the problem is then solved. Coronavirus, however, does not present itself so simply. Several studies show up to 80% of infected people are asymptomatic or exhibit mild symptoms. How does an employer have a duty to eradicate the “recognized hazards” of COVID-19 when it can’t see them?

A second issue is that proximate cause with respect to an airborne virus is very tricky. “Certainly, everything an employer can do to mitigate the risk to their employees increases the likelihood of defending a claim if someone contracts COVID-19 in the workplace,” said John Hutchins, a partner with BakerHostetler, a national  law firm with 1,000 attorneys and 17 offices in the U.S. “It may be difficult for employees to hold their company liable for a coronavirus infection because they’d have to prove they contracted it in the office. That can be difficult in a pandemic. The more an employer does to reduce the chances that an employeeI could contract the disease in the office, the better argument it has to successfully argue that it’s just as likely that the employee contracted it at the grocery store.”

Hutchins believes employers should ask whether they really need to ask employees to come back. “An employer whose employees are productive when working from home should ask, “Why are we asking our employees to come back to work? I’m perfectly safe working at home and have 100% control over my own environment. If my employer wants me to come to an environment where I don’t have 100% control of my own health, they should have a clearly articulated reason

Covid-19, by definition, is novel. Thus, there are no easily identifiable standards or analogous case law on whether employers should or shouldn’t ask workers to return to the office, Hutchins said. Safety measures, such as pre-entry health screenings, social distancing, and one-way walkways, social distancing, mandatory mask policies, are key to reducing employer liability. More importantly, employers should carefully monitor employee health, immediately send anyone exhibiting COVID-19 home, and immediately begin contact tracing, when possible.

“At that point, it’s critical to not only send the impacted employee home, but also everyone he or she had contact with,” he added. “Communicate with all employees that the area in which the employee worked is being disinfected and anywhere they may have traveled in the office. Proactive response is the best way to mitigate liability. But, certainly, it’s no guarantee. Every situation is fact-specific. There are far too many variables to be able to advise any particular employer that they have done everything necessary to avoid potential liability.”

For employees with health conditions or special circumstances, employers should consider work-from-home options, that allow work to continue, without showing favoritism. Further, employers should consider how they can empower their employers to take control of their own willingness to take risks that are inherent with the coronavirus return-to-the-workplace quandary. “Employers should consider a policy where they say, “If you’re not comfortable with the health risks of returning to the office, then you don’t have to come,” Hutchins said.

Predicting employer liability, if a person contracts COVID-19 in the workplace, is impossible. There will be myriad factors unique to each claim and the courts must examine every one on a case-by-case basis. Hutchins believes litigation over these issues is likely because there will always be plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers. However, the burden of proof will rest on the plaintiffs to prove that the employer breached its duty, and as a proximate cause of that breach, the employee contracted the virus.

“The best we can say right now is if an employee contracts COVID-19 at work, their employer might be liable,” he said. “Each state will handle cases differently, with varying state laws impacting what proof required for placing blame. For instance, many states have comparative negligence statutes now, so a jury has to sort out how much of the blame rests with each party to the lawsuit. In a lawsuit alleging, “You forced me to come back to work and I got sick,” the variables that a jury would need to consider are almost limitless. It’s too early to know how all of this will shake out, which is why preventive measures in the workplace is a smarter option than scrambling to show, in hindsight, you did everything possible to protect your employees.”

Keep reading: COVID-19 and Employee Fear on Returning to the Workplace

About John Hutchins

John Hutchins is a veteran trial and technology lawyer with broad experience encompassing complex commercial litigation and trial work, privacy and data security matters, and compliance and strategic counseling on technology matters and transactions. While his nearly 30 years of litigation experience runs the gamut in subject matter — from software and eminent domain, to vintage race cars and death penalty habeas corpus — he has particular experience in matters involving privacy and data security, technology, intellectual property, government procurement, restrictive covenants and breach of fiduciary duty. He has tried numerous cases to jury verdict in state and federal courts, as well as bench trials, arbitrations, administrative and other evidentiary proceedings.

Categories
Workplace Thought Leadership

Back-to-Work Planning & Employee Sentiment

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Going to the office has drastically changed, and that makes workplace policy and facility management more complex. While you’re implementing new safety measures such as social distancing, mask wearing, and disinfecting, don’t forget to include employee sentiment as part of your back-to-work plan.

Employee sentiment matters because this is also a stressful time for employees, and you need to establish trust as they return to work. Generally speaking, stress negatively affects physical and mental health, turnover and absenteeism rates, productivity and motivation, morale and complaints, and even on-site accidents. The world is dealing with collective trauma, and your back-to-work plans can exacerbate or diminish those challenges.

