The Great Return: mapping out the digital direction for returning to the office

As companies plot their strategy to get people back into the office, many organisations are looking to digital solutions to offer a safe and flexible return

The coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruption to work and workplaces and has posed serious challenges for organisations across the world. One of the key challenges is catering to the new needs and expectations of employees while also enabling a safe and flexible return to the office.

As new data comes to light about employee satisfaction with working from home, the picture is becoming clearer. Although working from home is generally favoured by the majority of employees, there are some aspects of work which still require office space. For example, informal social interaction, hosting visitors and customers, collaboration of creative work, learning from others, and using technical and specialist equipment or materials all still require a physical shared space in which employees can collaborate effectively. But how can employees get back to the office safely and sustainably?

WORKTECH Academy’s most recent Corporate Member, Sony, has been planning for the future-of-work in its digital solutions for several years now. Showcasing new insights and its Nimway product across many WORKTECH events for the past five years, Sony is an important thought-leader in this arena. But thanks to the corona pandemic, the future has arrived a little earlier than expected, and organisations are increasingly looking to digital solutions to facilitate a safe migration back to the office.

Adjusting the technology

Employees who are eager to return to the office to build social connections and collaborative opportunities, want to see critical changes to the office landscape when they return. According to a major study by Gensler (2020), these changes are largely focused on reducing office density. This is where data-driven insights can come into play.

Sony has developed its smart office solution, Nimway, to enable businesses to provide employees with real-time information on wayfinding, desk or room booking and location of colleagues. Before the pandemic, Nimway was primarily used as a tool to unite employees and create more efficient work flows throughout the day. Since the pandemic, Sony has made additions to the solution by adding features to enable low density desk booking and touch-free interactions, and to optimize cleaning routines. These help organisations follow through with some of the new policies they have introduced to ensure the safety of employees returning to the office.

A new system for desk booking

As the guidelines around the pandemic continue to fluctuate, it is important for organisations to be flexible and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. This is the type of flexibility that only smart digital tools can offer since they can be programmed in a matter of hours to reflect (and help enforce) new policies.

Nimway has been adapted to facilitate easy desk booking for employees in such a way as to accommodate new social distancing measures. For example, employees can see on a screen which desks have already been booked, and can choose to sit in a less crowded area or one that is close to their colleagues. Sensors detect when a desk has been used, and can mark it as unavailable until it has been cleaned.

Desks can also be temporarily blocked to ensure that employees are not booking desks right next to each other. This digital solution still provides employees with the autonomy to sit where they want in the office, while simultaneously helping them adhere to social distancing guidelines at desk level.

Touch-free office

One of the biggest challenges in a shared office are the multiple touch points that exist throughout the space. From shared screens and computer equipment to door handles, the potential for contamination is high in a densely populated building. This risk is reduced when touch-free technologies are introduced.

Nimway helps eliminate many of the physical surface interactions that could spread infection in a shared environment. This is particularly evident in its wayfinding system. When looking for a meeting location, employees can scan the digital floorplan of the office and get automatic guidance to their desired location without having to touch the shared screen. If a room needs to be booked or an issue needs to be reported, this can be done via the Nimway app on the individual’s mobile device.

Once employees are in the meeting, the ‘check-in to meetings’ function is triggered and sensors automatically register people’s attendance in the meetings without anyone needing to touch the room panel. Reducing the opportunity for shared touchpoints helps alleviate concerns around hygiene and safety in the office.

Entrance ticketing

Another key concern in the return to the office is office density and people flow. This can now be monitored digitally. The ticketing feature on Nimway enables business owners to control who has access to their premises based on factors such as identity and time. For employees, this feature minimises the interactions with security staff and can speed up access to the building.

Coupled with desk booking, this feature reassures employees that they can enter the office and go straight to their chosen desk with a minimum need for interaction. It also allows organisations to understand how many people are using the building at certain times, which can help them to tailor future policy and choreograph which teams come to the office and when.

Optimised cleaning routines

Cleaning of offices traditionally began when employees had left the building at the end of the working day. Now, offices need to be cleaned more frequently to ensure a higher level of hygiene. In the absence of clear usage data, this process can become inefficient and costly.

Analytics  from the Nimway system show facility services which desks and rooms have been occupied so they can prioritise cleaning those areas. This ensures that the higher density areas are cleaned most often. The system also allows employees to inform facility services about any areas that need extra cleaning or disinfection, directly via their Nimway phone app.

Resilience for the future

As the future-of-work continues to shift, organisations are under pressure to provide innovative, safe and adaptable solutions to accommodate the needs of their employees. Currently, the data and research indicate that employees want a hybrid model for working where they have the choice to work from home or in the office. As a result of this research, employers need to understand what the function of their office will be in the future and how they can adapt the office landscape to accommodate a safe return. A smart digital solution like Nimway gives them the flexibility they need to navigate this period of uncertainty and to be well-prepared for whatever the future might hold.

This article is a WORKTECH Academy promotion with Sony. Sony Corporation is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Kōnan, Minato, Tokyo.
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