Building a Pandemic Resilient Workplace: How to Prepare for a Return to the Office?

Building a Pandemic Resilient Workplace: How to Prepare for a Return to the Office?




23 Aug 2021

2020 for many corporations has been the year of forced rethinking. Companies had to deploy new platforms to allow people to work remotely and collaborate – creating new opportunities to accelerate digital transformation and adopt new technologies. Just like how the shift to remote working has prompted us to adapt to virtual work environments, a progressive return to the office space and the adoption of hybrid forms of working will also allow us to rethink the way we interact with our physical office spaces. This article will look at some principles companies can adopt to support a pandemic-resilient workplace as they welcome their teams back to the office.

A Flexible and Agile Workplace

With the emergence of new ‘smart working’ trends such as work-from-home, staggered teams and the de-densification, the future workplace will become more flexible and adaptable to these unique needs. The modern office trend towards activity-based environments will remain, but density control will become critical to allow the safe and efficient use of space. Amenities will grow to support different activities – common areas will be reshaped to incorporate safe-distancing, while meeting rooms and collaboration areas will incorporate devices to empower on-site and off-site employees to work together. In addition, physical interactions will become a significant component of space planning through safety design – such as user routes, controlled safe entries or special zonings.

The Touchless Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has created massive disruptions to the office space, but the silver lining is that the workplaces of tomorrow will be healthier and safer. Reduced contact will be achieved through touchless surfaces – waving your hand to trigger an automatic door or using a face recognition entry system to enter the office will become part of the New Normal. Another way to control infections is to reduce our dependence on shared devices by shifting control of the workplace environment to each employee’s smart device. For example, countries such as Singapore allow access to buildings and stores through Bluetooth technology, replacing physical check-ins. Moving forward, this contactless experience can also be replicated to the booking of facilities like meeting rooms or the reservation of individual workstations – all seamlessly through the user’s smartphone.

The Human Factor

As hybrid ways of working seem to be here to stay, how can organisations retain and cultivate high connectivity and employee engagement through technology, even when workplaces are being decentralised? One of the priorities for companies will be to adapt to their employees’ needs, include them, and understand what is most important to them. Leaders need to consider the profound implications of such disruption on the emotional well-being of employees, their productivity levels, their sense of belonging and the company culture at large. Providing support to teams working remotely will be necessary and defining practices and policies for remote teams while considering working styles, norms and enabling technology.  Establishing feedback channels to understand workforces concerns and conditions will help leaders assess worker sentiment and ensure employees feel engaged and cared for. 

The worldwide pandemic has cast a spotlight on what makes a workplace environment safe and healthy. While digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies are being accelerated, office design is being reshaped to adapt to new working styles. Company leaders also will be faced with additional considerations with regards to the management of the remote workforce. A pandemic-resilient workplace will be a combination of physical and technological adaptations as well as HR company performance policies with an approach that uses fluid communication and emotional intelligence principles. 

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