Employees understand that the coronavirus is dangerous. They may be familiar with well-documented cases of workplace infection and feel vulnerable to catching the virus or spreading it to others. They may worry that they are putting their lives on the line to come to work. Listen to their concerns and ideas and take them into consideration when you make your back-to-work plans. When you ask them to risk coming into the office, your actions should reassure your employees that you’re worthy of their trust and that you’re working to reduce that risk.

Employee Sentiment Matters

Your hard work and good intentions for reentry planning won’t mean much if those plans don’t match employee needs. In a recent Future Workplace survey, employee experience ranked first among 50% of HR and business leaders as their top initiative for 2020. Since a high percentage of employees are anxious about returning to work, employers can’t afford to ignore employee sentiment.

Most employees feel job-related stress at least some of the time. When you add in COVID-19-related challenges, the stress may be difficult to manage. Although you may think you are doing an excellent job following CDC guidelines or even going beyond recommendations, that may not be enough for some employees, especially those with health concerns or extra COVID-19-related responsibilities.

Unlike momentary stress such as a looming deadline or an important presentation, COVID-19 stress is chronic, unrelenting, and can directly impact the workplace. It’s safe to assume your employees will be stressed at least some of the time. They may experience physical and emotional symptoms of their stress.

Although most remote workers continue to be productive at home, three factors (in addition to safety and security) influence well-being and work effectiveness: trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual effectiveness. Employees who feel they can share their experiences and concerns without repercussions will feel safer in the workplace, and this can positively impact performance.  It’s not just about creating a physically safe working environment. You also need to create an emotionally safe workplace.

A cookie-cutter approach won’t suit everyone’s needs. If you listen to your employees and respond appropriately, they will appreciate your efforts. They will remember that you cared about them and their needs during a crisis, which can earn you employee loyalty and trust for years to come.

Gauging Employee Sentiment

You can create both formal and informal listening opportunities. The easiest way to get a lot of information quickly is to use workplace reentry surveys. Surveys make it easy for employees to respond quickly and to do so at their own convenience.

Start by gathering feedback about four main areas:

  • Physical Workplace: social distancing, mask wearing and enforcement, cleaning/hygiene, health screenings and contact tracing, ventilation
  • Remote Working: IT support, software/hardware issues, communication, manager oversight, performance and expectations
  • Work-Life Balance: personal health concerns, child care, homeschooling, elder care, household unemployment/illness, anxiety/depression, trust in management
  • HR Policies: compensation, access to FFRCA funds, sick leave, bereavement leave, vacation days, health insurance (including contract/part-time workers)

It’s critical to assess what employees know and how they feel. Do they understand your policies? Are they aware of your efforts to promote safety? Are they doing well emotionally? Do they feel safe confiding their concerns? Doing so will allow you to determine if you have been communicating well and whether your employees believe your workplace is a physically and emotionally safe place to work.

Listen to Your Employees

Even when you implement safety measures, it may not be enough for all your employees to feel safe. This holds true nationally, where one survey shows that fewer than half of employees say safety measures like social distancing will make them feel more comfortable returning to work.

Whether you’re gathering data from surveys or personal interviews, communication will help employees learn more about their individual circumstances, some of which may affect work. An employee living with medically fragile people, for example, may be more cautious than others. A parent with elementary-aged children may appreciate flexible hours.

Survey data can provide valuable insight. You can use sample employee sentiment surveys or create your own using survey software or Google forms.

You may also want to interview your employees individually and institute an open-door policy. Listening closely can help you understand your employees’ needs and circumstances. Interviews can provide qualitative data that surveys miss and allow you to ask follow-up questions. Through your actions, you can show your empathy and help your employees trust that you care about them.

Communicate Early and Often

In a rapidly changing environment, emotions are strong. Uncertainty and change are hotbeds for anxiety, stress, and depression. Keep your employees informed of situations both inside and outside the workplace to provide reassurance. Even if it’s bad news, employees will respond better to the truth, especially when it’s delivered early. They will grow to trust you as a source of accurate information, and employees will appreciate extra planning time when you give them advance notice of changes.

Don’t forget employee  mental health. Help them recognize the signs of stress and provide resources for mental health aids and intervention. Inform them about your workplace’s mental health benefits and hotlines. Consider virtual socializing opportunities to help employees connect with each other. Refer employees to mental health apps that can help manage anxiety. Cultivate a safe place for employees to share their concerns.

Above all, keep the lines of communication open. It’s particularly important for remote employees to maintain a strong connection with the office. Whether you use email, task management software, apps, and/or other tools, maintain IT support and use the same tools consistently so that you and your employees can respond quickly if a crisis arises.

Sometimes, bad news is inevitable. Your decisions may be unpopular. Even when you try to be as flexible as possible, some situations are beyond your control. When you communicate your decision-making process, show that you’ve taken employee concerns into consideration. Modeling honesty and transparency will help your employees do the same with you, and this will help you create a better employee experience.

