As the effects of the COVID19 pandemic continue to be felt deep into 2021, companies are still wrestling with the problems of reopening. Thousands of companies abandoned their physical offices in the first couple of months of the pandemic, despite many thinking about their office reopening in a few weeks or a few months. People were shocked to think we’d be out past the first September. With buildings empty, many companies even considered selling or leasing out their space but there was no one to rent the space to. That space, however, is ready to be put back to use. As employees plan their return to their respective physical offices, they should be considering a set of questions regarding the safety of their workplace.
For employees, the fear around returning to the workplace safely may have less to do with the office itself, and more with their means of getting there. In major cities like San Francisco, New York, and Boston, commuters rely heavily on mass transit. During the peak of the pandemic, Time described public transport like buses and trains for COVID19 as ‘apocalyptic’. Some passengers don’t use masks, and bus drivers can sometimes ignore capacity limits, leading to potentially dangerous overcrowding. Even if masks are worn and drivers are mindful of occupancy limits, it’s very understandable to still feel uneasy about using public transportation. In response to this concern, companies like Freemark Financial are given employees stipends for Ubers and Lyfts to ensure their employees are comfortable with their means of transportation. The question of whether ‘I have to come to the office’ is more often than not situational, and dependent on policies already in place at your company.
Naturally, companies have begun to adopt a hybrid or flexible work model for their employees. These models are only gaining popularity, and according to GoodHire, 85% of Americans said they would prefer to apply for a job that guaranteed remote or hybrid working arrangements.
Understanding the difference between these two models is very important. A hybrid office allows employees to choose which days of the week they want to be in person, and which they want to remain at home. The hybrid model is particularly useful for limiting the total number of employees in the office at a given time. This number can be based on previously established occupancy thresholds determined by space occupancy data. Hybrid is still 9:00 to 5:00, whereas a flexible model has more lenient, less concrete hours. The flexible model allows an employee to step away from the office to tend to other manners. Leaving work at 3:00 to pick up your kids from school, for example, would be part of a flexible schedule.
If your company is allowing employees in person, there should be multiple measures in place to ensure their health and security. Your office can guarantee this is done safely and efficiently using AI and crowd management solutions. People counting software and occupancy heatmaps can be used to track overall capacity in different rooms. Real-time alerting can highlight whether a space is getting too crowded, or an entire floor is at capacity. Knowing that a hotspot is forming is extremely powerful for facilities staff, and making sure your employees are comfortable when they are in person. Sanitation schedules become smarter after seeing typical flow throughout a building, and security schedules can be more efficient after reviewing space use for events on the calendar. Employees don’t only fear their workspace, but equally their colleagues. A Deloitte survey confirmed that 91% of employees are concerned about masks, 89% social distancing, and 56% daily health confirmation. In order to maintain safety, 84% of employees surveyed would prefer some combination of the following protocols:
It’s only natural that employees will be hesitant about returning in person after so long, so having sound safety precautions in place is a must.
It is very likely that your office space, and your own personal space, will look far different than it did before the pandemic. Facility managers should be prepared to repurpose and adapt space in order to maintain social distancing and safety for employees. In the new flexible workplace, companies are starting to use hot-desking– a system that limits the number of desks in the office space. This means multiple employees will use the same physical workstations at different points in the day in order to limit contact and maximize space. For more on hot-desking and maximizing your space, check out our space utilization blog.
If your team is curious, don’t leave them asking; talk about how your organization will help them navigate a new type of work. This question has divided many CEO’s, and is again dependent on your company’s policies. Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO of the New York commercial-real-estate company SquareFoot, told The Atlantic, “I believe that work is better when most of the people are in the office most of the time together”. Wasserstrum would go on to say, “if somebody didn’t believe in the value of an office at least one day a week, they probably shouldn’t be at the company anyway”. Studying the efficiency of work from home is not a new concept. In 2010, Kimberly Elsbach, a management professor at UC Davis, interviewed 39 managers concerning their views on in-person and remote. The study found that there was a strong belief amongst managers that if you really wanted to move up in the company, you had to be in the office, and be seen in the office. This included coming in early and staying late in order to be noticed by management. If you are concerned about job security because of your work-from-home status, voicing these concerns to an advisor could be the best course of action.
These are just five frequently asked reopening questions your employees may be wondering about. They certainly have others. The best thing that you as a leader in your organization can do is proactively communicate policies, implement safeguards around the spread of diseases, and ease their fears with as much guidance and assistance as possible.