The great return: what will it take to make employees feel safe?

In our regular roundup of new workplace perspectives, we share a survey of office employees on safety and wellbeing, and capture the views of an American pioneer of organisational network analysis

In the latest of our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, created to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share perspectives on how to plan a safe and effective return to work.  This edition is posted 24 June 2020.

What do end users really want?

What do people really want in place when they return to their workplaces? Istanbul-based real estate and hospitality firm Assembly Buildings, surveyed 200 European office workers as part of its work in developing new models for the workplace. The results present an interesting picture. The poll presented 20 potential suggestions to participants, who were asked to rank each dependent on whether they would make them feel 1) not at all safer, 2) a little safer, or 3) a lot safer. The survey also allowed respondents to comment on how Covid-19 might change office space in the future.

There are the key take-outs for both employers and office providers. For employers, staggered start and end times that allow employees to avoid the rush hour was the most popular measure that employers could implement. Commuting on public transport is one of the biggest blockers for employees thinking about their return to work, particularly in busy cities.

Formal work from home rotas/split shifts were also popular measures. Heavily revised corporate sick policies and minimum social distancing rules for meetings were considered moderately impactful. Flexible policies around remote working would be expected by many employees even once the crisis is over, with companies not adopting them being the outsiders.

‘Stringent hygiene protocols make occupiers feel a lot safer…’

For office providers, many of the measures that would make occupiers feel a lot safer were centred around more stringent hygiene protocols, notably: daily antiviral cleans; supplies of masks, gloves and hand sanitisers; and compulsory hand-washing on entrance. Once available, compulsory coronavirus testing for entrants to an office building would make around nine out of ten of respondents feel safer. Antimicrobial coatings on surfaces, antimicrobial air filtration and lower limits on lift capacities would also make the majority of employees feel safer in some regard.

There was a general aversion to open-plan offices, given the increased risk of contamination, and 87 per cent of respondents felt that increased boundaries between desks would make them feel safer. Many respondents anticipate a more ad-hoc approach to office usage in the future, with more people working remotely on a regular basis—requiring increased flexibility in contracts. Don’t say you’ve not been warned.

Who to bring back to the office?

Face to face interaction is more predictive of organisational outcomes than any other collaboration metric to date, but studies have shown that only about 20 per cent of this interaction can be predicted by the org chart. That was the starting point in the latest WORKTECH webinar, a thought-provoking discussion on the power of organisational networks featuring Philip Ross of UnWork and Ben Waber, President and co-founder of Boston-based technology company Humanyze.

With many organisations turning their attention to the future of their real estate portfolio in the wake of extensive remote working, Ross identified that the temptation is to squeeze space by the org chart. However, this doesn’t reflect the real work that’s taking place, making the question of who to bring in to the office and when crucially important. Waber gave an overview of the potential of multimodal data to illuminate the true patterns of interaction within an organisation, allowing for evidence-based, real-time decisions about when to bring people together. Watch a rerun of the WORKTECH webinar here:

The safest places to visit?

Finally, if your thoughts are turning to international business travel again now that lockdown restrictions are being eased, you might like to know which are the safest countries in the world for Covid-19. Forbes magazine has helpfully compiled a list headed by Switzerland in first place, with Germany, Israel, Singapore and Japan filling up the top five berths. Where is the USA? It is ranked at 58 and the UK fares even worse – it occupies number 68. Oh well.

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