With the economy slowly opening up, the gradual return to the workplace will need to be carefully choreographed by a collaborative team of leaders across facility management, real estate, human resources, finance and IT. While HR and IT have awakened to the importance of both the physical and digital workplaces in recent years, finance is now realizing the value real estate and facility management functions bring to not only cost cutting efforts, but workforce productivity and talent retention. In the wake of COVID-19, it’s even more clear that office space is not just an amortized asset, but also a strategy tool for growth.

The return to the workplace will present new challenges and opportunities. It offers us a chance to rethink space utilization, employee engagement and well-being, sustainability and how we view and manage the overall real estate portfolio. Embarking on the path to make the most of this “new normal” and use what we learned during the pandemic to fine tune how we manage the workplace and broader real estate
portfolio can leave many organizations overwhelmed. If you’re unsure where to start, consider taking these five critical steps:

1. Capture Workplace Data

Successfully preparing to welcome employees back to the workplace and maximize your real estate portfolio require data on your existing portfolio of buildings, including information on the location of each rented or owned property, local conditions (including the latest data on the virus), as well as regional and country information and any current new legal or government regulations. If you haven’t already, inventory buildings to gather basic data on both the condition of the exteriors and interiors. Exterior information should include the condition of exterior cladding and the roof. Interior information should include as-built floor plans and major equipment information, along with preventive maintenance schedules and history.

If buildings or floors of a building are leased, make sure you’ve documented critical dates and current capacity, utilization and occupancy for each floor, as well as required usage across businesses and functions. You should start thinking about the workplace policies you’ll roll out in the months to come. For example, move to all or partial reservable desks, reassign existing workstations according to new ways of working or assign people to fixed desks/workstations and create schedules for occupancy. With the right technology in place, you should be able to create space plans based on new configurations that follow requirements for physical distancing.

2. Prepare the Workforce

Taking care of employees is more important than ever. Your human resources team should be preparing the workforce for re-entry and leading efforts to alleviate any anxieties they have around returning to the workplace. This includes establishing a detailed change management plan and task force focused on helping employees return to the workplace. You should have a list of employees and contractors
returning to the workplace and information on the type of work area/workstation each person requires based on their job category, their assigned phase or shift for moving into the building and a schedule for remote work.

Social distancing strategies should be determined based on the latest scientific findings. Your FM workforce could also be augmented with people who could assume the role of a Covid-19 block captain(s), PPE training experts, quarantine marshals and supply managers.

3.Get Strategic

Through this pandemic, we’ve seen phenomenal proof that remote working can be effective. As Kate Lister, a leader in the IFMA Workplace Evolutionaries Community, states, “the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back.” Now that they’ve had success with remote working, some organizations may need less space.

This is the time to execute various ‘what-if’ utilization scenarios for both short- and long-term planning. James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, believes his company will more than likely come out of this crisis with a smaller real estate footprint due to a successful remote work program that involved 90 percent of the financial institution’s 80,000 employees.

4.Ensure Facilities are Safe

In preparation of the next phase, evaluate and address any issues with air, thermal, water and ventilation quality to ensure employees can safely return to the workplace.

5.Embrace Technology

Both new and proven technologies are available to help you plan, design, construct, manage and operate workplaces. Collecting and analyzing the data needed to create action plans requires a Computer-aided Facility Management System (CAFM) or Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) that becomes a centralized repository of existing conditions and other baseline data, and allows for strategic planning, space planning, move management, room booking and financial analysis.

CAFM consists of basic inventory data, maintenance functionality, strategic and tactical planning applications with integration to 3D models of buildings (BIM) or 2D floor plans (CAD). IWMS is ideal for more complex portfolios of leased and owned buildings and offers CAFM functionality plus robust financial capabilities.

If you haven’t experimented with or implemented these tools, the time is now. Technology is critical for the planning re-entry to the workspace and allows you to create space plans based on a variety of algorithms that consider various social distancing guidelines and plans. Move management software can also help schedule the movement of workers back into the office.

