Over the past decade, many organizations worked to cultivate an open and dynamic office environment—a place to inspire collaboration with few walls separating people both physically and intellectually. The idea was that, through this barrier-free and more democratic workspace, additional engagement with colleagues would lead to an uptick in valuable ideas and solutions for client problems. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think about the workplace. Employers and property owners must shift their priorities away from dense office spaces and toward community health and employee safety.  

By boosting employee confidence and communication, in addition to using technological solutions to counter the current problems businesses face, we can create better spaces for people to do their best work.

One of the key components of putting together a strong return-to-the-office strategy is employee confidence. Without proper confidence—in both company leadership and workplace safety—some employees may be unwilling to return to work, resulting in policy changes around working from home, as well as a potential reduction in overall office-building occupancy. A major factor in achieving this level of confidence comes from effective communication between workplace leaders and their teams. Leadership must provide digital communication solutions to employees and building tenants, and creating confidence requires that these technologies are rolled out quickly and efficiently—emails and signs taped to doors aren’t the answer.

As many of us work from home in the midst of the pandemic, we rely on technology not only to do our jobs, but also to connect with loved ones and maintain some sense of normalcy. When turning to a colleague to get an answer is no longer easy or convenient, workplace leaders must be clear on where employees can find the information they need on new policies, expectations and best practices. Employee-facing technology like mobile apps are an important resource for encouraging space allocation to account for the health concerns surrounding COVID-19, including providing occupancy data to help building owners and employers support social distancing. However, to mitigate a lack of employee confidence, any technological solution needs to offer people the ability to speak to their needs and offer feedback to leadership.

Solutions You Can Implement Now

Real-Time Workplace Status

One solution is to offer people real-time guidance on the status of their workplace. This guidance, delivered via a smartphone app, provides the status of company buildings to keep employees and tenants informed on whether they should come to work or stay at home. People should also be able to self-report their intentions to go into the office to inform in-app building occupancy limits and keep colleagues aware of where they’re working for the day.

Automated Commute Planning

Imagine wondering whether you should work from home or make your way to the office. We envision a mobile solution that will relay the right information workers. For example, if your first meeting isn’t until 11:30 a.m. The app may suggest that you come into the office later to avoid rush hour and reduce the amount of people in the space. If you have no scheduled meetings, the app may suggest that you avoid the office altogether and work from home. Your daily schedule is pulled directly from your Outlook calendar, ensuring personalized guidance your needs.

Smart Workspace Configuration

The ability to make an informed decision about your individual space is key to instill confidence when returning to an office location. For example, before you arrive at your office, the app helps you find and book a desk to ensure social distancing and workspace sanitation. It also gives you the information you need to keep track of how many people are in the office. Office leaders also use it to see areas of heavy traffic to help inform cleaning procedures and adjust activity levels to encourage safer surroundings.

Regular Status Notification

Throughout your day, you get push notifications to relay news on your office’s sanitation policies, along with a notice about an upcoming virtual event on stress-reduction techniques. The information you’ve received has allowed you to prepare for your day while remaining aware of updated safety measures taken by your employer or building owner.

Customized Scheduling Suggestions

Having a mobile solution that aligns with your schedule and keeps you informed on your workplace has reduced your anxiety and given you new tools to help you do great work. The office is getting a little busy, so you decide to leave in the afternoon to finish your work at home. This level of flexibility makes it easier to do your job while reducing the amount of people in the space.

While there is uncertainty in returning to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have the ability to make such a return not only achievable, but also create a new work environment that’s superior to what we experienced pre-pandemic—one that isn’t so reliant on open-concept, close-quartered workspaces. In fact, according to a 2018 Royal Society study, there is little evidence to suggest that open architecture corresponds to positive employee interactions anyway.1 This is further proof of the need to create a workplace that recognizes the need for space, emphasizes hospitality and uses technology to facilitate an intuitive, empowering place for workers to stay engaged and do work that matters.

1The Royal Society Publishing, The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration (July, 2018)