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Coming back to work – a market overview

Many companies decided not to come back to office at all for the moment. Some even say that the corporate culture is dead, pushing their return dates until they will eventually work entirely from home. Companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, offered to their employees the possibility to work from home until the end of 2020 if they want to.

A study conducted by CNBC with executives working at firms across all sectors of the economy showed that employers may not be in a rush to bring all workers back with productivity not suffering and many workers working harder and longer hours from home.

Others started giving their employees the option to choose between working from home and slowly returning to office. And there are a few cases where all the employees have returned, especially in those industries where remote work is not an option.

This material is meant to highlight the main recommendations and perspectives on returning to office, even if these spaces might change their purpose or not (many stakeholders have started to talk about offices turning more into social hubs than work spaces). 

We will face a new paradigm that has safety measures and technology at its core. Office Real Estate will be forever revolutionized by PropTech, which offers a better way of interacting, communicating and doing business. Layouts have changed, ensuring the recommended distance between desks (if we’re talking about open spaces), sanitation points are installed and access is more controlled now.

CBRE

When talking about returning to work, CBRE, i.e., thinks that the first thing we should focus on is transportation. Public means of transportation can favor transmission, so Companies should pay attention to how their staff arrive at work. 

Other recommendations given by the real estate agency include maintaining physical distancing, creating designated paths of travel, personal accountability and continuous optimization and learning.

CBRE also conducted a study that showed that from 200 companies worldwide, 59% say they will provide face coverings for their employees, 28% plan to require face covering at all times, 21% will allow visitors to the workplace and 13% will conduct screening of employees on site.

Cushman & Wakefield

Cushman & Wakefield compiled their Safe Six measures that should be taken into consideration when reopening an office: prepare the building, prepare the workforce, control access, social distancing plan, reduce touch points and communicate for confidence. 

The last point stands out as it emphasizes the importance of communication as a main factor in building trust and giving people the confidence they are safe.

They have even proposed a 6 feet office design that consists of several elements: 6 feet quick scan, 6 feet rules, 6 feet routing, 6 feet workstation, 6 feet facility and 6 feet certificate.  

JLL

JLL created a checklist with 10 points that help companies safely return to work: 

  • Respect local government regulations
  • Find out if there are new landlord policies you should follow
  • Align your business continuity plan
  • Identify and confirm supply chains for personal protection equipment
  • Make sure vulnerable employees do not return and report and track infections
  • Redesign the space and establish new protocols
  • Focus on facilities management
  • Use technology
  • Confirm/establish security measures
  • Determine who needs to approve the re-opening plan
How companies see it

For some, returning to office is not depending just on the evolution of the pandemic, such as for the local company Zitec (you can read the interview with their CEO here), but also on costs. An MD at JPMorgan, for example, said that sitting 2 metres apart will seem a luxury, especially if employees are as performant from home. 

Other banks are reporting a work-from-home strategy that continues in the future. Goldman Sachs said that their plan for a phased return to office consists of 50% of employees returning, while Morgan Stanly declared they will have “much less real estate” from now on.

But not only space related costs will decrease. A head of sales declared for efinancialcareers: “I think people will take a discount to work from home (…) There’s no travel time, no season ticket, fewer expenses and more time with families”.

Companies that have started bringing their teams back now live in a covid-era, where all kind of measures are in place: employees might be required to wear masks, have their temperature taken, access buildings only with ID badges; the maximum number of people who can go in an elevator is extremely low; their desks and the spaces will be disinfected more often.

A survey of 100 executives in the US, conducted by McKinsey, has revealed that they expect most employees to be working on-site by December. Other relevant data includes: 80% of the employees are expected to return to office by September, 44% of the companies stagger work shifts,  41% limit capacity in elevators, 39% of the respondents have installed physical barriers between workstations, 77% check their employees temperature, 46% plan to trace contact.

In Europe, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has issued guidance on coming back to work, addressing topics such as: Risk assessment and appropriate measures, Involving workers, Taking care of workers who have been ill, Planning and learning for the future, Staying well informed, Information for sectors and occupations.

The French Labor Ministry, for example, published a set of rules that include giving priority to collective prevention measures (i.e., shift rotation, change in break times, circulation organisation, protective glazing, spacing of workstations, disinfectant cleaning if the premises have been used in the last 5 days, etc.); and a space of 4 square meters per person in the same space. 

In Germany, the set of standards issued by the Federal Ministry of Labor include: ensuring sufficient distancing (at least 1.5 meters), working from home when possible, reduction of occupancy density at work and common areas.

Italy is even more specific and states that if the body temperature exceeds 37.5°, the employee shouldn’t access the workspace.

Technology becomes a must

With 23% of employees saying that they want to work from home more often, using tech solutions becomes a necessity. Since January, for example, Google Meet grew its peak daily usage by 30x. Zoom registered a 418% growth in adoption rate in 2 months during the pandemic, while Microsoft Teams set, at the end of March, a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day.

Technology redefines offices as well and the work of those who decide to return. Some say that among the most used technologies in the new context will be those facilitating tracing contact and infections. Apple and Google already announced that they want to develop software that health organizations could use to bolster their own contact tracing initiatives.

Besides that, we’re talking about space and parking management apps, air quality control apps and all kind of new state of art technologies: lidar systems, security cameras coupled with artificial-intelligence software, self-sanitizing doors, sensors that analyze the movement of people around the office as well as voice or motion activated devices; a company called Estimote has even developed wearable devices that vibrate when workers get too close!

Technology will not only influence employees’ activities, but also the relationship between tenants and landlords. According to HqO, 74% of tenants said they would download a mobile app for their building (a mobile app that could facilitate access into the building, accessing amenities, connecting with the property etc.).

Landlords have already implemented tech solutions that help scanning people when entering the building or giving them contactless access. In the interview we published with Skanska, you can read about how they have implemented a Virtual Reception. Also, of course, they have extended their sanitation activities, disinfection being now made more often than before. 

Conclusion

Returning back to work will happen gradually and it will definitely not resemble what we used to know. Safety measures and new technology solutions redefine the spaces which might gradually end up changing their purpose. But as social beings, interaction cannot happen only online, so we will probably readapt our spaces to allow brainstorming and live communication. Given that no strict regulations are in place, most landlords, tenants & employers just put safety first, as extremely as they can or feel appropriate. 

The future of work doesn’t resemble what we imagined in December 2019, but it will surely be more technologized and Safety will be the new norm.

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Cover Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash