Right now, you’re probably reading this from your home office or living room couch. And you’re probably thinking when you’re going to be able to get back to work. A lot has changed since the last day you were in the office, and a lot will have to change before re-entering. It will not be as easy as simply going back to our offices and getting back to work.
The sudden change in workplace dynamics due to COVID-19 has accelerated the remote work trend; and is likely to impact long-term real estate strategy as a whole. While it is almost certain that most businesses will adopt more flexible and remote work policies, there is no doubt that traditional office environments will continue to exist. But, those office environments will certainly experience a shift.
Just as smart buildings took the real estate industry by storm, Safe and Healthy Buildings will be the new hot topic. Companies need to think about how to keep employees, vendors, visitors and clients safe and healthy. This is a big transformation, but there are a few key ways to begin thinking about this necessary shift.
First, and probably the most obvious, is how to address shared workstations. Companies will need strict protocols for cleaning any shared areas. As businesses increased real estate utilization with densification and non-dedicated workstations, cleaning protocols and the long-term operational expenses associated with them were likely not considered.
Another forgotten cost is that of lost productivity when an employee comes to work sick – also known as “presenteeism.” When a sick employee feels compelled to come to work, they’re not only less productive, but they make those working with them vulnerable of the same. Adjusting workplace policies to allow remote working and/or paid sick days will reduce the loss of productivity. In fact, presenteeism costs the national economy approximately $160 billion annually, surpassing the cost of absenteeism.1
Next, how can employees navigate the office environment while minimizing contagion risk? Companies need to look at all risk factors. Seemingly innocent shared items now pose a contagion risk. Everything from coffee machines (how many people in an hour touch the handle?), to cabinet knobs, to the refrigerator door, to even the shared stapler needs to be considered.
Simply put, offices today are set up to share; and we need to think about quick solutions to modify and evolve. I see companies adapting through adoption of foot-operated and touchless technology and even removing shared coffee stations. I’ve already ordered combination pen/styluses for everyone on my team – no more touching the start button on the copier; that’s for sure.
Even bigger picture, we’re going to see Healthy Buildings taking the lead to attract and retain tenants. Buildings with touchless access systems, where individuals can use a phone app to call the elevator may seem a bit futuristic, but buildings will need to devote resources quickly to adopting technologies like this. They will need to consider temperature scanning, contactless delivery practices, and ready access to sanitation to name a few. I personally think we will see dedicated handwashing stations in every building lobby, every floor of commercial office buildings, every restaurant, and every retail store as a best practice.
While we’re all eager to have the world heathy again and get back to our normal routine, there are major shifts in office health and safety that will become our new normal. Before returning to work, it’s important that you think through new workplace strategies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your people and your customers.
Vestian is committed to providing end-to-end real estate services for companies, including consulting and implementation of remote and return to work strategies.
Vestian’s Francine Niemiec, President of Account Services, leads the U.S. Occupier Solutions and Services business. She brings more than 20 years of diverse real estate experience, including leading the real estate and construction group for a Fortune 500 company, giving her a unique perspective of end-user needs. She is recognized for her ability to build and lead high performing teams.