The grand home working experiment turned out to be more successful than most people thought – to the point that many organizations now struggle to persuade their employees to come back to the office.
In contrast to the state of affairs pre-pandemic, employees now have notably different expectations regarding safety standards, work schedule flexibility and facilities offered by their workplace. And where the office once was the indisputable base, employees now to a much larger extent pick and choose between working from home, working from anywhere or working from the office.
This power balance shift has brought facility management – and overall workplace strategy – to the front stage and has made it one of the top priorities at management level all over the world. Because not only are facility managers instrumental in ensuring an office space that enable employees to carry out their work, they have now also become indispensable in providing safe and inspiring surroundings for work.
The competition from the home office is high. How can the regular office compete?
Facility managers’ roles have already been undergoing change over the last years, but with the disruption brought upon workplace management by the pandemic, more change is underway.
Even though management focus before the pandemic struck was already tuned in on creating inspiring offices for employees, it has now become an imperial mission for facility managers to create collaborative, innovative spaces that help organizational cultures thrive.
The job description of facility managers is thus being extended as they will now have to juggle returning employees’ safety concerns, altered demands for office facilities and flexibility as well as the organization’s adherence to corporate and governmental safety guidelines.
The primary challenge for organizations in dealing with the return to the office post-pandemic is to create a safe work environment in which employees feel assured of compliance with safety guidelines issued by authorities, daily cleaning procedures, sanitization of the office, responsible employee collaboration as well as visitor management.
And not only are organizations looking at a return to previous activities and routines, but they are also looking at a “new normal” that requires a new way of working. Common workplace activities such as formal and informal interactions between employees, internal and external business meetings and even lunch will resume, but they will look different. Organizations must rethink work.
Fortunately, there are many ways for facility managers to support health and safety in the workplace –both in terms of getting “back to normal” and adapting to a “new normal”.
What they need is the managerial support to carry out initiatives such as increased cleaning frequency, desk booking for employees and new workplace design with the aim of ensuring social distancing and facilitating new ways of collaborating with a safety-first mindset.
In this sense, facility managers become the ultimate gatekeepers and are crucial in establishing the optimal conditions for employees in the offices.
Apart from hygiene being a top priority, reimagining the workplace has become imminent for organizations in envisioning the return to the office.
As we have already touched upon, employees will have notably different expectations once they come back. After discovering that working from home is not an impediment to productivity, on the contrary, employees will demand a positive and unique environment to come into the office – an office with a purpose.
The office space should no longer be purely functional, but inspiring and remarkable; it should be one in which employees can engage with colleagues and one that will drive innovation and collaboration.
At the same time, the office should make room for focus and immersion within an inspiring and comfortable setting, as employees have become used to the privacy of working from home.
Facility managers will play an important role in succeeding with this maneuver. They will be the ones providing employees with what they need to get the most out of their workday and do their best work; comfort, inspiration and social capital.
And reimagining the workplace will not only benefit employees. It will also most likely increase employee engagement and loyalty, improve collaboration and teamwork and foster innovation to the benefit of the organization.
Lastly, what has been one of the biggest learnings following the pandemic is that even though the offices start to welcome back employees, not all employees will come to the office at the same time – for which reason, imagining and supporting a hybrid setup has also been added to facility managers’ role description.
Failure to adapt to a hybrid future could potentially threaten culture and collaboration, but on the other hand, a well-managed hybrid workplace can attract talent, bring people together and help us work better than ever before.
Specifically, facility leaders will play an important role in navigating the blend of physical presence and online meetings and in designing for employee engagement in digital-to-physical spaces.
Inevitably, some meetings will end up with the best outcome if all participants are physically present, but hybrid success can be achieved as long as facility managers, leaders and employees are aware of the pitfalls in the gap between in-person and remote meeting participants.
Here at Sign In Workspace, we are also on the journey of navigating the new normal, trying to find the best way to bring back our employees to the office within a safe environment. We have worked hard setting up processes for managing our facilities in a way that reassures employees of adherence to safety guidelines while also embarking on redesigning our office space and arranging for new work routines.
More specifically, we are navigating the following setup:
A mix of work in the office and work from home
Navigating a 3-2 model (3 days in the office, 2 days from home) - however with mandatory associates' days where all employees are expected to come to the office
Gradual reopening of the office
Slowly increasing the number of employees allowed in the office at the same time to allow for employees to get to “learn” how to work together face to face again
Use of data
Data provided by Sign In Workspace workplace management software give us valuable insight into how employees make use of the workplace
Focus on onboarding of new employees
New employees go through an onboarding process where physical attendance is required (also from closest colleagues). This gives a bigger sense of belonging and a much better introduction to Sign In Workspace.
We are very aware that there exists no correct answer, nor a one size fits all solution when it comes to the future of work. The next couple of months will tell show us if we are on the right path or if we are to change our route towards the workplace of the future.