Reopening workplaces: Rethinking daily experiences while managing employees expectations

Aurel Constantin 13/05/2020 | 14:26

Reopening the office requires rethinking the daily experience and setting clear protocols for how everything in the office operates while managing the health and safety risks of our employees. How the returning to work is managed will be critical for employee health and well-being but also for the confidence in their employer and landlord, according the latest data from CBRE, leader in the real estate consultancy market.

“Our experience supporting clients in Asia suggests that reopening workplaces and commercial establishments is not straightforward. From an occupier perspective, we encourage reopening of workplaces to be considered in three stages: planning for the return to the workplace, bringing employees back to work, and most important ongoing management and workplace evolution,” stated Tudor Ionescu, Head of Advisory & Transaction, Office, CBRE Romania.

In Bucharest, the modern office stock is estimated at 3.27 mln. sq m, a total space where are working around 330,000 – 400,000 employees, according to CBRE Research date. Most of this space, around 28%, is located in the north of Bucharest, in the vicinity of Aurel Vlaicu and Pipera metro stations, while 14% is in the CBD (Aviatorilor and Victoriei Square metro stations) and another 13% in the centre-west of Bucharest. In Timisoara, the modern office space stock is estimated at 250,000 sq m, while in Cluj-Napoca is around 320,000 sq m.

A gradual return to work, with new cleaning policies and procedures, will help employees feel safe therefore a clean desk policy, whether that desk is assigned or unassigned, will be essential. In the short-term, seating could be managed in a rotational manner so not only will remote work be supported and trusted by more organizations in the future, but it may be employed as a strategy leading to profound workplace transformation.

“We see right now that people are setting a high bar around their own personal criteria for going back to work, which is normal in a health risk situation. Every aspect of the office life will be scrutinized: getting there safely on public transportation, making it through the lobby, desk routine, meetings setup, navigating once-mundane routines such as going to the restroom, coffee and lunch moments. A simple question like how I get a cup of coffee will imply a new routine. Personal discipline will be at its utmost importance,” added Tudor Ionescu.

Both occupiers and landlords should give serious consideration to new levels of service, materials and activities necessary to facilitate a return to the workplace. Examples of areas that may require advanced sourcing activities and increased funding include enhanced cleaning, introduction of new access protocols (e.g., temperature screening), increased quantities of supplies such as hand sanitizers, wipes but also reconfiguration of work environments and associated technology and equipment, such as touchless technologies. Many tenants will choose to work in shifts and alternate flexible hours so the building may be fully operational more time and therefore the operational costs of the buildings are expected to raise.

“Property managers have a crucial role to play in enhancing safety, creating a trustworthy, but also pleasant work environment, while also keeping all elements under control, such as resources, long term plans and costs. At this stage the focus is on services such as enhanced cleaning and building operations, as health and safety are a top priority both for tenants and landlords. In the medium term however, we expect the focus to be around new technologies, such as touchless entry, energy efficiency tools, automated maintenance software or off-site security solutions,” said Luiza Moraru, Head of Property Management, CEE, CBRE.

Technology can mitigate some concerns. Before Covid, tenants and landlords were beginning to track office usage with sensors that determine if the space is being occupied efficiently. Post-Covid that same technology can identify which heavily trafficked areas need deep cleaning, where density is too high, and which workstations are both free and sanitized.

According to CBRE, we will also see a preference for buildings with ‘healthy’ credentials related to indoor air quality and ventilation, as fresh air reduces the spread of airborne germs. In the longer-term, health and wellness will play a more prominent role in informing building design. Currently, buildings are required to comply with a minimum 20% fresh air intake, while some choose to exceed this requirement by going up to 30%.

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