None of us had much time to prepare for the mass exodus from our office spaces as we transitioned to work-from-home (WFH). However, we do have time to think about what re-entry back into our workplaces might look like. And, some are saying it might not be as simple as just telling everyone they can come back to work.
Chances are you have office space sitting empty these days. With real estate being one of your largest business expenses this can be frustrating to say the least. It would be convenient if the office routine simply returned to normal the minute stay-at-home orders are lifted. But that is not a likely scenario. In fact, we may be looking at an entirely new normal in how we work.
What can companies do to prepare for this time of uncertainty and transition?
Make sure your re-entry plan is built on employee empathy.
Employees will still have fear as they begin to transition back to some sense of normalcy. Employees will need flexibility to transition to their own new normal at home. Employees and their families may have grown accustomed to the benefits of working from home. With schools physically closed until fall, they also may have no choice but to stay at or close to home. Bottom line, a long commute to your corporate campus may not be desirable or possible.
Keep in mind that the changes everyone has gone through over the last several weeks have had a personal, emotional impact on your employees. First and foremost, your plan should be empathetic to the crisis your employees have endured and help them emotionally prepare for a new normal. Employees will be gauging their comfort level in their work environment. Sensitivity and over communication will be the key to comfort. Now is a time to over communicate.
Rearrange your offices with health and safety being the first priority.
This may mean a new office footprint that gives people a chance to collaborate and socialize in a manner which is comfortable for everyone. Open floor plans – the wide open rooms with rows of seating may no longer be a desired workspace for all. Desk roulette may no longer be an acceptable norm. Employees may desire more distance, a more defined workstation that gives them a sense of control and maybe even the freedom to separate themselves from the crowds. As more people spent weeks working from home, a crowded and distracting open office space might now feel unsafe and unproductive.
Anticipate a tiered return.
Health and Safety protocols, employee preferences and life-work balance considerations will all contribute to a gradual return to a new normal, rather than an overnight resumption of business as usual. Give consideration to the roles, teams and work tasks that are most in need of your office environment. This might range from private offices for those employees whose home environments can’t support focused work, to collaboration spaces for teams that need the opportunity for periodic group think. For most companies, “workplace” will remain a combination of HQ + FLEX + WFH.
Offer alternative work environments.
Despite any misgivings about returning to the office, we do know that many employees want to work with their colleagues. A survey by Zapier reports that of those employees who suddenly found themselves working from home, 66% say they prefer working in the office or workplace over working from home. And 42% say they miss socializing with coworkers.
To support the need for socialization and the desire to work in an office environment, you might consider:
- Allowing employees to work in shifts.
- Breaking teams up and allowing them to have their own office environments.
- Setting up smaller, regional team spaces that still provide the collaborative environment without the masses.
Set and communicate expectations clearly.
Trust works both ways but is often easier when the expectations are clearly laid out. If changes are going to be made to your workplace policies these should be communicated and properly managed, so everyone is on the same page from the start.
Support traveling employees.
As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the global business travel market is predicted to see a loss of 810.7 billion U.S. dollars in revenue in 2020. Your road warriors will need to rethink how they work. Supporting workplace mobility for those who spend most of their time on the road will become a priority. Helping them to feel safe as they work from the road and giving them quick and easy options to adapt their workspace will become a requirement for months to come.
Have a clear contingency plan.
No one wants anything like this to happen again but one thing we know for sure is we should be prepared for the worst. How do we deal with something of this nature in the future? You’ll have less of an excuse to be unprepared the next time around. Corporate real estate professionals will need to work hand-in-hand with their HR and IT teams to understand not only how their real estate footprint will be affected now, but also how they can plan and prepare for a crisis impact. Clearly, real estate that can expand and contract based on market shifts will become a larger part of the portfolio.
A new normal will take months, if not years, to be fully realized, but it is not too early to start preparing for what the next few months may hold. Corporate real estate professionals will be a big part of the planning and process for re-entry. While it has always been important to consider employee well-being as part of your real estate footprint, it has never been more critical than it is now. This is a new path we are all paving together. The LiquidSpace team is here to help as you navigate your flexible-office needs amidst your overall real estate adaptation.