The Big Return: Top Things to Consider When Planning Your Move Back

As CRE professionals, we have always had to deal with ever-changing needs, but this pandemic has really stretched our ability to navigate the magnitude and duration of real estate implications. As many organizations prepare for a return to the workplace, CRE leaders are being charged to plan for the unprecedented. How do we return to normal, and what even is normal anymore?

In many ways, the new normal is something that continues to evolve, but there are contingency plans we can and should be developing now. CRE leaders should certainly look to government and health authorities for direction on when it’s safe to begin returning to work, but here are key topics to keep in mind.

Who Says It’s Time to Return?

While many CRE leaders are carefully plotting their strategic return to the workplace, others are asking themselves “why bother?” If there is no essential reason that employees need to return, it may make sense to hold off until a clearer picture emerges. If employees absolutely must return, then requiring that they wear masks is recommended. The prevailing wisdom is to encourage remote work, whenever possible.

Phasing is the Word of the Day.

While there’s a lot of prognosticating going on, one thing everyone agrees on is that it probably doesn’t make sense for everyone to return at once. Returning in phases enables organizations to test the waters and mitigate their exposure to health risks.  

  • Essential workers come first: The most essential workers should obviously be the first ones back in… but what essential means can differ greatly across organizations. Some organizations are using their space utilization data to identify which employees attend the office most frequently to determine case-by-case space needs.
  • Protecting the most vulnerable: It goes without saying that the most vulnerable should return last, and only once things have stabilized. This includes employees with pre-existing conditions and in higher-risk age brackets, but it also means helping employees deal with greater levels of anxiety about returning to the office.

Social Distancing… in the Workplace?

Back to the workplace does not mean back to normal. We have all become trained social distancers by now, but how do organizations translate these standards into the workplace? Different organizations have taken different approaches. 

  • Density Planning: In spite of the swaths of vacant space, some organizations are asking themselves if they have enough space to meet new density benchmarks.
  • Proximity Monitoring: Organizations that track utilization data can easily monitor density across their portfolio. Proximity reports can help them enforce social distancing policies.
  • Bookings with Buffers: Workplace solutions for booking hot desks and meeting rooms give organizations the power to automate social distancing into their reservation systems. This can be done by blocking off seats to enhance distance between employees or inserting buffer time between meetings to reduce overlap.
  • Hot Desking Over Shared Space: What’s the difference? Traditional environments allow employees to freely move between spaces, hot desking asks that employees book every space they use. This enables organizations to limit mobility and keep track of who is sitting where.
  • Closing Down Common Areas: Watercooler talk has officially been put on hold. Dining areas and lounges are being shut down during early phases throughout the movement.
  • The Return of the Cubicle: The once maligned cubicle has made a comeback. Higher barriers between desks have found renewed appeal in the fight against contamination.

Is the Move-Back an Opportunity for Workplace Transformation?

For some organizations, the answer is yes. Organizations on the precipice of replacing assigned seating with flexible workspaces have been able to seize this chance to make the leap. This has been more the exception than the rule, however, as most organizations are focused on a safe return in the short term. In the long-term, it’s a different story. The remote work experiment has certainly wet appetites to reduce footprints with flexible spaces, as CRE leaders assess their strategies beyond the crisis. 

Utilization as a Secret Weapon

In an evolving and unpredictable situation, many organizations are leaning on their utilization data to guide their planning, enforce new standards, and inform their response should a new infection occur. Utilization data conveys how often people show up from day-to-day and where, often captured by anything from a smart sensor to an access card in the lobby. From density planning to identifying staff that may have been exposed to an infected occupant, organizations are learning that utilization can be a powerful tool for enforcing health and safety.

Serraview is committed to helping you keep your finger on the pulse of this evolving crisis. Check out our COVID-19 Resources page for more insight on how you can help guide your organization through these unprecedented times.