In addition to successfully operating today, technology will also help you strategically plan for future pandemics, or if the virus cases increase again in the Fall.

Coming out of any crisis, it’s important to think about the lessons and opportunities that came to light. As your dream team of facility management, corporate real estate, human resources, IT and finance come together to devise your next steps and new “normal”
workplace, remember that cross-team collaboration, strategic planning, technology and data-driven decisions can help create a workspace that is safe and runs more efficiently that it ever has.

While the following is a fictional enactment, the concepts are based on real world examples after 4 months of office lock-down following the global CV-19 pandemic.

Antonia, a senior corporate real estate and facility management director, arose this morning with a happy, but cautious expectation for the day. Although she adores her husband and two teenage children, she is happy to get out of her home workspace and head to her actual office. She is preparing to go back to the Empire State Building in Manhattan where her global financial institution has its headquarters. She is directly responsible for the agile workplace of all the company’s owned and leased real estate portfolio, as well as the facility management work.

Trimble Manhattan IWMS in NYC

It is Phase 2 of NYC’s 2020 reopening plan and there have been around 100 new cases reported/day which is better than most US cities are faring. Only 10 employees are returning to Antonia’s office today to test out the results of the new lobby and office redesign, as well as new policies and procedures that have been created for the operations and maintenance staff, as well as those for the employees and management.  

Due to the newly recognized criticality of the workplace to the work of the organization, Antonia has been assigned to the Executive Committee where it was decided that the headquarters location would have a new dual purpose. 

Following the success of the remote work that occurred during the lockdown, and the new scheduling arrangements of a hybrid or networked approach to utilizing the closest branch locations for work or work from home, the headquarters would also become the new Center for Innovation and Learning, with a phased return of employees, starting with only those needed to be in that location due to their work practices. 

The company recently announced a global mandate that nobody has to return to the office if they don’t want to in 2020.  For those employees that do return to the office, booking a desk for a whole day is the new requirement in order to meet the company’s updated sanitization program.

Book a desk with Trimble Space Scheduling

Employees can schedule available workspace through their space scheduling mobile app using reconfigured floor plans. Antonia felt confident the mandatory pre-booking through the desk booking software will allow them to allocate those limited workspaces fairly and safely. As part of their return to office plans they have also turned conference rooms into workstations, with some of the rooms being used as innovation spaces to experiment with some new ideas for employees to enjoy and be able to collaborate.

Antonia has missed her work colleagues and the innovative ideas that came about when unlikely thoughts from different departments collided to solve a workplace problem. She was also looking forward to working with the new Agile Response Team (ART) with representatives from IT, HR, the Director of FM (tasked with fine tuning building systems and analyzing the metrics for maximum performance for the building occupants’ well-being and productivity.) and of course, Finance.

With the ART team and regular Zoom meetings, Antonia headed the work on the Agile Workplace Short Term Recovery Plan. She thought of a quote from one of her favorite photographers, Annie Leibovitz, she had read recently:

“If you want to go forward, you have to look back, and I’ve done that my whole career- and the work I’m doing now looks back.”

This idea came to her when she had recently stumbled on a thin paper-back book entitled ‘The Agile Workplace‘ which was a synopsis of the research project she worked with researchers and professionals who supported the year-long study in 2001-02 headed by MIT’s Michael Joroff and Gartner’s Michael Bell, two leading experts in the workplace.

Conceived around the same time as agile software development, the concept the research project came up with of agility in the workplace began with an understanding of the work of the organization which was to be accomplished in the environment and understanding the dynamic relationship it had with the tools needed for that work (i.e. technology) and the workplace.

The agile workplace was defined as a system of occupancy, connectivity and services that represents integrated workplace strategies which included a network of places and spaces (they called these ‘e-workplaces’, but today they are known as digital workspaces by this author).

