The new normal office environment

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You don’t know what you don’t know and the world we live in is full of unknowns and there are many people scratching their head and trying to predict what the new normal might be on many fronts.

For most physical spaces and most definitely office spaces we do know it won’t be the same as it was.

We also don’t know when people will return to offices in any great numbers.

I’m sitting in our UK office right now, one that would normally be bustling with around 75 people, and looking at our live occupancy screen there are 6 people here.

I’d be surprised if that number changes much between now and springtime. 

Most people have embraced home working, taken the time to make their space their own in ways they could never do in the office environment, they’ve enjoyed a lack of commute and the flexibility with childcare, parcel deliveries, and chores that being at home brings.

Not to mention the lack of interruption which has allowed many people to become much more productive. 

And it’s not just all of the benefits of home working that will have people reluctant to return, fear is a potent motivator for good and for bad and Covid has and will continue to worry people.

Even those it is unlikely to affect have parents, grandparents, and other vulnerable people around them they want to protect so being safe yourself protects them. 

With all this, many may question why you would want people back in an office again and the people themselves certainly will. There is however no denying that there are many benefits to an office environment, not all measurable but real for sure.

The social cohesion of a company is essential and as much as we try doing this over the video, it just isn’t the same, and this ties into the culture, values, and driving a purpose which is all shown to set companies apart.

There are also those chance conversations, serendipitous moments where ideas are formed or problems are solved in seconds by bobbing your head up to ask a question or chipping into a conversation that you would have otherwise not heard. 

No doubt as with most things in life it should and largely will end in a balance, some companies may go to either extreme of having no offices or insisting everyone is back as it was before but I think the majority will strike a balance to keep the benefits for the employees of home working whilst still getting as much of the benefit of being in the office as they can. 

So how do you get people to want to come back?

Well, the first step has to be to make people feel safe. If we think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after food, water warmth and other physiological needs safety come next.

It’s a powerful driver of behavior and people need to know the environment they are in is as safe as possibly can be.

Like us, I’m sure much work has been done to make offices Covid Secure, to have temperature checkers, sanitization stations, and policies around occupancy levels not just of the building but by floor, zone, and rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens. The question is how do you as an employer know that is working and how do I as an employee get a real-time view of the density of any given area?

Technology to the rescue. Using 2D cameras or 3D sensors you can count the people in any area and display those on screens, tablets for smaller areas, and on the intranet or employee app.

So I now know without going anywhere whether the bathroom is available or which cafeterias are the least busy. This benefits me as an employee but also has the natural outcome of spreading people in a more efficient way to use the resources available.

The additional large benefit here is that it also gives an ongoing insight into how your real estate is being used, this is typically the second biggest expense after labour and understanding and optimising it was important pre-Covid.

Given we know that there will be a considerable change in behaviors and usage of real estate this becomes essential to optimize your spaces. 

Something else beyond employees we should also be thinking of is the safety of our visitors and the tablets that we all have sat in reception for sign in, safe to say are not the most hygienic way to do that.

If you have guest wifi, which you probably do then that can be repurposed and double up as your guest registration service. 

This brings me nicely onto the next point, beyond safety the experience of being at an office needs to be experiential, somewhere people enjoy being.

That again has been important in the past for attraction and retention of employees in a competitive environment and will be even more so going forward, with the knowledge of how people are using the space we can make sure it is better designed to suit the new needs. 

We can also take that a step forward with indoor wayfinding embedded in the employee app or as a stand-alone application.

This allows employees to quickly navigate to meetings whilst avoiding crowded routes and making sure people are on time. Forgetting Covid billions in productivity is lost every year with meetings starting late because people couldn’t find where they were meant to be.

This takes the stress away from the employee who has unwittingly underestimated the time to get there and the part roaming corridors looking for the cutely named meeting room. 

Although we may not be back in offices in the same way for many months it is worth thinking through and getting in place the technologies that can help us make it the safest and best experience possible as that time will tick away quickly. 

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