As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to invade our lives, we are all learning first-hand how to adapt to a world dominated by social distancing and quarantines.  Our once bustling offices are now vacant shells, reminding us of the strangeness and uncertainty of the moment we’re in.

The impact of transformative events like this is real.  In the aftermath of 9/11, business travel came to a screeching halt. Leading prognosticators proclaimed that the days of face-to-face business meetings were gone forever, yet person-to-person interaction reemerged as indispensable. Offices filled back up and business travel returned and then boomed.

The fortune tellers were wrong about how 9/11 would transform our workplaces, but they were right to presume we were entering a new world. No one knows the future, but you don’t have to be a gambler to bet that a post COVID-19 world will bring with it a new normal… so how can we prepare?

Preparing for the Return… Whenever It Comes

While the more extreme doomsdayers may foresee a future where we never leave our homes, CRE professionals are likely much better off having a plan (or multiple plans) for the return of the workplace, whenever it may be. How should this return be any different from what came before? 

It may make sense to build in precautions with regard to viral infection, just in case there is a resurgence. It will likely be some time before we know for sure that we’re out of the woods, and the last thing you want is everyone flooding back in just as the virus is making a comeback.

Some precautions you may consider:

Staggering your return:

Rather than returning everyone at once, it may make sense to stagger employees to keep a close watch on impacts on health and morale. Those whose roles are most critical to the business can be reintroduced in a first wave, followed by healthy or unaffected workers, then those who have children out of school. Those personally impacted by the virus should be the last to return, once they are definitely recovered.

Building social distancing into your plan:

Continuing some levels of partial remote work may help you reduce density and empower employees to maintain social distances according to their personal comfort levels. Mandating 30-minute buffers between conference room meetings to limit unnecessary personal interaction may also make sense during the early days.

Extra effort for health & safety:

Ventilation, concerted and regular cleaning, and comfortable office temperatures can all help reduce the levels of general illness in your office.

Reevaluating Your Workplace in the Wake of the Great Remote Work Experiment

While some have already started penning obituaries for physical office space, it is the riskier gamble to bet against the value of shared space. It’s part of the fabric of how we commune and collaborate. On the other hand, this pandemic has indeed forced a global and near universal experiment in remote work. Even once the fears of communal space finally subside, the appeals of working-from-home will likely linger.

Employees will remember the shorter commutes, extended time with family, and freedom from arbitrary mandates to remain on premises 8 hours a day, five days a week. Organizations will have discovered the depths and limits of what they can achieve outside of the office, and start reevaluating their space needs. Where is space a waste, where does space offer value, and how can you limit the former while enhancing the latter?

As you plan your return, it may make sense to keep a close watch on key trends that are likely to accelerate.

Agile space:

Agile offices have already been proven to slash wasted space and better conform to how people prefer to work. Flexible workplaces that offer less seats but greater diversity in choice will likely accelerate their conquest over assigned office environments. Agile environments can meet the needs of larger, partially remote workforces while reducing space and aligning workplace design with productivity.

Smart offices:

Smart offices have proven themselves invaluable for not only aligning offices with how people use them, but also for providing critical data to support response efforts in times of crisis. 

Enhancing Readiness for Future Disruptions Through Technology

Regardless of what the new normal may bring, it is clear that the technology that organizations deploy will provide the core infrastructure for their ability to adapt and respond to change. In times of disruption, accurate data and streamlined workflows can be lifeboats during periods of transition.

Workplace technologies that are central to CRE Readiness include:

Tracking Real-Time Space Utilization:

Measuring shifts in attendance with precision in the coming months will enable organizations to boldly right-size while maintaining confidence in their ability to meet needs.

Scenario Planning:

With the future so uncertain, the ability to plan and test multiple scenarios will be key to preparing organizations for multiple outcomes.

Relocation Automation:

Largescale moves, transformations, and consolidations all involve moving a lot of bodies with minimal disruption. Automated tools play a central role to planning, tracking, and completing relocation projects smoothly… and keeping everyone on the same page.

Ratio Seating Models:

As remote workers continue to drive the appeal of flexible seating, organizations need to be able to assign and track seating ratios that provide less seats than people. If flexible seating is the future, seating ratios will emerge as the core data point informing those optimizations.

Time to go Agile?

While many organizations will be looking to down-size their real estate costs, other will be looking to upgrade their workplaces to meet the fast evolving landscape. Agile workplaces do both, proven to reduce real estate costs by as much 30%, while providing flexible environments that are better equipped to absorb change and support employees.

Talk to a Workplace Expert today to learn how Serraview software technology can help prepare your organization for the future.