What also came out of that research was a concept called the Enterprise Total Cost of Ownership (ETCO). This meant the cumulative costs of providing physical workplaces and digital workspaces which can allow one to benchmark costs of company provided workplaces and spaces vs. costs to work from home. Understanding these costs were now more important than ever as budgets were being slashed through the entire company. Antonia had to present a strong ROI to the Executive Committee when she presented the changes to the workplace needed to make employees want to come back to the office for collaboration and new experiences as an alternative to working from home.

One major technology deployment she had overseen pre-pandemic was the implementation of an Integrated Workplace Management System. Antonia had selected a global system to assist in the work that she and finance had to do under the FASB ASC 842 and IASB IFRS 16 regulation changes, but she could now use its other modules to review their lease obligations, analyze their portfolio of buildings and create scenarios for the new real estate plans due to adjustments needed for employees health and well-being.

She and her husband summoned an Uber for their ride in the city as public transportation was still too risky in this phase of the reopening of NYC. As Antonia sat back in the car, an idea came to her out of the blue. Years ago she worked at a multinational technology company where she remembered hearing the stories from Daniel, an ‘old timer in corporate real estate’, of life there in the 70s and 80s when the company created the ‘branch offices’ in the US and around the world. Daniel talked about what a glamorous time he had visiting these very successful offices in cities around the world, how they all had similar interior environments, and cultures. And the conferences that he attended which occurred in the great cities of the world, particularly the international real estate event held in Cannes, called MIPIM, every year. She thought, “Zoom meetings really just aren’t the same.”

MIPIM Cannes

Anyway, Antonia thought of this as she was trying to figure out what to do about the many remote workers that needed a respite from their work from home and a way of tapping into what psychologists call the ‘weak ties’ fostered by face to face contact with people from other parts of the company which were often the best source of new ideas. Perhaps she could do the same thing in some of the more remote areas of a country as hubs or satellites or even use co-working locations, if they could figure out how these offices could become more agile and healthy.  She’d also read that some hotels were turning their bedrooms into offices to be rented for the day now that overnight stays were not filling up all of their rooms.

The Uber pulled up to the building and let Antonia out… 

To hear the end of her day back in the office and about the results of her Agile Workplace Plan tune next week to read ‘A Story of Reimagining the Workplace Part 2’.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are facing entirely new utilization and wellness challenges. When bringing employees back to the workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Each organization will face unique circumstances. Some will have too much space; some may stagger the return to the office; and others may ask that most of their employees continue to work remotely. At the same time, the risk of regional flare-ups of COVID-19 that could result in “local lockdowns” also impacts scenario planning.

For this reason, data and technology play a significant role in the return to the workplace, not just in keeping employees engaged and safe by maintaining social distancing and creating a productive environment, but also in maintaining buildings, maximizing space, and analyzing costs.

Organizations, and specifically CRE and facility management professionals, need to understand the variables and restrictions for each of their sites around the world so they can review workplace scenarios at micro- and macro-levels. With this understanding, organizations can determine the number of people they can safely fit into each floor or building using a variety of physical distancing measurements.

Quickly identifying optimized plans can be challenging. Testing different scenarios will be an ongoing process in an effort to welcome employees back in phases and respond to a rise in cases, changing company policies, or new government regulations. Organizations that rely on manual processes to compare multiple office floor plan scenarios or seating charts will find the process time-consuming, costly and, sometimes, inaccurate.

For years, workplace management technology has helped organizations streamline processes and maximize workspace utilization. In the COVID-threatened workplace, that same technology is now being used to safely return employees to the workplace.

Integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) make it easier for CRE and facility management professionals to gain a clear understanding of the optimum workspace capacity for each setting. Integrated space planning tools enable users to model different scenarios — from setting safe physical distancing limits between desks to splitting common functions between different floors and/or buildings to reduce risk.

Even more importantly, before the pandemic, some organizations were turning their facilities into “smart buildings”, using different types of sensors to provide accurate, real-time data for improved automation and control.