The COVID-19 situation is difficult for everyone at the office. When you’re planning workplace reentry, risk and uncertainty can create high levels of anxiety in an already stressful situation. If you take the time to listen to employees, gauging employee sentiment will help you create an effective, responsive back-to-work plan, and build a higher level of communication and trust.

Keep reading: 10 Tips for a Safe Return to the Workplace

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Work From Home: Not a Forever Option

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

As articles continue to show that company after company believes it is a good idea to embrace employees working 100% remote, an uncomfortable thought sinks in. What if SpaceIQ followed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s vow to let his employees work from home “forever?”

There are organizations like Gitlab that have been successful in 100% remote work. However, it’s a tech company and employees knew what they were getting into when they signed on. I doubt healthcare, banking, or manufacturing could ever move to 100% work from home (WFH). But what about a SaaS company like SpaceIQ, or its owner ArchibusSerraview?

I am a proponent of remote working to some degree because it allows you to source the best talent and, ultimately, create a workforce culture that supports flexibility. Before COVID-19, employees weren’t pushing for 100% remote working. We wanted flexibility in our work schedules and accommodation from our employers. There are some of us who’d like to start later in the day because “productivity” and “morning” aren’t compatible. And what about parents who need to drop kids off at school after the start of “normal” work hours? The list goes on: put in a day’s work even when we’re sick; save a PTO day for a real vacation, not watching a plumber fix the water heater.

We’re asking for freedom to work when we want, how it is best for our productivity, and where we can get the job done while supporting our teams.

There are many disadvantages to 100% WFH—excluding mandated remote work due to COVID-19. Here are 10 reasons to think “flexibility” instead of “entirely” when it comes to WFH.

  1. Home Not-So-Sweet Home. As commercial real estate becomes more expensive, residential real estate is following suit. Some people buy just enough home to accommodate their families. Outside of that, they may not desire more space. So, when COVID-19 forced the world to shelter in place, many of us were unprepared to do so. We jimmy rigged ironing boards into makeshift standing desks. Many of us don’t have a spare bedroom for private work areas or endless Zoom or Teams calls.
  2. Did the Second Hand Move Backward? Do you know what day it is? What time did you start working? How many times did neighbor Fred walk his dog by your house this week? If you’re anything like me, I want a change of scenery from my home. Prior to COVID-19, coworking spaces were taking off because people want to work in environments that nurture creativity and collaboration. With 100% WFH, the world seems to stop spinning. Even Aristotle understood the importance of work structure: “Time is the measure of change.”
  3. I Miss the Bean Bags. Many newer workplaces were designed for productivity. Companies created activity-based workspaces that cater to how employees of all shapes and sizes work their best. WFH hinders spontaneous, active brainstorming or collaboration. Try doing a white boarding session over video conferencing—easier said than done.
  4. My Monitor is Smoking. Home office equipment wasn’t meant for the day-to-day grind of a busy workplace. How many of us have lightning-fast laser printers for those long contracts you just can’t read on a computer screen? Not me. And let’s not forget business vs. personal internet connections. How many times did your lousy connection speed end a meeting in the middle of an important discussion? people dropped off a meeting because of your internet? (Hand raise!)
  5. Remember the Titans! Whether we want to admit it or not, some employees perform better in the office with a coach guiding them to success.
  6. Death By Meeting. More than 100% of my working day is spent in meetings. You read that right. I have to work longer to fit in more meetings. Prior to 100% WFH, I spent about two-thirds of my working day in meetings. Those five-minute discussions that quickly solved an issue are now full-fledged meetings. I sometimes feel like Doctor Who—jumping from one meeting to the next. WFH requires more communication because we feel obligated to spend time with our teams and colleagues because we don’t see them every day in the office.
  7. We ARE Family! Let’s face it, I think we all miss socializing personally and professionally. COVID-19 and working remotely has completely killed that. I miss my colleagues at work and hearing about their weekends or a funny joke. When SpaceIQ was acquired, it was difficult to feel a sense of solidarity amongst the team because we weren’t in one place together and connected. Now, try to virtually build working relationships with new bosses and coworkers. You need to plan time into your meetings for pleasantry and small talk—more so now than when you were together in the office.
  8. Can You Hear Me Now? Communication was tough enough when people were in the office, in the same room. Now, we “talk” via Zoom and Teams, voice calls, or through email. It takes many more written words to clearly communicate than it does to have a simple, in-person conversation.
  9. Kickstart My Brain. There are certain personalities that feed off other people’s energy to jumpstart their creativity. Who hasn’t relished in sitting down with your team and brainstorming the next great offering? Yes, we communicate more in our 100% WFH world, but there’s a lot to be said for congregating in front of white board and free-flowing ideas to solve the latest problem. In-person creativity sessions demand our full attention. Admit it, you multitask on video calls.
  10. Mmmm…Doughnuts! OK, this isn’t true for all companies, but I work in tech. It’s common to have snacks and, on occasion, some meals provided at no cost. They call that a perk! I chose to work for you not just because I liked the job, the company, and the pay, but because you have provided me a place to work where I feel I can be productive and get fed. Sounds weird, but when you’re pulling 10-hour, stressful days getting a product release out on deadline, those Hot Pockets and chocolate-covered almonds may be all there is for dinner.

