After nearly 18 months of intermittent lockdowns, where millions of us had to set up new home-offices in our lounges and kitchens, the time has finally come where restrictions have eased and businesses can welcome staff back into their premises. But just how different will the new world of work be; and how prepared are facilities managers to navigate the change? David Walker MBA MRICS Chief Revenue Officer at Beringar, a smart building sensors company, gives his take.
“Freedom Day” finally came to England and with it for many an expectation of a return to the previous paradigm of office-based working. However, this is just not going to cut the mustard with many whose changing lifestyles during Covid have found favour in the work-life balance equation.
The facilities and HR teams have worked tirelessly to keep up and anticipate the changing regulations imposed or suggested but are we there yet? The office landscape is a changed one with sanitisation stations, temperature taking apparatus and enhanced social distance protocols abounding which look to become permanent features as we navigate the variant exposure stories touted by various media platforms and the daily statistics too. In summary the answer to the question above therefore is certainly “Not yet!” but what can we expect going forward?
It has become clear that office interaction is so much more than presenteeism and where teams were kept trading and rotated the benefits of interaction increased results and profitability in a way that had not been anticipated. There it was clear that casual interaction and conversation in person sparked ideas and moved the culture positively in a way that Zoom could not. This will not be lost on those employers whose profits could be assisted by a proper return to the offices.
Therefore, with a need to help personnel feel comfortable with the return various additional measures will be beneficial and, in my opinion, inevitable. In addition to a more flexible approach to attendance the ability to book desks, collaboration areas and facilities in an office can be expected to support personnel commuting to the office. Moreover, a recognition and proactivity to address Well ness issues and regulate the environment – stuffy offices are bad for decision making as CO2 affects the human brain detrimentally – must start to make commercial sense too whilst able to support an “Employer of choice” profile attracting and retaining staff.
Thus, the effective monitoring of the human interaction with the built environment starts to imbue commercial advantage to companies and improve the welfare of their personnel too. Understanding how the office is used and the way people interact with their environment gives a clear indicator of efficiencies, but the journey starts with clear and accurate data.
Gathering this data needs to be ongoing and accurate so that lessons can be learned and acted upon. This in all likelihood means that whole offices will be subject to sensors that monitor and log occupancy as well as the environment 24/7 with a side order of AI programmed to map and find improvements in efficiency across the managed field of play. Interestingly for boards that as a positive by product of the collection of such data there will be the ability to drive efficiencies of occupation, stagger attendance for some and consider how the metrics can be used to educate and measure progression on journeys such as the Net Carbon Zero one that is taking much of the Corporate boardroom head space as we speak and is set to take more as we approach government deadlines for compliance.
The office of the future is going to be better managed and regulated which will make it a more productive place to work through the collection of proper data and its analysis. However, this will also drive technology to support the industry to reach Carbon Net Zero in ways that go beyond the offset measures currently utilised but regarded by many as short term fixes that fail to address the issue itself.