Today, sensors can be used to support a phased return to work for employees. When combined with an IMWS solution, organizations can leverage sensors to collect and report on key data for monitoring and planning workspace occupancy, usage, and cleaning.

At global design, architecture, and engineering firm HOK, planning the return to work brings new opportunities. “As we return from remote work, we acknowledge that there are big and small adjustments we can make to improve sanitation and safety in the workplace,” said William Mitchell OAA, LEED AP, Architect and Principal at HOK. “A silver lining of our forced COVID-19 isolation is that it has given us a lot of time to think more holistically about our built environments and use this time to make them better.”

The firm is being proactive in creating healthier environments with reduced opportunities to transmit germs and viruses. For example, considering ways to dilute airborne contaminants and lower transmission opportunities, as well as maintain optimal humidity because viruses survive better in low humidity environments. By adjusting HVAC systems, the firm can obtain an optimal range of 40% to 60% humidity. As we return to the workplace, “we must be proactive and create healthier environments with reduced opportunities to transmit germs and viruses,” said Mitchell.

HOK is also using Trimble’s IWMS software to plan and manage its post-pandemic workplace. With this IWMS technology in place, HOK can analyze data to plan and deploy a successful back to the office strategy and optimize safety in a pre-vaccine workplace.

A Safe Return To The Workplace

Across the world, the main challenge faced by organizations is maintaining social distancing in workplaces built for higher utilization. However, with accurate building data on hand, workplace management technology such as IWMS can help create space plans based on new configurations that follow requirements for physical distancing. For example, organizations can create teams of employees, each with its own designated bank of desks for use on certain days of the week. Algorithms automatically apply physical distancing policies to the floor plans relative to the number of employees that need to occupy the space. This allows decision makers to compare different scenarios and as regulations or circumstances change, easily make adjustments or test entirely new scenarios.

Adding sensor technology to the mix can help organizations understand, in real-time, which areas have been occupied and need to remain unoccupied until they are cleaned and sanitized. And, sensors can track evolving usage and utilization, monitor policy versus culture, and highlight hotspots.

However, the biggest challenge for many organizations is capturing data when they lack the systems to do so. Organizations without sensors can bring data into an IWMS from other sources such as badge swipes and IP addresses. For example, if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, badge data can help investigate the movement of an infected individual and identify others they may have come into contact with so that notification can begin to prevent further spread.

Using Data To Make Real Estate Decisions

Organizations are also tapping into data to make informed decisions about their real estate portfolios. As the second largest expense on the balance sheet, there’s no doubt that real estate will come under increased scrutiny as organizations emerge from the initial phase of COVID-19.

For many, their space needs will never be the same again. At the same time, the rise in remote work and potential decrease in revenue will force some organizations to re-evaluate their entire real estate portfolio as they look for opportunities to lower costs and maximize critical assets. Easy access to a combination of utilization and financial data, and the ability to analyze that data is the best way to make informed decisions. Managing lease obligations on both a micro and macro level and understanding the impact decisions will have on the overall portfolio is best done with real-time data.

James Gorman, Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO, believes that company will more than likely come out of this crisis with a smaller real estate footprint due to its successful remote work program, which involved 90% of the financial institution’s 80,000 employees. For organizations in this same situation, making both short- and long-term strategic decisions to downsize the portfolio is best done with accurate data and the ability to explore various options to mitigate unnecessary cost while providing a safe and healthy work environment.

With IWMS software, organizations can assess outcomes from alternative leasing and occupancy scenarios — and the likely change to variable costs from further lockdowns or reduced occupancy periods. Decision makers can also use this data within an IWMS to identify areas of wasteful consumption, such as HVAC or lighting, and the financial impact of potentially reducing this consumption and thus, lowering costs.

