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Digital Transformation

Return to the office: Five reasons why data and tech are crucial to workplace re-entry

Countless businesses have already embarked on a phased return to the office, with many others readying to follow suit. While fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections persist, thoroughly safety assured workplaces, and clearly communicated employee safety measures will be key to any successful transition. The effective and imaginative use of data and technology will be centrally important.

World Built Environment Forum
5 August 2020

The Covid-19 crisis is prompting an acceleration of existing workplace trends

The potential of the pandemic to serve as a catalyst for change has been a recurrent theme of WBEF discussions during the great lockdown. The nature of the crisis has injected a new sense of urgency into discussions around private sector infrastructure investment, climate adaptation planning and housing supply. Often, this catalysing effect is presented as the silver lining to an otherwise heavy grey cloud.

In the field of workplace strategy, too, the accelerative influence of Covid-19 can be detected. Tim Oldman, CEO of Leesman, notes: “Many clients are now using the office re-entry phase to directly inform, evaluate and ideate the future role of the workplace. What is encouraging is that they’re not throwing away years of workplace evolution in favour of kneejerk design interventions. Instead, they’re using a more cool-headed approach. We’re seeing an opportunity to deliver five years’ worth of future real estate strategy and development in five months’ worth of future work.”

Existing workplace technologies can be used to manage the re-entry process…

Making the best use of space was best practice for workplace professionals before the Covid-19 outbreak, with a whole host of attendant technologies available to help the optimisation process. Those same technologies will be vital in achieving optimal conditions during the coming period of re-entry, even if the parameters of “optimal” have radically shifted.

Return to the office: Using data to dispel back to workplace anxiety

Within the next few weeks and months, corporate offices will open their doors again. Just as people had concerns when they left the office in mid March, they will be equally anxious about re-entering the workplace. Addressing these concerns and implementing strategies designed to keep people safe at every stage of a back-to-work programme will be key. This webinar looks at how tech, data and analytics can help key decision makers in managing the return to workplace.

Inabelle Fang, Senior Real Estate Manager for Willis Towers Watson cites the following example: “Something that has been instrumental has been the sensors that we have installed in our offices. These sensors tell us about space utilisation rates in our offices – work stations, phone booths, meeting rooms, etc. Pre-Covid-19 this technology was very useful in helping us understand how the office was being used. Post-Covid-19, the tools will be even more useful. The technology can give the power and the choice back to the employee to find a place that is safe and comfortable for work.” 

…and the Proptech sector is working to develop new technologies, purpose built for the task

The PropTech sector, valued at US$18 billion in 2018 continues to mature. It seems likely that the crisis will serves to further underline its growing status within the real estate ecosystem. Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO and Founding Partner of Freespace believes that innovations can add huge value over the coming months.

“You could be looking at apps to help people decide which days they will work from home and from the office, and to share that information with colleagues. That itself could help others decide whether to also come into the office or not. If you know that on a certain day, certain colleagues are coming into the office, you might also decide to come in.”

The ability of businesses to attract and retain talent will be ever more dependent on employee experience of the workplace

“The whole industry has been obsessed with the bricks and mortar. Can we get the focus back on the customer experience and the whole idea of employees as customers of the workplace?” asks Tim Oldman.

The whole industry has been obsessed with the bricks and mortar. Can we get the focus back on the customer experience and the whole idea of employees as customers of the workplace?

Tim Oldman
CEO, Leesman

“The genie is out of the lamp in terms of dispersed workers. The role of property in supporting organisational performance has changed forever. If we have a workforce that travels to and from the office on different days with apps enabling them to select the best days, that’s not PropTech. That, to me, is Customer Experience Tech. It will be the same sort of experience that employees get from ordering food or shopping online.”

Data can help employees better understand leadership decisions, and vice versa

It’s understandable that some people will be troubled by the prospect of a return to the workplace. Technology can play a crucial role in dispelling anxiety and data can be used not only to inform decisions, but to explain them.

“We can use data to design the space that people will be coming back to; use data to automate hygiene and to plan future workplace strategy,” says Krishnamurthy. “But also, we can use data to inform people of what has been done, so we can give them that confidence.”

Ms Fang notes that it is important that data is used to facilitate a genuine conversation between senior and junior staff. “Being able to do surveys and gather data at different points in time in order to get a better picture of the employee journey is very important, as is the ability to act on the data. We must be empathetic to employee circumstances.”