Is now the right time to go back to the office? Is it safe to commute there especially using public means? Do I even want to return to the office in the first place? These are questions that team members might be asking themselves, as countries firmly settle into the 2nd wave of COVID-19 infections.
The organization’s leadership, on the other hand, are most likely weighing options such as: How to re-open the office space safely, if it necessary to return to a full-time in-office culture, and what the team members would prefer.
Locally, 77.8% of workers were not sure when they would return to work as reported in a survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on the ‘Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Households Report (May 30 – June 6 2020).
“The return to office spaces will be highly driven by flexibility.”
In the same survey, 59% of the respondents reported a change in their cost of travel due to the pandemic, while 91.3% reporting an increase in the cost of transport. Considering that social distancing guidelines for both public and private vehicles reduced capacity, this is indeed a fact. Which means, even though one was eager to return to work, the cost of the commute is likely to make a dent, on an already affected financial pocket.
Not Business As Usual
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations chose to hit the pause button on their leases, while others shut down their operations entirely.
Now, as the economy gradually opens, and people slowly return to work, attitudes towards the COVID-19 regulations have impacted how they consume and interact with/in an office space.
There remains an underlying thought that things will get back to normal. However, experts agree that the return to office spaces will be highly driven by flexibility or the Drive to Flex. It might mean that we shall probably start to see a demand for flexible office space.
Yet, another group of people are facing a new fate, while their tenants adjust to living in lock-downs, quarantines, and working from home. Office space operators & landlords have been left in a lurch, unsure how to meet their financial obligations, all the while fervently rethinking the future of office space.
It has been a steep learning curve for many office space operators and landlords. In today’s think piece article, we share a few best practices that office space operators & landlords can effect to support tenant requirements and build confidence as people slowly return to the office space culture.
New Age Office Space Tech
As people go back to the office, the tech component for office space, now does not only lie on organizations but also on office space operators & landlords. They are now tasked with ensuring that their office space setups are also compliant with the Government issued COVID-19 Guidelines.
As the drive to flex accelerates, technology is paramount in the tenants’ decision-making process. Organizations expect their office space operations to be frictionless. Such expectations leave the office space operators & landlords scrambling to understand the digitization of physical assets around their premises.
Office space operators & landlords can install technologies like motion-detection sensors in place of switches where possible to reduce physical touchpoints. They can also opt for contactless elevator buttons, sanitizing stations, and door access.
Silence Isn’t Golden
Office space operators & landlords have an opportunity to continually share their plans with organizations on new ideas they have to meet and manage COVID-19 Guidelines. While this might be more difficult than remaining quiet and waiting for the pandemic to blow over, frequent communication on measures being taken to ensure health & safety within the space can help nudge tenants back to the office.
It is also important that the tenants understand and are part of the decision journey and lead them through it with a consistent narrative.
As we look at working from home that was blown-up by COVID-19, the experience has been different for each one of us. For some, it has been quite positive and for others, it has been a high anxiety situation that has not orged well.
It has been reported that team members have suffered from Zoom fatigue defined as “tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing these virtual platforms” in an article by Psychology Today published earlier in 2020. Other known challenges have included loneliness brought about by isolation, lack of motivation & drive to meet KPIs. It has left the organization’s leadership with the task of how to best manage mental health in the workplace.
Organizations are also faced with a new crop of Gen-Z who are joining the workforce without ever having met their teammates & leaders physically. Which in turn could exerstabate the overarching challenge to unsuccessfully manage effective communication and alignment on projects.
All these challenges are brought about mostly by the lack of face-to-face interaction which is core to the human element of working in an office space.
Since, people are returning to the office for culture, human connection, and collaboration; office space operators & landlords have a lot to think about. One aspect is how to rework current premises and layout to be a culturally welcoming space that makes occupiers feel safe and confident to be there.
For example at Nairobi Garage, we have created more open seating spaces. Our decks in Kilimani, and Spring Valley are fitted with differently styled seating areas that allow members to catch up quickly during breaks while observing social distance.
Evolve Or Expire
As demand for flex office space increases, operators & landlords are receiving more enquiries from the 50 to 200 number of employees bracket of organizations who are looking to consume office space differently.
Many want a mix of traditional office space offering and distributed working locations. It is complex without the infrastructure in place to deliver reliable services quickly and efficiently. With the COVID-19 Government-issued Guidelines issued being effected, many more organizations are downsizing and moving to co-working models.
As co-working space providers, we are now tasked with connecting communities. In our case, we opted to occasionally host in-person, social distanced Member Meet-ups on the last Friday of every month. It gives our members a chance network while observing the regulations.
All this in a bid to not only have members enjoy what our office space have to offer; but to also boost in morale as we all continue to grapple with all the challenges that the pandemic has thrown our way.