To WFH or Not to WFH…

Remote working is not going anywhere. There will always be a desire to work from different locations. However, the whole 100% WFH situation doesn’t sound appealing…and probably by a lot more people than you’d think. My guess is that if polled, employees would like the option to work from home but also to come into the office when needed.

Give me the choice and I’ll opt for a mix of WFH and time in the workplace. And that’s the key: provide employees with a choice. Work from home forever isn’t for everyone. Maybe we can dub it WFHWIRFM…work from home when it’s right for me.

Keep reading: 8 Apps for Remote Workers Productivity and Success

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Workplace Thought Leadership

The Next Normal in a Post-Pandemic Workspace

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Whether your office has already partially returned to work or you’re planning a workplace reentry, one thing is certain—things may never be the same. Safe facility management during an unprecedented pandemic requires a high level of planning and precaution. The measures you implement should increase employee productivity, promote workplace trust, and most importantly, keep employees and customers safe.

Rule and Regulation Compliance

It’s not always easy to keep up with new regulations, especially with constantly changing guidelines. Regardless, the first priority is employee safety. In most nations, employers are encouraged to provide a safe working environment. Physical safety should be a constant for all employees, but some may tolerate risk better than others. It’s wise to consider your most vulnerable employees when creating a return-to-work plan, but determine strategies with everyone in mind.

Second, keep employees informed of changes and guidelines. Assign staff to monitor local conditions and guidelines, then share updates on a consistent schedule. Keep a global perspective and adjust plans as needed to comply with local requirements.

Third, align business priorities with global realities. Inspect your building for potential hazards and determine remediation costs. Be willing to remodel, reconfigure, or rearrange everything including work schedules, walls, and seating arrangements.

Masking, Sanitation, and Social Distancing

Most official guidelines center on three principles—masking, sanitation, and social distancing. Depending on your industry, some guidelines may present more of a challenge than others. Restrictions will change as the coronavirus threat diminishes or increases, so keep long-term needs in mind when investing in safety equipment.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements can vary depending on role. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to PPE. Some employees may not be able to wear masks. Others may need to avoid the workplace altogether, such as employees with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

Employees want clean workplaces, even more so now under COVID-19. Make sanitation a priority by setting up hygiene stations with hand sanitizer, soap, gloves, and disinfecting wipes. The typical weekly office cleanings may not be enough. Consider hiring extra cleaning staff to more frequently clean bathrooms, break areas, and shared spaces like conference rooms and lounges.

PPE isn’t limited to individual employees. Plexiglass shields provide an additional layer of protection around pinch points where social distancing may be a challenge, such as reception areas, entrances and exits, and payment areas. Posted policies and directional signage are great visual reminders for customers and employees to abide by your workplace precautions.

Other measures such as UV lights and thermal scanners are options for combatting COVID-19, but should be part of an overall workplace health and safety strategy. It’s wise to check with locally, regionally, and country-specific requirements to determine what’s feasible for your team to manage.

Technology and Real Estate Optimization

For most workplaces, safety decisions center around official guidelines. Maintaining six feet of distance helps protect people from breathing in infected air particles. However, this is easier said than done for many businesses.

Social distance guidelines vary by country and region. In the U.S., 6 feet is the standard; the World Health Organization recommends 1 meter. Social distancing may reduce workplace capacity, depending on your current seating configuration, plan density, desk sharing, and other factors. The potential for space loss raises some interesting options:

  • Should some individuals work remotely forever? Can we stagger work schedules? Do we need to let some staff go?
  • Should we purchase or rent additional office space or retrofit the space we have? Should we consider moving? Should we renegotiate the terms of our lease?
  • How can we prepare our workplace for future emergencies?

During the pandemic, many business leaders are leveraging real estate planning software to visualize coronavirus-related changes to seating arrangements, staff schedules, and office remodeling before committing time and money to wholesale changes. For example, hoteling software helps maximize seating efficiency using dynamic data such as HR information and floor maps.

Business owners can require that employees reserve a hotel desk prior to coming to work and show the reservation before they’re allowed to enter. After someone uses the hotel desk, facility management can be notified that the area must be cleaned and sanitized before another reservation can be made.

The Next Normal is Now

Reopening your workplace can be difficult. Regulations are constantly changing and there’s no saying when COVID-19 will ease. The post-pandemic “next normal” requires flexibility and adaptability. Desks, rooms, and entire floors may not function the same way. Previous policies for remote work, sick leave, and work schedules may need to be reevaluated in the new work environment.

