COVID-19 means working differently

How can technology help?

We’re going to be working differently: OK, we get it.

There’s no doubt that CoViD-19 has accelerated a change in the way we work, with the traditional office playing a lesser role and a larger chunk of work being done at home, in transit or other locations. The good news is that in this time of turbulence, technology can help us take advantage of the opportunities that are arising – and solve the problems.

But first, some cold hard truths.

  1. Commercial real estate is a significant business expense and has the potential to be underutilised, even as we transition out of the ‘CoVID period’
  2. As workers start to move back into the office, organisations will be responsible for the health of their staff, visitors and customers. So organisations will need to ruthlessly manage health, risk and compliance. They also need to create a sense of safety and peace of mind for their staff
  3. Activity based working, embraced by many large organisations in recent years, has turned offices into more of a work of art than a place of work and is looking increasingly indulgent in the current environment
  4. Technology, eg, video conferencing, can’t solve everything. Personal, face to face connection is important and facilitates innovation and the generation of new ideas
  5. Collaboration and video conferencing platforms have proliferated over the past decade, but can be clunky and the user experience in terms of set up, audio and video is often poor

Now some thoughts on how to respond to these challenges.

The access into your office is now critical. Physical security needs to be combined with health management, risk management and governance.

From now on, access is ideally touchless, offers hand sanitisation, temperature checking and logs whoever is entering and leaving the building or workspace. This functionality can also be combined with messaging on a kiosk or digital signage. People arriving into an office are a captive audience, so the messaging can be a simple ‘welcome messaging, instructional, eg, effective health practices or promotional.

Real estate utilisation is a double edged sword. Traditionally, squeezing people into a given space reduces real estate costs, but now social spacing – or work spacing – is a key consideration so less people will be able to work in a given area, and this needs to be managed.

Traditional hot desking can be combined with beacons or sensors that monitor where people are working within a given floor plan. When your staff arrive, they book a workspace and the beacons help to space people out and provide real time information on where people really are.

The aim is still to optimise the use of the real estate, but also taking into consideration spacing requirements. For most organisations, a proportion of their staff will be working from home which takes some load off the office and helps to re-balance the real estate costs…

Real estate utilisation is one thing, and utilisation of technology is another. Traditionally, organisations have made a significant investment in video conferencing, collaboration and presentation technology but utilisation is often suboptimal because of ‘ghost meetings’ where somebody makes a booking, but doesn’t show up, Not only is the room being wasted, but also the technology (capex) which could be put to good use by somebody else.

Again, beacons or sensors can monitor if anybody has turned up in a particular meeting room or workspace, and if not, after a predetermined time, the room can be returned to the pool so it can be booked by somebody else.

We’ve learned a couple of things from COVID, firstly, personal connection is important – ZOOM doesn’t solve everything – and secondly, we can waste a lot of time in unproductive meetings!

Smart standups refer to impromptu meetings held between two or more people with the aim of making a fast decision to allow a project or program to progress. Smart standups can be facilitated by a touchscreen kiosk that accesses, say, the organisation’s BI platform or a smart whiteboard where ideas and agreements can be captured and distributed. Smart standups are all about getting an outcome, efficiently.

Digital signage will have an expanded role in the future. Traditionally it has formed part of the internal communications strategy to promote things like company news, upcoming events, new employees, financial results, etc. Now, digital signage will increasingly be used for health messaging for visitors and staff. To manage risk, effective communication should be baked into every ‘back to the office’ plan.

So the new COVID and post COVID environment provides an opportunity to rethink how we do things.

The need to manage staff health and safety will be a consideration for some time and will need to be part of any ‘people plan’.

The economy has been damaged, so the need for efficient utilisation of real estate and technology assets is critical in terms of managing business costs and maintaining profitability.

The access to your office, building or workspace is where you have maximum control and should be used to ensure a healthy and safe work environment.

Communication is critical – for health, staff engagement and productive work. Digital signage will play an enhanced role in the office and Collaboration platforms will facilitate work where staff are across multiple sites, or home.

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