In the wake of Covid-19, organizations around the world are rethinking space utilization, employee engagement and well-being, sustainability and the overall real estate portfolio. Even the short-term task of reconfiguring floor plans, assigning desks and managing routing is incredibly complex and based on constantly-shifting factors.
For global real estate advisor Avison Young, bringing employees back to the office has been a long-term strategic process and combination of teamwork, technology and new ways of thinking that put its people front and center. “Remote working was far more effective than we could have imagined and we welcome the fact that many people have entirely shrugged off the lingering belief that equates presenteeism with productive working,” said Jason Shaw, global leader of technology operations at Avison Young.
“At the same time, we fundamentally believe in the importance of physical offices for people in different stages of their lives and careers and we need to ensure that our workplaces facilitate collaboration and are safe.”
In June 2020, Avison Young announced a phased plan for welcoming some employees back to the office. The pandemic was a pivotal moment for the firm to consider new possibilities for a hybrid approach, enabling employees to work from home or in the office based on which best suited their day’s activities and personal situation. Balancing the needs of its employees, led Avison Young to embrace a safe blend of home working and utilization of dynamic office space. “It’s important that we treat our employees as individuals and give them a choice in where and how they work,” said Shaw. “For those who prefer to continue working remotely, we made returning to the office voluntary. By allowing our workforce to maintain a level of flexibility and agility, our employees can enhance their work-life balance, put themselves and their families first and improve productivity as a result of greater freedom from workplace restrictions.”
Rethinking Strategy and Leveraging Technology
To safely welcome those who wished to return, Avison Young optimized plans for a variety of physical distancing measurements. Office spaces were adapted to ensure distancing and guidelines were established for rigorous cleaning and hygiene protocols, as well as track and trace protocols and space reservations.
With the careful planning and strategy underway, Avison Young needed to rethink how space and services would be managed. Before COVID-19, the company operated a flexible, collaborative workspace environment for its 1600+ employees. However, the post-pandemic return to the office required greater workspace control and more effectively managing space and services to ensure employee safety.
At the time, Avison Young was using Trimble’s ManhattanONE to manage reservations and utilization for meeting rooms and associated services across its 17 offices. To help ensure safe distancing and protect the wellbeing of employees, the firm expanded its use of the platform to take advantage of its FlexiDesk and Mobile Booking modules for control over desk access and configuration, touch-free QR code check-in and contact tracing.
ManhattanONE’s FlexiDesk is a workspace reservation solution that makes it easy for employees to book a desk from their desktop or mobile devices. FlexiDesk provides planners with support for desk zoning by department and desk type classification, reservation rules and control, and reporting for analyzing the use of workspaces.
When used in conjunction with ManhattanONE’s mobile booking app, the solution gives Avison Young employees easy access to interactive floor plans and search functions that allow them to quickly find and book safe, sanitized workspaces directly from their mobile devices. The app also allows employees to locate colleagues without leaving their designated workspace, which minimizes unnecessary movement around the workplace.
Future-Proofing the Return to the Office
In recounting the firm’s path to returning employees to the office, Shaw shared that there is no “one size fits all” approach to safe social distancing. “Re-opening our offices meant considering numerous, complex scenarios and required a mix of strategy, collaboration and technology,” said Shaw.
“Initially, we could only accommodate 25 percent occupancy. With mandatory pre-booking through FlexiDesk and mobile booking, we’re able to allocate those limited workspaces fairly and safely.”
The unpredictable nature of COVID-19 also requires businesses to make adjustments and changes at a moment’s notice. “With ManhattanONE, we can quickly make more desks available or make other changes to our plan as needed and if the safe distancing guidelines and requirements change.”
Capturing Critical Data
Contact tracing is also a crucial part of Avison Young’s return to the workplace. “Key to keeping our offices COVID-secure is knowing which employees are on-site and where they are seated so we can use the information for COVID-19 tracking and tracing if needed,” said Shaw.
Today, employees use QR codes to check-in to spaces and the corresponding data is stored in ManhattanONE, allowing Avison Young to identify others who may have been exposed should an employee test positive for COVID-19. This data also provides space utilization trend data that helps Avison Young’s corporate real estate team make informed decisions and maximize the firm’s real estate portfolio.
The Road Ahead
For businesses around the world, the pandemic is presenting an opportunity to fine-tune the way workspace is utilized, managed and optimized. It is changing the way we work and presenting new challenges for businesses to consider both in the short- and long-term. While welcoming employees back to the office during a pandemic is nothing short of complex, the right mix of strategy, communication and technology can simplify the process and make a safe workplace a reality.