Future of Work, Commercial Real Estate, COVID-19, Employees Tue, Nov 10, '20
Flexibility Proves Key in Managing Return-to-Work

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, experts began making predictions about how the future of work would change. From new layouts that promote social distancing to voice-activated elevator buttons and other contactless solutions, the expectation was that the office of the future would need to adapt to keep workers safe.

So, with nearly all states in some stage of reopening, have those predictions for changes to the office environment panned out?

Forecasts for the “death of the office” are already being redacted as human resources managers point to the need for collaboration among colleagues to support a workplace culture. There is no doubt that the workplace has changed, with office building occupancy rates around 27% for many metro areas. However, designs for the office of the future may have been a bit premature. It’s for this reason that employers and commercial real estate developers are focusing on a long-term view of real estate usage trends. In the short-term, experts suggest, flexibility will be critical.

If you’re making small, temporary alterations to your office today, keep in mind that any change must allow for flexibility as return-to-work expectations evolve.

Space Utilization Trends

Employers that can offer their workforce some level of flexibility are still exercising caution in how they drive change within their workplace. With predictions for dramatic office shifts being walked back, commercial real estate firms like Brookfield suggest commercial real estate square footage will, in fact, remain relatively stable as more employees return to the office over time. Others expect that expensive alterations to office spaces will be delayed until there’s greater certainty about a coronavirus vaccine.

While remote work levels may rise compared to pre-COVID rates, there are also expectations to have more space available for each in-office worker in order to allow for adequate social distancing. Brookfield calls this a reverse of the decades-long trend toward “office densification.”

This space utilization may vary across offices and industries. Still, no one should expect the current work-from-home trend to entirely drive their future workplace planning. Many employers are putting major construction on hold in favor of simple, inexpensive, and potentially temporary fixes to support social distancing in offices being used by fewer people. Today’s empty conference rooms and plexiglass dividers may be replaced in the future by larger, and better ventilated, collaborative spaces that provide ample square footage for social distancing. The key will be flexibility in meeting the needs of the workforce today and tomorrow.

Focus on Flexible Solutions

If the way offices look isn’t changing right now, then what is?

A Work from Home survey from architecture firm Gensler found that half of all survey respondents would feel more comfortable returning to work with more frequent cleaning in place.

However, that’s another area where flexibility will prove key. Cleaning staff must be kept in the loop on workspace changes so they can adapt as needed. For example, if you are now hot-desking, cleaning may need to be done more frequently, or cleaning supplies may need replacement more frequently to encourage employees to clean their stations. As kitchens and other shared spaces open, usage limitations may be put in place, supported by new cleaning schedules. As usage patterns change, cleaning partners must be kept apprised so they can plan an appropriate disinfection response.

Cleaning solutions geared for flexibility will become critical. This is one area where automation can help. Solutions like Whiz, the commercial robot vacuum from SoftBank Robotics, developed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, support social distancing by allowing cleaning staff to tackle more work without adding a second person in a small space. Thanks to its AI platform, Whiz can consistently run a pre-programmed route while also easily maneuvering around obstacles and passing people. That programming can be easily updated to account for changing layouts.

Simplify the Transition

In many cases, moving around the office has begun to feel more complicated, with 6-feet apart requirements and signage providing suggested foot traffic patterns to promote social distancing. Any solution that allows employers to simplify employee’s return-to-work, while reacting rapidly to the unexpected, will be invaluable in creating a new way to work in the future.

To learn how Whiz can help simplify this massive task, contact SoftBank Robotics today.