You can’t foresee every situation, but you can be flexible in establishing your new normal. Employees will appreciate your efforts as they return to their former—though newly arranged—workspaces.

Learn how SpaceIQ can help you effectively manage your workplace reentry.

Keep Reading: COVID-19 Workplace Resources

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Modifying Your Workplace for Social Distancing

By Reagan Nickl
Director of Professional Services
SpaceIQ

The COVID-19 crisis has radically altered the modern workplace. We’ve yet to see the full extent of changes, but one thing is for sure: there’s no going back to normal.

Social distancing is forcing workplace professionals to find innovative ways to redesign their offices for employee safety. It’s a daunting task, but there are questions to ask and answer that will help maximize existing space to create safe working environments.

Who should come back to the office?

The first thing to decide is which employees need to return to the physical office. Note: the answer isn’t “everyone,” at least right now. When COVID-19 hit, companies discovered that certain roles can be productively done from home. Leaders are now considering whether those jobs should be remote for an extended period or permanently.

According to a Gartner survey from March 2020, 74% of CFOs will “move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.” At the same time, there’s a percentage of employees who are more productive at the office. This has everything to do from fewer distractions than at home and access to ergonomic furniture to the social atmosphere of being around coworkers.

There’s no single solution for every organization. Company leaders need to work closely with managers to determine which team members can stay at home and which should return based on job type, productivity needs, cost, and employee wellness.

How does social distancing affect your floor plan?

Anyone who thinks social distancing is going away is kidding themselves. The six-foot separation is expected to last well into the foreseeable future. But how do you do that in a standard workplace? Facility professionals need to suspend the idea of cubicle buddies and side-by-side desks crammed into any available open space. Your floor plan will look significantly different once employees are spaced six feet apart.

Calculate this radius around each seat and see how many circles overlap. For example, a benching station for four people will now only seat one person. The reality is that your occupancy will drop dramatically—plan on a 50% to 60% reduction.

You will also need to implement measures to enforce distancing. Don’t rely on policies alone. You can physically block workstations that should be unoccupied. You can even remove chairs to avoid confusion about which desks are available.

How will you handle traffic patterns around the office?

Chances are you have some narrow hallways or paths that are within six feet of where people sit. Take a page from grocery stores and add directional arrows and two-way lanes where needed. Traffic control lets employees know how to travel safely about the office.

Think about common routes to the restrooms, conference rooms, and the kitchen. Remember to map out the main entrance to all workstations—employees are guaranteed to travel that route twice a day. It may be necessary to block off certain corridors or rearrange desks so they are pushed back from the main paths.

Don’t forget your lobby either, recommends Cushman & Wakefield’s report Recovery Readiness: A How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. For example, you may need to install a plexiglass partition around a reception desk or disable touchscreen directories.

What will you do with conference rooms?

Your space planning needs to include conference rooms. If you have a conference room that seats 10 people, the capacity for social distancing will likely go down to only two people. Will you ask employees to eliminate in-person meetings and hold only virtual meetings, even if the other people on the video call are in the same building? Will you convert some conference rooms into temporary offices? Will you close off small huddle rooms or tell employees they are only for single occupancy?

Whatever you decide, every room’s capacity should be updated in calendar programs and/or your conference room reservation system. That way, employees have a digital reminder for the new occupancy restrictions; door signage will also help during this transition.

Can you move to hoteling?

Sanitization is harder when you don’t know where people have been sitting. If you previously used hot desks, switch to hoteling instead. This structure allows employees to reserve a desk every day so they know exactly where to go—no wandering around searching for an empty workstation. Hoteling is also helpful if your company is adopting A/B days (which OSHA recommends in its latest COVID-19 guide), where departments alternate which days or weeks they come into the office.

What cleaning protocols will you use?

Assigned or reservable seating allows your janitorial staff to do prescriptive and targeted disinfection. They need clear guidance on which desks, workstations, and conference rooms need to be sanitized every day.

If you use a cleaning company, review your contract and request additional deep cleaning. The basic pass the crew had been doing in normal times is no longer sufficient. Make sure your revised agreement includes disinfecting commonly touched surfaces: door knobs, kitchen handles, keyboards, elevator buttons, and tables.

Can you switch to all hard furniture?

Soft seating used to be great for collaboration, but these furnishings pose a challenge right now. First of all, they invite people to sit close together, which is no longer feasible. Second, both upholstery and leather can be hard to disinfect or may not be compatible with bleach. Check the EPA’s List N to see which disinfectants can be used on soft materials.

It might be wiser to eliminate or section off soft seating. On the bright side, moving aside lounge furniture creates another opportunity for someone to safely work at the office. You might be able to add a desk to areas where you removed a couch or a group of ottomans because it’s spaced away from other workstations.

