Let your tech do the heavy lifting for the return-to-office in 2022

Repeated surges of COVID-19 have many organizations delaying or updating the execution of their return-to-office plans. As a result, it’s become more challenging for corporate real estate (CRE) and facilities management (FM) teams to solidify plans to transform workplace performance while respecting the organization’s “wait-and-see” approach.

Why not turn this holding pattern into a period for identifying ways your technology can draw employees back into the office? It’s time to take care of known hiccups in your stack’s functionalities and give your employees more control over their workplace. This proactive approach will ensure that your technology investments are fully realized. After all, your tech stack should be doing the bulk of the work for a successful future return-to-office.

There’s no need to waste the momentum you’ve built getting the workforce comfortable with adopting new technologies for 2022 (and beyond). Here are a few recommendations to jump-start these discussions as your team builds tech into your re-entry efforts.

Tweak your core workplace technology to address new expectations

It’s likely your company deployed new technology to meet the needs of the remote work phenomenon or adapted current tech to perform in the moment. There’s probably already chatter about augmenting those solutions with new tools meant to build a productive, safe, hybrid workplace. But why buy new solutions when you can optimize what’s already there?

For example, your IWMS should be a central source of data reporting and validation—but overnight, the pandemic may have forced your team to add manual steps that slowed that process and reduced employee use. Instead of replacing the platform, what if there were a way to integrate and automate those manual steps—a way that could help your organization stay up to date with new health and safety requirements?

Our recent IWMS Health Check overview provides a detailed breakdown of how your organization can identify functionality gaps and bridge them in a way that’s far less costly than deploying an all-new platform.

Roll out tech solutions based on employee feedback wherever possible

Your re-entry strategy will be most effective when it’s based on employee feedback—and honest feedback comes from the front lines. Partner with HR and leadership to understand what’s best for individual workers, teams, and the company. You might collaborate with HR to send a survey via an employee experience app, with questions such as:

  • How many days a week do you want to work in the office?
  • What will make returning to the office easier for you?
  • Are there extenuating circumstances you’re willing to share that might make returning especially difficult or concerning?
  • What type of work would you prefer to do at the office—for example, large staff meetings, team meetings, brainstorming sessions, individual focus work, etc.?
  • What type of work would you prefer to do from home?

Notably, technology—such as smart sensors—provides data that fall under the umbrella of employee feedback. These sensors provide insights into what employees are actually doing, instead of what they think they’re doing.

Be transparent and communicative

The return-to-office is more of a process than an event. Transmission rates will change as more people are inoculated, and local and regional health regulations can change swiftly. Communicate clearly and often about everything related to re-entry.

The more you can do to prepare people for what the new space looks like, tell them the steps they can take to stay safe in the office, and show them how they can operate effectively within it while still being able to collaborate, the better.

Raymond Hall

Head of HR for JLL Americas

As questions come up, answer them honestly, and be sure to convey that things won’t be perfect at the beginning and that changes that will be iterative. Everyone is learning at the same time, which is why communication must go both ways.

You’ll want to tell employees how technology shapes cleaning protocols, policies, and strategies and plans for the workplace. And you’ll want to provide them with a way to request the use of that technology, ask questions, and report issues. An employee experience app can easily facilitate communication to and from your teams.

Manage the (new) employee experience

“It’s important to consider the psychological impact of physical changes to office space,” said Hall. “There is a multitude of factors to consider, and they all affect the employee experience.”

Be sure to address employee concerns by enacting and enforcing clear protocols for cleaning, building access, and social distancing, based on health mandates, governmental regulations, and company policies. Document these protocols so everyone is on the same page and understands how the policies and procedures will work cohesively.

Start with a re-entry checklist, and consider tech solutions that will make coming back easier and less stressful for employees and your team. For example, touchless technology at doors, in restrooms, and in elevators will reduce the chances of disease transmission—as will automated cleaning. Digital wayfinding can encourage social distancing, and smart sensors can even measure the distance between workers and alert them if they’re too close.

“You may need to limit access to certain areas, implement directional signage, formalize shifts to limit occupancy, require the use of masks, and stagger start times to account for elevator capacity,” added Hall.
Desk- and room-booking apps are quickly becoming common, almost required, and they’ll prove especially useful in the era of the hybrid workplace. Tech that allows workers to control ambient temperature and lighting in their spaces is another way to improve the employee experience.
Consider, too, that some people will continue to work remotely, so it’s essential to work with IT to ensure all meetings have a virtual meeting link (Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, etc.) so remote workers aren’t excluded.

Be flexible

Given the uncertain world we now find ourselves in, change is inevitable. You will learn new things and make adjustments on the fly. Employee sentiment may shift along with external forces or after being back in the office for a while. Technology will enable you to rapidly iterate—and that will earn you and your team the trust of employees and the business.

“Transparency and flexibility will be key to your return-to-work plan,” said Hall.

Your IWMS and other technologies will provide real-time data, helping you make optimal decisions and identify cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you may learn that the spaces you’ve designed for collaborative work aren’t being utilized how you expected. A tool that allows you to design and test new configurations, and optimize your workspaces is a major time- and cost-saver.

Make a technology roadmap

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan. You must first identify what needs to be solved immediately and what can be solved in subsequent waves. There will be obvious, as well as less obvious, considerations for re-entry.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by technology options, so create a timeline to introduce automation and efficiencies at defined intervals. Prioritize data-driven building operations with real-time monitoring and work order management.

In the March 2021 Forrester Consulting white paper, industry professionals revealed the areas they most need expert guidance: technology implementation (53%), technology strategy (51%), data and analytics (47%), technology selection (44%), and system integration (39%).

Choose a partner with deep experience in not only CRE and FM but in the technologies and expertise that help you deliver a healthy, safe, smooth return-to-office.