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How can facilities management and HR teams collaborate to create safe workplaces as teams return to work?

With office usage evolving with hybrid work, it has become important to understand what employees are looking for as they return to work. Digital workplace solutions are key to help facilities management and HR teams collaborate more closely to understand office occupancy. That way they can guarantee sustainability and employee satisfaction.

In the last six months we have seen far more interest in digital workplace solutions, as a means of bringing people back to the office. In creating a ‘smart building’, companies can monitor access to buildings in a completely anonymised way. This helps facilities management (FM) understand how and when buildings are being used and design office space that is both fit for purpose and safe to use. 

But FM isn’t doing it alone. It’s clear from the conversations we are having that FM teams and HR leaders are working more closely than before. Indeed, they share common goals: to ensure the safe return to work of people including sensible desk to people ratios and track and trace compliance. But in working together they can also contribute to better staff retention plans and support a company’s wider sustainability goals.

Collaboration as a priority : how to organise and facilitate it? 

The overwhelming priority for CEOs is to get teams to return to work for face to face meetings and collaboration. While some companies won’t make daily attendance mandatory, they recognise that meeting people in the flesh is good for employee engagement and wellbeing, overall productivity and innovation. If an organisation culture thrives on the exchange of ideas for growth then it is essential to find ways to make hybrid working work brilliantly. This responsibility lays now on the shoulders of HR teams : they are charged with creating the policies that underpin this ambition.  

HR will already have policies in place that support the culture the company needs to succeed. But when the circumstances are so unusual, it’s helpful to turn to technology and data to answer the questions that sit at the heart of their work environment. Do employees want quiet space to work because it’s been hard to concentrate at home? Or will they come in only to use meeting space to exchange information and ideas with colleagues before heading home to work? 

What does return to work look like in practice?

Most companies will survey their teams to find out what they want from an office in the future. This can look at how they used to use a building in terms of fixed or flexible desk space and the teams they are most likely to collaborate with. 

Perhaps more importantly at the moment, it can also uncover how people feel about returning to work. Some people will be desperate to change the four walls they look at each day, others won’t really care where they work so long as they get the right management support. For some, there will be genuine anxiety. 

From this data, HR and FM teams can start to design office space that reflects what the board wants to see happen, what employees want and what social distancing dictates. But it won’t create a perfect solution to begin with because only until people return to work and start using the space will you know if what was predicted is actually what they do. 

This is where a smart workplace solution can help. The data collated by occupancy sensors will give FM and HR insight into how people use a building in real-time. This validates or overturns assumptions and helps facilities teams optimise office space by making adjustments in a way that truly reflects office usage. 

Giving employees confidence as they return to work. 

In our experience of working with numerous international professional and financial services companies, this technology works at its best when it is combined with apps that are really easy to use. Employees just want to scan a QR code to say they have arrived, they want to glance at a diary before they set off certain that there is room for them if they decide to go to the office, and they want to know colleagues they need to talk to will be there. 

That’s why we recommend integrating the technology with productivity tools the company already uses, like Microsoft Teams. As people already use it to plan their day it constitutes a very simple and effective way to book and manage their time in the office too. What’s more it gives people the confidence that they will be safe, that their commute is worthwhile and that they will be productive in doing their job. Above all, they are in control and, from our insight into the outcomes of smart office space design, it’s likely to reflect in their loyalty too. 

Helping organisations adapt thanks to space management

The upside to all of this dynamic and real-time planning for employers is the effective management of the space they own and rent before making any radical decisions that undermine the goals of HR. 

Billions will be saved in office space there’s no doubt. However, our clients tell us that they want to know they are keeping or adapting the right locations. Their objective is to provide a wider range of collaborative open spaces and less ‘individual’ space. This gives them the flexibility to expand and contract facilities as required. It also helps them answer questions like : Is it better to have one HQ or satellite offices that are nearer to where people live? Do people want a long commute by train or a walk to the office? Can satellite offices, like bank branches, be used differently? 

Helping facilities cut costs but still support HR. 

They also need to consider how things like the energy bill might be affected – no one wants to guess these things and waste resources today. It goes against the sustainability values employees, shareholders and customers are starting to cherish more. 

But at a very practical level, FM also wants to know that services are pertinent : Does cleaning regimes reflect where people have been, especially important today ? Does the catering provision reflect the number of people who will be at the office? Knowing that desks will be clean, and that it is possible to get lunch and a coffee on arrival will be really important factors to employees. That way they will look forward to making a trip to the office and in turn it will boost their satisfaction. 

It’s clear that FM and HR need to coordinate their effort to achieve the best outcomes for everyone. Using data and smart workplace technology, as described above is not only proving an extremely important way of working but also providing a clear way of creating differentiation as an employee brand. 

If you’re looking at how you can use smart workplace design to support your return to work plan then talk to us. We can help explain the strategy you need to adopt and share examples of our award winning work. Contact us