The new normal: navigating and optimising workplaces post-COVID

Ringa Gelens
6 min read
new normal

The last few months have been disorientating, to say the least. For businesses and individuals across the globe, navigating distancing measures, restrictions and new ways of working has been a challenge.

But as some measures begin to lift, organisations enter a new phase: orientation. Knowing that a new reality is ahead of us, rather than a return to pre-COVID practices. This orientation predominantly concerns workplaces - first and foremost, how to get employees back into offices safely and effectively, and then how to adapt workspaces to this new normal in the long-term. 
To help you navigate each part of this unprecedented challenge, we’ve developed a tailored integrated Workplace Management System: Ask James.
Drawing on my real estate and facility management expertise, let me share my vision of what this new normal will look like - and how Ask James can help you manage and maximise it. 

Remote working, works

The overnight shift to predominant homeworking has proven that it’s both possible and - in many cases - advantageous for employees to work remotely. With huge swathes of employees enjoying increased focus and productivity as a result of homeworking. 
With this in mind, homeworking is here to stay. Though not necessarily for 100% of people, 100% of the time. Of course, there are instances where people do need to be in the office for face-to-face meetings, collaborations or to use particular hardware. But getting employees back into the office, even on this limited basis, will need to comply with distancing measures. 
We predict that workplaces will see a 50% decrease in occupancy availability to meet distancing regulations.

Devising a new workplace strategy

Therefore, a new workplace strategy is required and to shape this you need insights. Insights on who does need a workspace - and when. So, you can build up a picture of capacity and demand - and ensure there are sufficient desks and works
paces available. 
With offices in many countries likely to reopen around September time, these are insights you need to gather now. Ask James can start gathering input from employees and generating those insights immediately. 
It can even build connections - such as understanding who needs to work together on particular projects or day - so you can adapt your strategy flexibly and smartly. There’s no point implementing rigid shift work - say by putting employees in A and B groups - to then find you’ve separated people that need to work together physically. 

Re-boarding employees safely and sustainably

To account for the bespoke needs of employees, Ask James provides flexibility. Facility Managers can appoint particular workspaces to a group of users or a department, so only they can reserve it. 
You might also find some people need to come to the office very rarely, opening up spots to others who need spots more regularly. End users can therefore make workspace reservations only as and when they need to - including last minute or recurrent reservations.
To facilitate compliance with distancing regulations, Facility Managers can automatically remove workspaces from use in the back end and can see if or when the workplace has reached compliant capacity.

Building a business case for reducing office space

With remote working running smoothly - for both businesses and employees - and organisations only requiring 50% of their pre-COVID workspace capacity, it doesn’t take a real estate expert to identify that there’s an office downsizing trend to come.
Facility managers are always the first to receive a knock at the door when it comes to cost-cutting - largely due to real estate/property management and operations’ being some of the biggest outgoings for businesses. My estimate is that, in six months from now, businesses will start to dramatically reduce their office space.
But rather than make that decision blindly - or with an estimate of the occupancy you truly need - Ask James can give you real-time insights at your fingertips and build an accurate picture for you over the coming months. 
For those that lease, downsizing will simply involve requesting a rent and space reduction – within contractual restrictions. For those with privately-owned real estate, this will require a shift in strategy. Will you open up your space to other organisations? If so, you’ll need to navigate managing leases and multiple user contracts. 
Fortunately, Ask James can adapt to this. Since it’s focused on the building, rather than the organisation, you can add external users to bring them into the workspace reservation process and ensure distance compliance.
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Integrating and adapting

The truth is, we don’t know for sure what’s ahead of us. This is a new situation for everyone and one that we’ll need flexibility and agility to adapt to. Should there be a second peak of COVID-19 cases, and measures become tighter again, you’ll need to change your workplace strategy to reflect that.
With Ask James, Facility Managers can reduce workspace capacity and building occupancy when needed. 
Since Ask James is built on the ServiceNow platform, it can also be integrated with other solutions to help you navigate this new world. For example, if your organisation wishes to install thermic scanners - to check for fevers upon entrance to the building - or add an unmanned kiosk to your visitor management functionality and implement a security check with safety questions upon entrance, Facility Managers can integrate these insights seamlessly. 
Ask James can also facilitate requests of workplace utilities, such as office chairs, computer screens and other hardware to better support employees with homeworking. End users could simply reserve a requested item - which would then be created as a catalogue item within ServiceNow - and it could be shipped to their home. 

The future of workspaces long-term

These changes in workspaces - and how and when employees use them - is set to have a big impact and lasting impact on the future of workspaces and their significance. Previously, workspaces were a pawn in the war on talent. Kitting them out with pool tables, quirky, colourful collaboration spaces and top catering. Organisations did everything to keep employees inside and to give them great working experiences. 
As we move into a more remote, flexible world, buildings themselves are going to be far less important to employees and organisations. It’s actually my view that organisations owning or leasing entire buildings or spaces will become a thing of the past.
Much more likely is a ‘pay per use’ future where employees book spaces in open office communities for bespoke needs - such as essential meetings or team days - and charge it back to their organisation. Giving employees the flexibility they crave and lifting huge overheads from businesses. 
Of course, such a reality is a long way off and there’s a lot to figure out until then. But in order to figure out whatever comes your way, you’re going to need to understand your organisation’s needs inside out. 
Ask James will feed you the insights needed. Granted, you might not know you need some of these insights now but in six months from now, you’ll be grateful you have them up your sleeve.
Find out more about how Ask James can help you adapt your workplace strategy here.

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