Walk, Don't Run. Keeping it simple as we return-to-work.

  • National Newswatch

The return to school and work this fall from COVID-19 lockdowns is forcing employers across Canada to think about how to safely reintegrate their workplaces.Given the pandemics many unknowns, transition to the workplace is bringing confusion and anxiety.Although Zoom fatigue has become part of our COVID-19 lexicon and many employees miss the social interaction of the office they are generally taking a wait and see approach.Canadians are highly aware of COVID-19's risk to their health and intuitively know there is a long road ahead with an effective vaccine having an uncertain timeline.Last month, LinkedIn's Workforce Confidence Index showed only a fifth of Canadians would willingly return to their physical workplace as soon as it is allowed.People are paying close attention to the return to work.  They have seen many employers like Google and Shopify delay the return to work until 2021- and inconsistent approaches are being noted and contrasted with their employer. Some companies have already stated they will not return until a vaccine is readily available.The World Economic Forum predicts that an organization's return to work will mean an average occupancy around 30%, which provides both employers and employees flexibility as they manage the reintegration of their workplaces.A survey we conducted of government employees as part of a Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC) information webinar earlier this summer shows that trust is a key element of an employee's willingness to return.There was 100% support that a survey identifying employee concerns and preferred options in returning to work would lead to a more beneficial “Return-to-Work Strategy”. Here are some of the results:
  • 78% support well established and communicated protocols for accessing/navigating the building
  • 78% support workspaces that adhere to socially distanced protocols
  • 30% want the ability to make a contactless desk reservation with validation of proper cleaning
  • 50% would participate in an incident management and contact tracing application
  • 25% want to continue working from home
  • 38% want the flexibility to work from home some days and come to the office other days
Communicating with employeesCommunications must be simple and focus on engaging with and not communicating at our employees.The first is establish that their health and safety is the key priority and that the organization cares about their well-being and will do its best to accommodate individual circumstances such as health or childcare issues. It is best to reassure an employee about the safety precautions so there is no sense of coercion about returning to work.Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Workplace Trust and the Coronavirus released in late August demonstrates the level of anxiety employees feel about the return to work and how important it is to patiently earn their trust.Horizant recently held a virtual lunch with our employees to discuss return to work and back to school. The dialogue allowed everyone to share the pressures and concerns that the pandemic has thrust upon us. Some of the goals was to communicate openly about who wanted to be in an office (we are not all designed to work alone) and what were the concerns with a return to the office.  Even remote employees without back to school concerns benefitted from understanding the uncertainty their colleagues were dealing with.It is important to be transparent and acknowledge uncertainties and the trade-offs that are being made- and welcome suggestions from employees on how to improve the system.Smart technologyThat leads to the technology side off the conversation and the key is not to overload employees with information. Quite simply, they want to access a work point in a way that inspires confidence that their employer has their safety in mind.The focus should be on leveraging existing investments (technology and data), rather than building something from scratch. The focus should be on simplicity from a design standpoint and not a complicated discussion on how to book a desk.In terms of table stakes- here are the key must haves:
  • Easy to use (web and mobile), allowing employees to quickly access available desks or rooms
  • The ability to manage occupancy and utilization, to ensure health and safety
  • Track employee health while respecting privacy
  • An enterprise-wide tool that leverages the organization's complete real property portfolio.
  • A solution that will evolve with the changing needs of the return to work
As with any crisis, the pandemic has brought forth a multitude of new shiny technology solutions, many of which are focused on specific standalone tasks. If there is an early “new steady-state” conclusion to be drawn, it is that ongoing flexibility and agility will be required. This can be achieved by examining early success stories where existing data and technology has been leveraged. Another early conclusion is that the way we work and where we work is changing. The right approach is a short, mid, and long-term view of the office portfolio.
  • What can be efficiently and safely repurposed now?
  • How do we measure to build on initial success?
  • How will my real estate portfolio allow me to accommodate a new steady state
The Pandemic is complicated, and the return seems daunting, but it can be managed by remembering it is a process and by keeping that process as simple as possible.  The initial overriding objective is to reassure employees about the safety precautions being taken (with a return to work plan) and equip them with the tools to keep themselves and their colleagues safe.And with many months of the pandemic ahead of us, employers will have to be patient and allow workers the flexibility to return when they feel most comfortable.Wayne Liko is Managing Partner of Horizant an Ottawa-based global leader in Real Property and Facilities Management industry.  Over his 30 year career, Wayne has designed technology and data based solutions for clients across North America including over 25 Canadian Federal government departments