Blog May 12, 2021

How facilities managers are using proptech to safeguard the future of the office

By MRI

After a year of lockdowns and social distancing, governments around the world are starting to cautiously map out the roads to lifting restrictions. Vaccinations have now been administered to over half a billion people globally and are providing the world with a route back to something resembling the “old normal.” Vaccines are helping to reduce transmission and countries like the UK are already seeing a quick decline in the number of coronavirus cases due to its rapid rollout of vaccines.

The early success of vaccination programs provides hope that employees will be able to return to the office in the near future – even as new variants of the virus emerge – but the ramifications of COVID-19 will still be felt in workplaces across the world long after lockdowns have ended. Facilities managers in charge of day-to-day operations and tenant safety now have to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring workplaces are as safe as possible.

Adapting workplaces for the future

Even as vaccination programs continue to reduce the number of coronavirus cases and help ease restrictions, we’re unlikely to see a total and immediate return to offices. Many employees have now seen how remote working can improve their work-life balance and in many cases actually make them more productive. Global businesses have already kick-started projects that will determine when employees begin to return to the office and how frequently – with many expected to adopt hybrid working models.

Facilities managers will have the 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 at all times 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. While some companies will adopt a fully remote working model, the vast majority will take a hybrid approach and have employees commute to the workplace a couple of times a week to help spark those impromptu chats and watercooler conversations that often lead to enhanced creativity in teams. However, in a post-pandemic world the future of work will likely mean that offices will be reconfigured for shared spaces. A survey from Gartner revealed that over 80% of global leaders plan to let employees work from home some of the time, which will lead most firms to reconfigure their office space. We might expect some companies to reduce the size of their commercial real estate as they continue to evaluate what to do with their square footage in a bid to identify cost-saving opportunities, while others might need more space to enable lower office densities and more collaborative spaces for when employees come in.

This need for more practical space planning, combined with employees potentially 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 cutting down on valuable 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 and New York is expected to grow its office space by 14.3 million square feet, 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 having individuals signing in to record who guests are and who they are visiting, will create a more structured and controlled use of the environment.

Additionally, systems that track hot-desking, informing a manager of when a team member will be coming into a workstation, not only serve 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 organization is doing everything it can to protect everyone’s safety and well-being.

Likewise, technologies for scheduling collaborative spaces such as conference and meeting rooms will be critical to managing the number and flow of employees in an office and ensuring the deep cleaning of those spaces between uses. Furthermore, occupiers can reinforce health, safety and security within a building by utilizing PropTech platforms that record, track and manage everyone with a physical presence in an office at any one time – not just employees but visitors and contractors, providing arrival notifications and access permissions.

The future of the workforce is almost here

There is still a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, but many businesses are already setting plans in motion for a hybrid working environment that combines the flexibility of homeworking with the collaborative nature of the office. The onus is now on FM teams to manage reconfigured office spaces and ensure they function well. The result is employees can not only stay safe but also improve efficiency and performance. By being equipped with the right tools, FM teams can work with corporate occupiers to prepare ways of working that will become the new reality even as we emerge from the pandemic.

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