By James Franklin
Chief Customer Officer
For more than a year, uncertainty has been a common theme in our daily personal and business lives. Lockdowns shuttered businesses of all types and sizes and forced most employees to work from home. With vaccinations underway, many company owners and business leaders are determining if now is the time to return to the workplace.
The pressure to have staff come back to work is being felt across the globe, especially as more companies publicly announce their return–to–the–office plans. Some countries, like Australia, moved back months ago, and other countries are using its plans as a guide for how to make it happen. As North America and Europe will likely delay their returns to fall 2021 or even 2022, the amount and speed of change is expected to grow.
Australia’s success shows the workplace of the future is being defined by activity-based working (ABW) strategies and more diverse choices in where employees work. Space planning analytic tools are also evolving. Platforms, such as those offered by SpaceIQ, are essential for businesses to not only devise what workplace return methodology best meets their needs, but to also stay current with ever–shifting office space trends.
Will Employees Want to Return?
For some companies, it has been more than a year since employees were in the workplace. There was fear that work-from-home would hinder productivity. That is not the case. According to a Mercer study, 94% of 800 employers surveyed said that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.
So, the time has come to welcome employees back to your workplace. What if some do not want to come back? A recent study published by TechRepublic showed 29% of employees said they would quit if forced to return in-person. Work-from-home offers flexibility not seen with an office job. Parents have reaped the benefits of consistent childcare, the freedom to make doctor appointments on their schedule, and not spending valuable time commuting to and from work.
Because finding and retaining happy, engaged employees is difficult enough in today’s tight labor market, keeping top talent on board means more than good pay and a few in-office amenities. Employees, especially new ones, want flexibility in how and where they work. Implementing an ABW approach is another way to show your employees the value of being in the office by showing it is more than just a static space. Dynamic workplaces provide employees options. They can select where they work based on that day’s activity.
ABW is all about flexibility. But that does not mean every employee will embrace new office structures. People are naturally averse to change and ABW is a big one. Some employees likely will resist more flexible environments. For CyberArk, an Israel-based information security company, most employees prefer static or designated seats as defined by the country’s prevailing work culture. Many global companies also discover that because workers don’t have assigned desks, they may lose the “personal” touch afforded by individual spaces.
Fortunately, workplace technology can be used to implement a safe environment upon return and help managers to gauge how many of their employees are willing to return to the office. Better understanding employees’ needs will help you establish an approach that makes staff want to return to the office. In turn, they may be more productive and help foster a more positive workplace culture.
Workplace Data and B2W
Regardless of when a return is planned, it is unlikely all employees will come back all at once. Some elements of remote work will remain. But many companies are opting for flexible schedules of mixing in–office and remote work.
Workplace technology offers a seamless approach to both planning for and implementing a back-to-work strategy. Activity-based work is a shift from providing generic workplace that fits typical types and styles of work to designing space that is “purpose built” for certain activities. This means more productive space as it is tailored to the work it supports.
This level of planning is not possible, at least not in an effective and timely manner, without technologies that support space planning and utilization, hoteling, employee health checks, contact tracing, social distancing, and other measures to keep staff as safe as possible.
Workplace analytics are critical to implementing the “what and how” of your return to work. For global companies, implementation plans for one region may require only opening one office at 50 percent, while bringing 15 percent of employees back in another location. What if another surge hits? Are you ready to shutter one location, set up employees for remote work, and shift critical tasks to offices in another state or country?
Return with Confidence
If COVID has taught us anything, it is to be agile and confident in every decision. Employee safety is paramount when considering a return to the office. There is no room for error. That is why technology is key to managing every aspect of a back-to-work plan.
Platforms such as those offered by SpaceIQ allow HR, Facilities, IT, and company leaders to weigh the pros and cons of their back-to-work strategies. We recently shared a return-to-work template to help guide your every move as employees come back.
But a post-COVID return is only the beginning. Once the initial move is done, you should focus on contingency plans. Planning for inevitable contingencies is a smart, agile strategy. As Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, said: “…we’re all living some form of Option B.”
Employees expect business leaders to have the answers and create workplaces that allow them to feel both safe and productive. Contingency planning is a great start. The next step in a confident return is thinking about the future.
Less Structure, More Social
What we knew as business normal is anything but now. The future workplace will be defined by how agile it can be in response to employee needs and new crises. SpaceIQ is strengthening the Archibus, Serraview, and SiQ product lines with technology tools that allow for maximum agility while supporting day-to-day productivity demands.
Companies realized early on that remote work did not hinder productivity. Large organizations like Twitter embraced remote work by allowing employees to work offsite indefinitely. Others are likely to scale back on their investments in physical workplaces as we adjust to this new normal.
Workplaces will not disappear completely, but businesses will make smarter decisions about how they use space. Technology lets you to analyze historic space utilization data and how that measures against today’s hybrid work structure.
According to a McKinsey study, 30% of companies are likely to terminate leases while 55% will reconfigure how existing space is used. Space allocation is also shifting. A CBRE survey of 10,000 companies showed employees want to come to the office 62% of the time for team collaboration and face-to-face time and only 16% for workplace amenities. What this shows is individual space and support services/amenities are less important than collaboration and social spaces.
An Agile Future
We have already seen a significant shift toward agile workplaces. Demand for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic shed light on the need for modern digital resources and technologies. Overnight, companies adopted platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Asana to help teams work from home. Not only have those adoptions remained, but they have also become more robust as companies build out their agile, digital infrastructures.
Business of all types and sizes are looking for ways to create workplaces where employees want to be and where they can do their best work. SpaceIQ is here to help. We have solutions to manage real estate, optimize current and new workspaces, structure hybrid work schedules, and maintain every aspect of your workplace. For more information on how to partner with SpaceIQ for an agile workplace future, visit us at https://space.iq.com.