The ‘New Normal’ Workplace

As I think back to Christmas Day, I doubt very many people were debating around their tables what life would be like in a ‘global pandemic’ having eaten a Christmas feast without a thought about their food actually arriving in time for the big day. Taking it further would we have discussed keeping our children indoors? Home schooling? Buying food for elderly neighbours? Keeping our families safe from an invisible killer?

Now do something for me, take your phone and look back to the last time you were ‘being normal’, I did; it was a photo of me and my family enjoying lunch in a busy pub in Devon, sat by a roaring log fire on the 21st February. Forward-wind to the 15th March and I find a photo I took in a heaving supermarket commenting to my wife ‘why is everyone emptying the shelves?’. The madness begins…

Like many of us, I have not been into an office building or workspace for over 2 months, but there are signs that I might be able to (if we do things right) in the next few months. That is only if it is ‘safe’ to do so.

What is safe? We can all have educated guesses and having spent the majority of the last two months discussing the ‘new normal’ with my family, friends, colleagues and clients, here are mine:

  1. The journey back to work has to start with a safe working environment for employees, teams and visitors to come to. However, before flinging the doors open to your offices the first questions to answer are;
    • Who needs to come back first?
    • Who can work at home a little longer?
    • Who can become a long-term homeworker without affecting their productivity, mental health and of course the operational efficiency of the company?

Identify and engage with your stakeholders from the board, the heads of department and your service partners to come up with the answers.

A word of warning, getting the above answered needs attention right now, which thankfully everyone in my network is well on the way to solving. So, as I mentioned, we all need to start to prepare our workplaces for the inevitable return of ‘some’ employees.

  1. Maintaining building integrity might be your sole responsibility, or that of a landlord. Either way if you don’t have measures in place to monitor those who come in you are not going to be able to maintain the ‘health integrity’ of your space. A potential melting pot of trouble for your organisation.
  2. We need to rethink our customers journey. Sadly, it’s not about improving on our 5-star service or creating more memorable experiences right now, it’s about hygiene, social distancing, safe mingling at the canteen or in the coffee queue and minimising risk to all. Perspex screens over reception desks, tensa barriers, paperless and contactless visitor management systems are a great start but only really scratch the surface and we need to think way beyond these measures.
  3. We should all get used to the phrase’s ‘proactive maintenance’ and real time monitoring. For example, should reactive maintenance tasks be replaced with a proactive ‘out of hours’ regime? Should, daytime housekeeping be scaled right back? Should we move our security to more of a remote monitoring model rather than manned guarding? I say, all good steps in the right direction.
  4. Do we need to know the occupancy levels of our buildings and the density hotspots around it? Yes, we do. Even prior to COVID-19 this was a good way to manage real estate and its usage, in my opinion this will be a given in every office over a particular size within a couple of years. Many organisations have adopted advanced monitoring over the last few years as the technology has become easier to install and much cheaper, or should I say better value for money.
  5. It is definitely time to get smarter about this, occupancy monitoring takes us one step further and the technology is out there, I’ve seen it and I work with those who develop it. Indoor Air Quality monitoring may not necessarily be a legal requirement nor may it ever be, but the health and wellbeing of your employees should always be at the top of the priority list. If you can proudly announce to your organisation we have good quality, clean air (not saying its COVID free as the can’t happen right now) the likelihood that your organisation’s ‘I want to work for you and feel comfortable in doing so’ O’meter immediately swings in the right direction.

So, is that it? Sorry, no.

Bring the right people together sooner rather than later. It’s vital if a successful and safe transition back to work is a priority. I strongly believe it is not okay to rely purely on your service partners and landlords to come up with the answers. It is everyone’s challenge we must come together.

It’s now, it’s real and it’s all about engagement. Engaging with your people has to be intuitive as it is for me otherwise your workplace is destined to limp into next year. Let’s go ‘all in’ and ensure this crisis is not a hot topic over our turkey dinner in 2020.


About the Author

Will Tyler is a workplace consultant who guides organisations through change by skilfully identifying the best solutions for sustainable and progressive operations. His main focus right now is getting his clients back to work by engaging with key stakeholders to develop strategies and execute urgent plans for new ways of working.

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