Leveraging PropTech to Safeguard the Future of the Office
Steven Fox, MRI Software's director for occupier solutions, explains how facilities managers are using PropTech to reimagining office spaces in the post-Covid-19 environment.
After a year of uncertainty and lockdowns, many governments have cautiously mapped out paths to lifting restrictions. In the United Kingdom, the continued rollout of coronavirus vaccines which have now been administered to over half of all adults, provides a route back to something resembling the 'old normal'.
But while the slow and cautious easing of restrictions offers the possibility that employees will be able to return to the office in the not too distant future, the effects on organisations across the country will last well beyond the end of lockdown. We know that the workplace will likely be very different from what it was before COVID-19, and facilities managers in charge of day-to-day operations and tenant safety will have to prepare to make changes to ensure places of work are as safe as possible.
Adapting to the future of the workplace
As the British government continues to plan for the gradual removal of restrictions due to the increased protection offered by vaccines, we're unlikely to see a total and immediate return to offices, as many employees have now seen how remote working can positively impact their work-life balance and in many cases improve their productivity. UK businesses and international companies with substantial UK footprints have kick-started projects that will determine when employees begin to return to the office – with many expected to follow hybrid working models.
The facilities manager will shoulder an important responsibility of helping people feel safe when they return to the workplace in the coming months. They need to ensure any, and all new COVID-secure requirements are being met and make certain the workplace offers an environment that meets all safety standards and guidelines for occupiers. Keeping these spaces Covid safe means that businesses will have to consider tools that provide greater flexibility - for this, FM technology will be crucial.
Preparing for the long-term impact of Coronavirus
The pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact on the way we think about work in the future, and as we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, the future of work will likely mean that offices will be reconfigured for shared spaces. It was recently announced that HSBC would reduce its office space by 40 per cent globally, and we can expect many other companies to reduce the size of their commercial real estate footprint as they continue to evaluate what to do with their square footage in a bid to identify cost-saving opportunities.
This need for more practical space planning, combined with employees mixing working from home with hot-desking rather than having their own full-time, fixed workspaces, means the facilities manager will have to leverage PropTech and the data-driven insights it provides. Having the right technology in place is necessary for understanding how much office space they have, how much square footage they need going forward, and how to execute plans for rearranging floor plans effectively.
Reaping the benefits of PropTech
With the help of space management solutions that offer visibility of room layouts, seating configurations and calendar bookings, businesses are better placed to more efficiently use the space they have – thus optimising real estate costs by making the best use of capacity. For the FM professional, this means that they can understand how people are using workspaces and their working patterns and can find innovative solutions to building safety and security issues.
In London alone, businesses will occupy an additional 13 million square feet of office space in the near future, the equivalent to 10 shard skyscrapers, so the need for FM teams to use software to plan office re-openings and ensure spaces promote the safety and wellbeing of those that occupy them is evident. Solutions that allow employees to book meeting rooms, rather than historically, simply walking in, and more stringent visitor management methods, such as guest pre-registration, touchless sign-in and contact tracing options, will create a more structured and controlled use of the environment.
Additionally, methods of tracking hot-desking that inform a manager of when a team member will be coming into a workstation not only serve as evidence to effectively manage space but also help the FM team meet health and safety standards by ensuring that all necessary deep cleans of an area are carried out between uses. This will become essential in implementing acceptable safety measures so that employees can be assured that an organisation is doing everything it can to protect the safety and well-being of everyone on the property.
Preparing for the future of the workforce
There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, but many businesses have had to start planning for a hybrid workplace environment that allows a degree of homeworking while reconfiguring the way the office will function – in many cases permanently. Forward-thinking FM teams can look to digital tools to ensure they have the flexibility to devise and implement strategies that safeguard their employees' health while also improving efficiency and performance.