The way forward after Covid-19: sustainable and flexible workplace strategies

4/23/20 1:53 PM

The only thing certain is an uncertain future – especially in today’s marketplace and digitized, global business world. Not only technological disruption can take you by surprise, but increasingly so changes in national and global politics, legislation, economy and effects from climate change. And as we have recently witnessed, the effects from public health hazards. In a world like that, we need a higher degree of adaptability and resilience for sustainable success.

The workplace is a company’s physical, social and digital platform for operating, designed to support successful working. Meanwhile, the nature of work, what we do and with whom keeps changing constantly. Whether you are an office or facility manager, HR director or CEO – now is the time to smarten up and take the long-term view, and prepare for uncertainty. It’s also key to understand how the workplace plays a key role in an organization’s success, and how quickly it may need to adapt for changing behaviors, structures, strategies and ways of working. It pays off to be prepared, as more and more workplaces have begun to adopt flexible ways of working. Soon more than ever.

Workplaces have to be increasingly more adaptive as the world around us changes due to national and global politics, legislation, the economy, climate change and health crises.

A gradual re-opening of workplaces after working from home

After lock-downs and restrictions, many of us will want to return to the office soon, at least in part. Working from home all the time is not for everyone. The return back to work places will no doubt be gradual. The pace at which this happens, and the way that this happens, will be dependent largely on three factors. Firstly, public health considerations and the well-being of employees will drive the tactics and way in which a return to offices are likely to take place.

Secondly, the economy and near-term business realities will affect both cost-saving measures as well as the number of employees returning to work. Are we looking at a V-shaped, U-shaped, W-shaped or an L-shaped curve? In other words, a short-term or long-term recession or even a depression?

Thirdly, new behaviors and ways of working that have been (or will be) adopted will affect the way and rate in which we return our workplaces. Unless the Covid-19 is eradicated from Earth, workplaces need to stay on alert for new waves or mutations of an outbreak. For those companies who were unprepared for remote working and working from home might this time around want to be more prepared. Rather than rushing back in all at once, they may want to mitigate congestion risks in office buildings and work areas. Teams will perhaps be invited to use the office in turns, somewhat overlapping, with 1-3 mandatory remote days a week. The first months of bringing employees back to the workplace, will probably be gradual, allowing access of 3 or 4 days at the office a week, allowing some choice of when and where to work. In other words, working flexibly.

COVID-19 impacts on workplace strategies

We are now at a unique point of no return. For some time to come, office space and company cultures will probably have to be altered in order for people to feel safe being there. Safety protocols of social distancing could cause more demand for personal space at the office so that the people who work there aren’t as packed as before. The question will be how to balance density and utilization goals with physical distancing needs? How can sharing and booking spaces be managed smartly?

With an accelerated decline in physical meetings onsite and diminished business travel, companies will likely reconsider the types and size of meeting rooms they need (and whether especially external meetings are necessary in person). External meetings will increasingly become more virtual, and thus a growing need for small spaces to support online meetings might require fast space changes. Our recent Optimaze Workplace Review 2020 report shows that online meetings and small meetings were taking place already long before the pandemic and restrictions on group gatherings. In 2019, 81% of all meetings had only 4 people or less present in the room, with a quarter of all meeting spaces occupied only by one person.

Fewer employees may be coming into the office creating underused space, possibly due to an increase in flex work and working from home, or sadly, due to layoffs. This creates a savings potential in real estate costs that so many companies these days need to recognize. You can download the free Optimaze Workplace Review 2020 report with data from over 2300 workplace studies from 20 countries. It focuses on flex work and future-proofing workplaces.GET THE REPORT NOW!

In Optimaze Worksense the data is presented in an easy and understandable way for you to make informed decisions on the workplace.

A unique opportunity to experiment, study and learn

A functioning work environment and a great workplace experience is a competitive factor that increases your company’s productivity and employee well-being. Workplace professionals like you, strive to make resilient real estate decisions, save on costs and reduce the carbon footprint by optimizing space use.

This is an excellent, however exceptional, time to use for measuring the effects of flexible working and the consequent space utilization. Some office occupiers are actually using space utilization sensor data during the lock-downs. They want to understand their bare minimum space requirements, in an extreme remote work scenario. However, the best is yet to come: the period of “the world’s widest flex work experiment”, when people will gradually and only partly return to the office after working from home full-time.

If there was ever a good time to measure space utilization for optimizing space, it would be when the entire organization is engaged in practicing flex work, invited to come into the office as their work, health, needs and other considerations permit. Over a period of several months, going back to the office after full-time from remote work, is a great opportunity for workplace developers to stimulate and study flex working live, for an entire organization - as if it would be new norm. It is also the perfect time to collect data, and measure the impacts of a scenario where flex work culture will remain as the new norm. For most, it probably will be.

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Get strategic. Future-proof your workplace.

 “Our People are our Greatest Asset” is a claim many companies make. But do they walk the talk? When times get rough, how often do you not see companies terminating their personnel long before terminating their leases for office spaces that were under-utilized to begin with? How often do you not see workplaces that neglect to empower people to do their best at work, by not providing a working environment and sufficient tools that help boost their performance, well-being and satisfaction at work?

Increasingly, the best strategies are adaptive – and that goes for workplaces too. They are also more and more focused on people and culture, values and the bigger mission - in addition to products, services and business. Whereas company structures, processes, products, brands, logos, company colors and slogans can change at a fast pace, it is the corporate culture and identity that can be strengthened by a solid, resilient yet flexible workplace strategy.

So get strategic. Future-proof your workplace. Build resilience in both your culture, and your real estate strategy. Now is the time to leverage “the flex work phase” of a gradual re-occupation of the office – and to measure your use of, and actual need for space.  

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Pontus Kihlman

Written by Pontus Kihlman

Executive Consultant, Workplace Management Services