These are unprecedented times. The business environment across all industries continues to be challenging, but speaking of companies in our IT industry here in India, we have largely adapted well in meeting client expectations and project deliverables, and minimizing any business disruptions. Our industry was quick to enable its employees to work remotely, which has, by and large, worked well, thus far, writes Romeet Kaul

Some of the other industries like, travel, hospitality, retail, and to a large extent, manufacturing, unfortunately have seen massive disruptions due to the pandemic. It will take some of these industries good amount of time before any sense of business normalcy sees thorough restoration.

In recent months, while we have been working remotely, did you experience, you missed out a weekend, and nearly went about doing your office work? Maybe, even on a weekday, worked well beyond the normal work duration. Clearly, the lines between office-life and personal-life are getting seriously blurred. This has already started creating nuanced social issues in our family life.

Now, do people want to return to the workplace? Let us accept, people don’t have a choice now. Any immediate responses are likely to be prejudiced in favor of continued remote working. There is explicable concern, which people have in resuming office in the current scheme of things. Understandable pressure from the families, as well. Some of the surveys indicate that, at this point, only about 50% of the people would like to return to the office. Many companies have announced remote working till end of the year. Once people have immunity, however, the public opinion on return to work can undergo a quick change.

As companies around the world prepare to return from CV-19 shutdowns, real estate and facilities leaders are putting together new plans and procedures to do so safely. Leaders should focus on three main aspects: monitoring developments for when to return, developing new work standards to ensure employee safety and comply with local mandates, and working with business leaders to develop new on-site safety measures that protect both employee health and privacy.

The key things, virus has brought that change the way we were managing our workplace before:

Health and wellbeing remain top of the mind. Employee care has always been core to the way we manage our workplaces. The duty of care responsibilities, we have toward our employees, has been the new focus, and rightly so. Near-term focus has been on safety – distancing, air circulation, protocols, PPE, etc. CV-19 is going to accelerate some changes in office design; most evident is seat density. It is expected that post effective treatment, there would be likely movement back toward densities recorded pre-CV-19. Greater focus on face-to-face interaction as office is redesigned from full-day occupancy desks.

The possible changes to the way we will manage the workplace after the total containment of the virus:

Physical interactions will remain core to the culture and work productivity of an organization. In a normalized state of things in the future, it appears, there would be greater importance on value to employees on workplace flexibility. Facilities organisation will play a key role in space planning for flexibility and safety. Likely opportunities to adopt new models – managed shared spaces; hoteling; and collaboration space, with primarily training and meeting facilities. IT organization would need to step in to provide improved tools for in / out of office collaboration.

Traditionally, office capacities have been built to meet current and future employee headcount. Businesses will now more carefully evaluate capacity planning. Open address seating is expected to gain further traction. Even beyond normalization, companies are expected to permanently home-shore some roles. Badging or attendance data will play a key role in rightsizing the facilities. We will see a push towards optimizing the real estate portfolio in the immediate future and perhaps beyond, closely aligned with lease expiries.

When the virus stops its spread, the area of office management and building we believe facilities and workplace managers need to improve on through innovative processes and solutions for maximum benefit for the users:

Potential for the airborne transmission of CV-19 virus has been scientifically recognized. Even post pandemic, there would be sustained focus on HVAC building engineering controls to reduce the potential airborne transmission of a virus, like CV-19. Enhanced ventilation may be a key element in limiting the spread of the CV-19 like virus in the future. So, my recommendation to the building engineers is to focus on increasing the existing ventilation rates, enhance ventilation effectiveness, and eliminate any air-recirculation within the ventilation system so as to just supply fresh (outdoor) air.

Long term, it is likely, about 15-20% of the workforce may be working remotely on a given day, so workplace managers would also need to invest in good space / seat utilization technologies to make sure their expensive real estate is optimally utilized. There would be a need to move toward a touchless experience in cafeteria and pantries for the F&B services. Digitalization of cafeterias will gain further momentum. Lastly, the workplace and security managers would need to need to transition to a touchless use of biometric technologies in their office facilities.

The facilities management solutions providers should do in the new normal regarding office management?

FM solution providers have in general done well in partnering with their clients in the managing workplaces in the new normal. At a basic level, continued focus on cleanliness and hygiene of the workplaces and cabs used in employee transportation. Short term, help enable the adoption of new technologies to facilitate, well-being, building efficiency, etc. Long term, partner with their clients to assist them move toward technology focused smart office buildings, with attention on EHS, and wellness initiatives.

Advice to workplace users during and after the pandemic:

You are not responsible only for your well-being. When you come into an office environment, you have a social and civic responsibility for everybody else, who is working in your workplace neighborhood. So, let us make sure, we are making good use of the Aarogya Setu App in determining, whether we are fit to go to work or not. Users should follow all the government guidelines and adhere to the outlined company procedures in letter and spirit. CV-19 has re-emphasized the importance of good personal hygiene, so we should carry forward all cleanliness and hygiene related lessons learnt, even beyond the end of CV-19.

Romeet Kaul is a seasoned global real-estate and workplace professional. The article originally appeared in Amazing Workplaces, an online HR platform.

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