The New Normal

Leaders in organizations around the world are being forced to make strategic decisions faster than ever. Real-time data will not only ensure that employees are safe and productive, but will also help forecast further changes to workplace requirements as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually eased. Beyond this, data and technology that consolidates information for a single source of truth can help organizations plan for the future with confidence and contract in times of need or expand in times of growth. Regardless of your role in planning for workplace change in a post-pandemic world, data can give you the confidence in the decisions you make, from distancing to cleaning and beyond.

Part two of four articles dedicated to ‘business resilience’ in the world of the ‘new normal’

This is the phase we are currently working in (April-May 2020) which is mainly focused on keeping buildings in the real estate portfolio either closed successfully and maintained and secured and/or ensuring the ones that need to be open for limited part-time occupancy are safe, secure and healthy for limited occupancy by employees.  

There has also been phenomenal proof during the use of a hammer for our “shelter-in-place”  dictate that remote working can be effective. This has been picked up by  the media looking for new news items as journalists could no longer report on the glamorous worlds of the rich and famous so they have examined topics on the “new normal” and focused on under reported topics like the “workplace”. As Kate Lister, an expert in remote working and key leader in WE (not the Madonna movie on Wallis and Edward, but the IFMA Community, Workplace Evolutionaries), “the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back” talking about working remotely which had great resistance from management through the years.  Eight years ago, the then CEO of Facebook called all remote workers back to their offices in Silicon Valley as she thought they were ‘hiding’ in their homes.  So much for trust.

At the same time, this is also the period to prepare for the next phase when the world opens its doors again and which is currently just beginning, the ‘Recover’ Phase.  However, these concepts and action items, as Dr. J. Allen Director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program has said, “Everyone has to be really clear, there is no such thing as no risk.” The goal of this phase is to reduce that risk and begin to work on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs are shown in the previous section of this series of articles) and at the same time follow the short term strategic plan that fits the current scenario.

The following are some action plans for this first phase based on categories:

(1) The Workplace: What is needed immediately is data on the existing portfolio of buildings which includes information on the location of each rented or owned property, the local conditions (including the latest data on the virus), as well as regional and country information and any current new legal or government regulations. Buildings’ inventories should include basic data on both the condition of the exteriors and interiors which will be used for the preparation for occupancy again in the next phase. Current exterior information should include the existing condition of exterior cladding and the roof. Interior information should include existing as-built floor plans and major equipment information along with preventive maintenance schedules and history.

If buildings or floors of a building are leased, the critical dates are required. It is also necessary to have an inventory of current capacity, utilization and occupancy for each floor and each business/functional unit required usage. Then you also need to determine what kind of workplace policies you have determined for the next phase: move to all or partial reservable desks; reassign existing workstations according to new ways of working or assign people to fixed desks/workstations and create schedules for occupancy.  Depending on the tools you use (see Technology section below), you should be able to work out new space plans based on new configurations following existing requirements for physical distancing (see Technology section below). The “foundation” of planning for the re-entry in the next phase is:

  1. Hazard Elimination (the hammer of ‘shelter in place’)
  2. Personal Substitution (scheduling bringing key employees back in stages)
  3. Engineering Control (see Operation below)
  4. Administrative Controls (See sections below and includes change management  and signage programs )
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (provide protective gear like masks  or other devices and disinfectants in critical and common areas)

(2) The Workforce:  Taking care of employees is now, more than ever, a top priority for organizations. HR should prepare the workforce for re-entry and should be leading the efforts to try and alleviate any anxieties (physically, emotionally and psychologically) of returning to work.  There should be a detailed change management plan in place.Also what should be provided to the Taskforce is the employee/contractor list of who is returning with information on the type of work area/workstation required according to their job category, which phase/shift they will be moved into which building, and/or how many days/week they will be working remotely There also may be a classification as to which occupants are immune and which are not (this looks unlikely that one who has had the virus previously will not mean they are immune, but with the latest data coming from the scientists daily, their findings changing often, will have to monitored closely).. Social distancing strategies will also have to be determined based on the latest scientific findings. The current distancing recommended (CDC) reveals that a 6’ separation greatly reduces the transmission of harmful droplets in the air transmitting to another person.Added to the FM workforce could be people who could also assume the role of a Covid-19 Block Captain(s), PPE Training Experts, Quarantine Marshalls and Supply Managers.