Be patient and consistent

We know there’s a lot to process here. And by the time this article is live, the CDC may have new guidance about how to handle reopening a workplace. But it’s important for businesses to focus on the wins in the midst of so much negativity. Employees have already been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices as they pivoted to remote work. Those who can return to the office deserve to know their company has taken every precaution to safeguard their health and wellbeing.
Note: We’d like to offer a special thanks to Carly Tortorelli, Senior Vice President of Workplace Technology at Impec Group for her collaboration and insights into managing workplaces during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Workplace Thought Leadership

How Design Urgency Can Save Your Workplace

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Businesses today have greater motivation to align their workplace design with operational excellence. The 9-to-5 work model has long been on its way out, but recent global events have likely made it history.

How can companies reshape their space utilization to support rapidly evolving work modes? By designing agile workspaces that can pivot quickly. Savvy businesses are adopting a sense of design urgency that reframes their workplace as a strategic asset.

The importance of workplace design

Workplace professionals have an economic incentive to get creative with their spaces. It’s not only sweeping impacts such as COVID-19 and natural disasters that put a spotlight on property costs. Commercial leases represent a major investment, anywhere from $158 per square foot in Minneapolis to nearly $600 per square foot in Washington, D.C. Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are also reevaluating if distributed teams are a better way to recruit global talent. Businesses are feeling the pressure from all sides to optimize their workplace layouts.

There will be a time in the near future when buildings aren’t standing idle due to social distancing—now is an ideal moment to reimagine your workplace design.

In a post-pandemic world, companies will have the opportunity to reevaluate all facets of their operations. Space utilization should be at the forefront of those conversations. Even though some people prefer to work remotely, the majority are eager to come back to the office. Many employees are more productive and satisfied when they can collaborate and share ideas in person. And most want the best of both worlds—be in the office to collaborate but have the flexibility to work from home when the plumber comes to fix a leaky pipe.

“Strategic uncertainty can feel like slogging through mud. Even so, companies often succeed or fail based on their managers’ ability to move the organization forward precisely at times when the path ahead is hazy,” according to Lisa Lai of the Harvard Business Review.

Design urgency starts by aligning business objectives with space utilization. But do leaders know what those objectives are? Are they looking to enhance productivity, increase collaboration, inspire visitors, attract talent, improve retention, showcase your brand, or simply house people? One or any combination of these goals determine the urgency needed to shape your design.

“Without clearly articulated goals for collaboration and productivity, an office redesign will hit roadblocks. Your business goals should be organized and qualifiable, which is why making decisions based on data is key to achieving improved work culture and team collaboration,” according to the Propmodo article Smart Office Design Starts with Proven Data—And Not Copying Google.

Your future workplace: 10 proactive ideas

Your workplace should be like Madonna or Coca-Cola—always reinventing itself. A dynamic floor plan makes it easier to adapt to evolving business needs. Otherwise, a static layout could be at odds with your strategic objectives.

“One of the fundamental challenges of the modern open office (or really, the office in general) is that it prescribes the use of space instead of providing a spatial canvas for employees to use as they see fit. There is no flexibility,” according to Propmodo.

Start by identifying square footage that can be repurposed to serve a wider variety of uses. Creative ideas can include:

  1. Consolidate square footage so a portion can be turned into sublease space
  2. Create multifunctional spaces, especially for collaboration
  3. Add more breakout spots with open layouts to encourage huddles
  4. Evaluate the need for private offices or if they be can booking-only options
  5. Repurpose cafeterias into hot desks or hotel spaces outside of lunch hours
  6. Transform cafeterias into a temporary town hall space by including A/V equipment and moveable stadium seating
  7. Free up dedicated desks and offices that are used infrequently by traveling staff
  8. Use shared seating for part-time employees; have teams split time between remote and on-site work in alternating shifts
  9. Allow a portion of your workforce to work from home
  10. Lease large kitchens and board rooms to outside companies for social gatherings, meetings, and other events

How do you know if any of these modifications will work? Design urgency doesn’t mean acting impetuously and throwing spaghetti against the wall. All layout decisions should be based on usage data and utilization trend analysis to ensure new workplace strategies are the right fit.

You also don’t need to make sweeping changes all at once. It’s better to introduce a new layout in one department and measure outcomes before iterating across the entire company. For example, one team may benefit from small huddle rooms while another team actually needs large conference spaces.

Design urgency and flexibility allows your company to maximize your workplace despite impacts from market shifts, pandemics, or unforeseen change. Whether it’s an expiring lease, a new business direction, or a change in workforce needs, design urgency with space utilization in mind should help your company move forward, not hold it back. It’s all about designing for now and the future.