(3) Strategic Planning:  With the above baseline information, it is possible to execute various ‘what-if’ scenarios for both short term and long term planning. One CEO, who has been overseeing Morgan Stanley’s strategic planning, is James Gorman who has himself recovered from COVID-19.  He believes that his company will more than likely come out of this crisis with a smaller real estate footprint due to their successful remote work program which involved 90% of the financial institutions 80,000 employees.  Its positive results he credits both his technology and operations teams. According to Nestor Rindon, Vice President at Morgan and one of the key people involved in the team that Mr. Gorman was referring to, has said ‘planning moving back to the office changes daily (for a phased move which is scheduled for May, June and September) and is HR driven.’ There are two cardinal rules: 1) don’t ______with the revenue generating function and 2) cut costs in the back office.”

(4) The Market (RE): Due to small business and retail closures, as well as corporations realizing they may need less space due to successful remote working from home experiences necessitated by the hammer.  Commercial real estate brokers are suffering from the pandemic and do not see much good news on the horizon.  The one positive light for them at the end of this dark tunnel is that due to Social Distancing, organizations which still need workspaces will require enough space to include layouts that take Social Distancing. into consideration.

(5) Facility Operations/ Buildingomics: There is the current need to follow the most up to the minute guidelines from the CDC, EPA, OSHA, WHO and any other national, regional or local health services organization. For buildings that need to be closed, it is most likely you have done procedures like the following: keep HVAC running to prevent the growth of mold. 

For preparation of the next phase, the following 9 areas (all pertaining to SDG#3- ‘good health and well-being’) could be used as a foundation for the short term plan:

  • Air quality – choose supplies, furnishings and materials with low chemical emissions; check for legacy pollutants (i.e. lead, asbestos), use vapor barrier to limit any intrusions; humidity levels should be 30-60% to mitigate odor issues.
  • Thermal health – meet minimum and comfort standards for temperature and humidity and keep both consistent throughout the day (as well as monitoring).
  • Moisture – conduct regular inspections of roofs (see technology section), plumbing, ceilings and HVAC equipment and determine underlying source if a problem is found.
  • Dust and pests – use filter vacuums which are high-efficiency and clean surfaces more than normal cleaning schedules; develop pest management plan.
  • Safety and security – ensure fire safety and carbon monoxide standards are met and emergency action plans are available to all building occupants.
  • Water quality – meet the US National Drinking Water Standards.  Install water purification system for removal of contaminants; prevent water stagnation in pipes. 
  • Noise – control as much exterior and internal noise as possible.
  • Lighting and views – during the day provide as much natural light as possible and/or blue-enriched lighting; plan to provide as much exterior views for workers and incorporate as much nature as possible in work environments.
  • Ventilation – meet or exceed air ventilation guidelines;  monitor ventilation in real-time.

(6) Technology: If you have not done so to date, now is the time to join the 4th Industrial Revolution (as described in part one of this series of articles). In order to collect and report on all of the data that you need for the action plans, you will need to implement a computer-aided facility management system (CAFM) or an integrated workplace management system (IWMS).  This becomes the centralized repository of existing conditions and other baseline data, as well as providing strategic planning, space planning (programming), move management, room booking and financial analysis.

  • CAFM & IWMS: CAFM consists of basic inventory data, maintenance functionality, strategic and tactical planning applications with integration to 3D models of buildings (BIM) or 2D floor plans (CAD). IWMS is for more complex portfolios of buildings (often with both owned and leased buildings) with CAFM functionality plus robust financial capabilities (including FASB and IASB accounting). Technology is critical for the planning of moves back into the office for this phase: 1) new space plans based on different algorithms that look at various social distancing guidelines and new plans that take some desks/workplaces out of use when using those guidelines and 2) move management software which schedules the movement of workers back into the office. Either of these systems allow for whatever dance steps one has to prepare for to respond to changes in plans which are predicted to come in the next phase, like the virus is predicted to come back with a force again in the fall.
  • BIM (Building information Model):  Many of us have been singing the values of BIM and the creation of ‘digital twins’ of cities (Singapore) and buildings (integrated with IWMS data) for virtual communication for management, workers, designers and clients, but the costs were more prohibitable until lately when we can now view BIM models on smartphones, iPads and laptops. Reduced costs and the hammer of forced isolation has made necessity the mother of invention and now we have to turn to BIM to understand the progress of both new construction and rehabilitation projects virtually as we no longer have the luxury of physically going to the site.
  • CAD:  It is unlikely that the readers of this article are not using this tool for rendering as-built floor plans, and can be produced from a BIM representation.
  • GIS (Geographic Information Systems):  These systems which most universities have implemented for campus maps, are perfect for understanding site conditions, transportation patterns and now, Coronavirus outbreaks and deaths/city, and treatment centers as depicted on a map.
  • 3D and 4D Printing: These are being used today for everything from equipment to building parts to entire structures which could be useful if there is any problem with the supply chain delivering products due to interruptions in service because of the pandemic.
  • VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality):  While the advantage of utilizing these technologies have been known for years as they allow a more visual understanding of a design concept or construction project, the cost is rapidly declining which should make including these tools more affordable to facility management professionals.
  • Project Management:  As projects will increase in the next phase, this is the time to experiment with project management tools. This tool allows for the user to capture the critical data for every phase of the project for reduced risk, better scheduling and more informed decision making.
  • IOT (Internet of Things):  Sensors can be applied throughout the workplace for inventory management, utilization tracking, waste reduction, remote monitoring; or workforce badges can be utilized for tracking and monitoring collaboration (if permitted by law/and/or the individual.
  • AI/ML (Artificial Learning and Machine Learning): These technologies can be utilized for advanced planning, water management, building maintenance, lease abstracting, fault detection and parking assistance.
  • Drones: These flying ‘creatures’ can be utilized for hard to reach facility condition assessment, inspections of remote site locations, monitoring construction projects, delivery of supplies or equipment and aerial views of projects at any stage of construction, as well as security.
  • Robots: currently serve as security guards, delivery assistants, janitors, as well as security guards.
  • Facial/voice Recognition: By using biometrics (a person’s unique biomorphic trait like face, eyes) instead of physical items for access which could replace cards or physically touching a surface during this time of virus transmission. Also consider voice activation tools.
  • Infrared Fever Screening System: this was developed by the Singapore government during the SARS epidemic at the turn of the century and recommended by Gensler in a recent webinar which was recorded on the IFMA website (#5), www.ifma.org.
  • Large TV-like Screens: Since Social Distancing will most likely not encourage “drop bys” to see what other people are working on, large screens could be placed in a central location which project images of projects that teams or individuals are working on.  These were used in a NYC media firm’s work environment very successfully.

The next article in this series will focus on the ‘Recover’ stage. If you have an immediate need to address the unique workplace planning and management challenges COVID-19 has created, please contact the Trimble Manhattan team at realestate@trimble.com for a demo or more information. 


Part one of four articles dedicated to ‘business resilience’ in the world of the ‘new normal’

Late one evening a guest on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s show gave a fascinating interview. Tomas Pueyo discussed his March 19, 2020 article for the publication Medium entitled “The Hammer and the Dance” when describing the methods of how the pandemic was dealt with by countries around the world and the efforts to re-entry into our society and restart the economy. The hammer refers to the draconian methods of how we had to close our economic and educational systems down which sent us back to our homes to ‘shelter in place’ for what has turned out to be weeks turning into months.