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Adjusting Workplace Strategies for a Post-COVID Future

By Laura Woodard
Real Estate & Workplace Program Manager (Ret.)
Google

“…I believe scarcity breeds clarity: it focuses minds, forcing people to think creatively and rise to the challenge.”
Sergey Brin, Google Co-founder & President, Technology
2008 Founders’ Letter (May 2009)

Those words resonated deeply with everyone at Google at a time when the housing market crashed to record lows. Like the Dot-com bubble burst of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Google weathered the storm by embracing Sergey’s words: “Scarcity breeds clarity.” We ruthlessly prioritized, did more with less, and planned for the future.

The world faces a greater challenge in COVID-19. Yes, businesses are closing. But this time, people are dying from an enemy not interested in instant online business success or low mortgage rates. Companies of all sizes and types have closed their doors not because of economic strain; they’re shuttered to keep employees and customers alive.

As the business community prepares to reopen, its path remains fraught with perils we don’t understand, nor are prepared to face. Social distancing is defining a new workplace structure that may require a completely different work model based on remote employees, staggered shifts, and smaller footprints. But one thing is certain: we won’t go back to the way things were in January 2020.

Get out of the weeds

It’s easy to become mired in the day-to-day issues of getting back to business under COVID-19. You’ve got a lot of questions—but they may not be the right ones. Instead of only planning where to put hand sanitizer stations, you should also be asking how you’ll adjust to changes two to five years from now.

Crises will come and go, but how you adapt to the changes those emergencies foster is the difference between success and failure. There’s no crystal ball to guide your decision-making, but focusing on change management vs. crisis management requires big-picture vision.

First, create a cross-functional team including executive management, HR, people managers, and employees who work in lockstep on strategies that cover a two-to-five-year horizon. The team should meet on a regular basis to assess current strategies and make adjustments. Note: there may be an existing cross-functional team established already that you can leverage for this longer-term outlook.

Because there’s no one-size-fits-all change management structure, the cross-functional team should create a decision tree that identifies the strategies, tactics, and incidentals your business needs to succeed. Think of each branch as a different strategic path you take depending on the change that’s required.

Finally, plan for likely scenarios. Play the “If this, then that” game to identify and plan for internal and external circumstances. Your decision tree determines which of these tactics to use and the cross-functional team ensures the right work gets done at the right time.

These plans aren’t tabletop exercises based on imagination, but on data. Your cross-functional team should determine how to measure business success during the reopening phase. Specific metrics and outcomes will help clarify how a physical comeback to the office—even at a partial level—will support operations. Key areas to explore are employee uncertainty, the effects of social distancing on capacity, and long-term lease considerations.

The human element

Because the workplace is a microcosm of society, there’s a human element to consider as you reopen your business. You need to acknowledge that employees are dealing with a heightened state of individual fears as well as a sense of loss. In addition to anxiety surrounding their personal lives, they could be carrying residual stress from this extended shutdown and the negative impacts it may have had on your company.

As you welcome employees back to the office, offer clear communication channels for them to voice their concerns. Their apprehensions may involve workplace-related issues like the process of returning to the building, issues with public transportation, or private considerations about a family death, mental health, or a lack of access to childcare.

If your company has multiple locations, be aware that communications will need to be tempered for each site. New Yorkers, for example, are going to have a different state of mind than employees in areas where cases haven’t been as high. Tailor your response guidelines and workplace modifications to each city, county, and state to match the realities of their situations.

Managers should also be empowered to both receive and relay concerns from the frontlines. In a March Gallup poll, only 54% of employees felt strongly “that their supervisor keeps them informed about what is going on in the organization.” Managers are in the best position to understand individual concerns, as well as judge team morale. They know which roles can be done remotely, those unique to the office, and what technology solutions both groups will need.

End of crammed offices

Companies across every industry have long been reducing the square footage allocated for individual workstations. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, was once famous for adopting an open-office concept in a government building. Dubbed the Bullpen, employees were stationed at small desks configured in tight rows. But the practice of working shoulder-to-shoulder is—at least for the time being—a big no-no.

Business owners should determine if hoteling, hot desks, and benching can accommodate on-site workers under social-distancing rules. Even if you currently offer reservable desks, employees might be worried about who else sat there and for how long. Plus, there’s now a question of adding daily janitorial services to sanitize desks and other work surfaces.

One solution to alleviate overcrowding and improve cleaning efficiency is to implement A/B days. The first step is to determine where people normally sit, then calculate capacity based on distancing guidelines. Because social distancing significantly alters capacity, space planning software can show how to place people at safe intervals.

Remodel or renegotiate

Now, step forward 18 months. Theoretically, you should feel comfortable making permanent decisions about workplace strategies. We’ll likely have more clarity on a “new normal” and how that impacts workplace operations. Is social distancing still needed? If not, should you abandon hot desks for more permanent workstations? Can you design for capacity or is distancing required?