This reality of why we have had to use a hammer was to try and not overwhelm our hospitals with more CV-19 patients, but it has made even us eternal optimists have doubts, as Dr. William Schafner, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University revealed, “My optimistic side says the virus will ease off in the summer and a vaccine will arrive like the cavalry. But I’m learning to guard against my optimistic nature.”

And when the next phases happen as the economy opens up again, when workers move back to the altered state of our workplaces, it will be like a dance where each step or phase needs to be choreographed by a collaborative team of leaders from facility management, real estate, human resources, finance and IT. While HR and IT have awakened to the importance of both the physical and digital workplaces and spaces over the last few years, finance has just figured out the value of their real estate and facility management functions to not only cost cutting efforts, but productivity of the workforce, as well as talent retention and acquisition.

Ben Weber (MIT, author and colleague of the social physicist, Sandy Pentland), Greg Lindsay (author and journalist) and Jennifer Magnolfi (founder of Programmable Habitats) predicted in a Harvard Business Review article in October 2014 that, “office space is not just an amortized asset, but strategic tool for growth”, but even though this idea should have come to the attention of the C-suites as it was published in one of their beloved magazines, it still was not embraced as widely as one would expect.

This article will describe what action items these professionals can take in each phase during ‘the hammer and the dance’ and what follows in the third phase when we hopefully have learned from the first two and execute plans which will constitute the ‘new normal’ which hopefully, by this time, the dance will have bought us enough time for scientists to have developed a vaccine to prevent and cure CV-19.

An introduction to the phases of creating the ‘new normal’ workplace

There are three phases for creating the new workplace for organizations to thrive in today’s chaotic environment to be able to make the most out of whatever the “new normal” means in the unpredictable future we now face. These phases include 1) Respond, 2) Recover and 3) Resilience.

In this first phase we are currently in, we must recognize that we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution with new and older proven technology tools available to us to plan, design, construct, manage and operate the workplace which could transform our work and our lives. In the aftermath of the crashing effects of the pandemic, if we haven’t experimented or implemented these tools, the time is now.

One way to experiment is to become partners with your local university or community college (contact one of their programs concerning the built environment- like FM. architecture, engineering or sustainability and invest in their department research) and tap into their research and ‘living labs’ which can give you the required brain power and resources to try some of these new technologies using your company as a case study.

Also consider collaborating with community non-profit organizations who may also have their own ideas (particularly on energy savings which could involve a group of buildings in a neighborhood) activities like physical distancing will be important in how we plan our re-entry into workplaces, as it is in our cities and neighborhoods (as also social justice where we have ‘just cities’ replacing the concept of smart cities as evidenced in research at places like the ‘Just City Lab’ at Harvard Graduate School of Design).

It is important to note that the way we implement technology in the second phase, ‘Recover’, is also very important to make a positive step for our society. It is therefore recommended that you consider adopting the UN’s 17 Sustainability Goals (see below ) which will be referenced in the Action Plans in the description of the next two phases.

Sustainable Goals

By adopting these goals, this will also reflect on the importance of social justice to all of the sustainability work including the workplace. This will become even more important post -pandemic when we have a chance to improve society while at the same time being kinder to our planet.

We also now have clearly defined metrics to measure performance in this second phase (both old ones and newly created ones like metrics for wellness and labels for ‘just buildings’). This is also important since transparency of our actions will be something all organizations will have to be aware of during this dance.

The third phase, ‘Resilience’, is the most difficult one to predict as we can only predict what the dance steps will be: will there be more gardens on our roofs automated for optimum growth? Will Google be the biggest real estate company in the world? Will our workplace walls be smart enough to give us preliminary answers to our workplace problems? These are just a few questions we may have to deal with in predicting the environments we expect to thrive in for the future.

The next article in this series will focus on the response stage and the need to focus on scenario planning and operational management of real estate, covering topics from seating scenarios and new workspace configurations to facility restrictions and visitor management.

If you have an immediate space planning, workspace scheduling and strategic portfolio management technology need, please contact the Trimble Manhattan team at realestate@trimble.com.