Changing the physical workplace is an expensive endeavor;it be done easily or quickly. Companies need to consider how long social distancing might last before committing to layout changes that require a remodel. It’s worth remembering that a construction project often depreciates over the length of the lease. If your lease expires in 10 years, 18 months is not that long to wait for a renovation.

The coronavirus pandemic has made companies even more cautious of committing to decades-long leases and costly buildouts. As businesses inevitably shutter during this period, turnkey office space at below-market rates is more readily available. It may be prudent to evaluate these options and take the opportunity to negotiate more flexible terms for your existing lease.

Look to the future

The end of the COVID-19 story is unclear; we have no way of knowing where each of us will be after this saga. But the silver lining for businesses is an opportunity to recalibrate. When everything has changed, it’s wise to pause and take a fresh look at the how’s and why’s of doing business.

Companies no longer have the luxury of holding onto the mantra of “We have always done it this way, so that’s the way we should do it.” That’s putting your head in the sand. Don’t ignore the facts that business has changed. Instead, rise to the challenge, throw out the old rule books, and get laser-sharp about our workplace goals.

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Workplace Automation is a Triple Win

By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
SpaceIQ

What is the most profound shift that’s occurred in the workplace in the past 30 years? In a word: automation. When you request a ride on Uber, you realize it’s happening all around us in our personal and professional lives—not just in factories.

As workplace automation spreads, companies need to identify its quantitative and qualitative benefits before implementing a solution. The most powerful automation delivers a triple win for your company, your people, and your customers.

The Metamorphosis of the Workplace

Today’s college students wouldn’t recognize the office of the 1990s. Dilbert™ cubicles, PBX phone systems, and desktop PCs ruled the workplace. At the time, work was typically done within an arm’s reach of your desk. The dual forces of technology limitations and corporate culture effectively chained employees to their desks.

But that structure gave way as new work styles emerged, prompting office layouts to follow suit. In the past decade, we’ve seen cubicle walls not only come down but morph into benching systems and open offices. And now the pendulum is swinging toward agile workplaces based on neighborhoods, free address, and flexible spaces.

Technology is driving these changes. Consider something as simple as an office phone. We all used to have landlines at our desks. They never dropped a call, but they were only convenient if you were physically nearby. Then we went through a Blackberry phase, which effectively cut the phone cord. Once we were permanently untethered from a workstation, those devices evolved into smartphones.

The same technology shift can be seen in workplace management platforms. Traditional legacy systems were great at handling important back office functions, they are like your parents’ landline—they fulfill their primary purpose but don’t have the same power as a smartphone. Integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) and cloud-based solutions are fast-forming an ecosystem that’s sweeping away legacy solutions on the next wave of workplace automation.

The Triple Win of Automation

Let’s be real—people are still nervous about automation. There’s a persistent perception that artificial intelligence and machine learning will eliminate jobs. And yet the only industry that’s completely disappeared is the iconic elevator operator. In truth, automation is making the workplace more productive and enjoyable while saving companies money.

The secret is to be intentional about what type of automation you adopt. Don’t implement a solution because you want to appear cool or edgy. Automation must offer real and quantifiable benefits. A successful digital transformation is finding the sweet spot we call The Triple Win: a success for clients, your company, and your employees.

These three examples show the real-world advantages of using automation to satisfy customer expectations, employee engagement, and the bottom line:

1) Airline Booking 

Remember having to call an airline to reserve your tickets or change a flight? About 90% of your interaction was over the phone with a human being. Between websites and mobile apps, everything is now self-service. You can book a flight, change a reservation, pick your seat, and get flight notifications, which gives you a better, more efficient, and satisfying experience. Automation also allows representatives to perform strategic customer management instead, like a last-second flight change. That’s a bonus for travelers, airline personnel, and the airlines.

2) Receptionists

There was a time when you had to write your name in a book when visiting a company…then wait for a receptionist to call the person you were meeting. And then wait. Manual check-in is a waste of time, even if there’s a live receptionist who is warm and welcoming. Automation allows you to register on a tablet and sign an NDA while a message is simultaneously sent to the person you’re meeting. The process is not only smoother and more cost effective, but the receptionist is freed up to handle more complex tasks.

3) Nursing

Nurses are highly skilled and educated individuals, so why are they spending time delivering ice and blankets? Enter a robot assistant that fetches and delivers commonly requested items. Patients get better care because nurses can concentrate on their primary job, avoid the frustration of menial chores, and help hospitals improve patient outcomes.

Now, consider how automation can produce a triple win in the workplace. If you have 1,000 employees but want to maximize your office layout, you need hard data to make real changes. Imagine if occupancy data shows that only 700 desks are used on a given day. Workplace managers could convert underutilized square footage into huddle rooms or lounges. Automated solutions like a modern workplace management system help reimagine the workplace you have today by optimizing existing space, boosting employee productivity and morale, and delivering better products to customers.

That’s a true triple win for your workplace.

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