Who doesn’t want to be in a good neighborhood – one that’s aesthetically pleasing, has a controlled traffic flow, with great neighbors close but not too close? The office “neighborhood” is predicted to become the primary workplace model for the new hybrid workstyle.
The hybrid workplace, combining a flexible schedule, WFH (work-from-home), and in-office work, sprang up as a way to reduce the risk of covid transmission. It has delivered unexpected benefits: Surprising productivity increases, along with reduced real estate overhead.
Even with a covid vaccine in sight, the hybrid office isn’t likely to disappear any time soon. According to research this year by workplace design consultants Gensler, 52% of workers want to continue dividing their time between home and office. Only 19% wanted to work in the office full time.
Now designers are defining the shape of the ideal hybrid workplace, and the “neighborhood” format seems to answer all the design criteria. Work activities are clustered into “zones” based on the need for privacy or collaboration, quiet head-down tasks, or work involving conference calls or in-person conversations.
Elizabeth Lowrey of Elkus Manfredi Architects describes the hybrid office neighborhoods as incorporating support tools for remote workers (video conference equipment and imaged documents), and flexibility to manage future workplace change. She emphasizes the need to make the hybrid office a magnet. If the office is a choice, not a mandate, it has to be an attractive one.
Neighborhoods also have to be defined physically. As Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Guiding foot traffic through the office is especially important for maintaining social distance and for preserving quiet in heads-down neighborhoods.
One option for office boundaries and traffic is a locker structure. Modern lockers have customizable finishes to complement office furnishings, adding to the attractiveness of the workplace. Many include keyless touchless locks to reduce contagious touch surfaces.
And lockers provide essential storage for hybrid workplaces. Employees who aren’t in the office full time tend to bring a lot of stuff with them when they come into the office. Without an assigned workstation or office, all that stuff has to be stored somewhere.
The new hybrid workplace can be defined as a place where people feel welcomed, where they have supportive tech and a sense of social belonging, where their best work can be done. That sounds like a neighborhood we’d all like to live in.
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RFID is all about the data – how many, what, where, and who. As a data collection system, RFID is hard to beat. It’s fast, it’s accurate, and it interfaces easily with other automated business-information systems. But like any other business system, RFID’s return on investment is a burning issue for managers. When you analyze the data, is RFID a good business decision?
One industry has already done the science and calculated the math for us: Healthcare.
The healthcare industry has incorporated RFID into many aspects of its operations. RFID was first adopted as an inventory management system for medications. As its value was recognized, it was expanded into asset management, as well as patient and personnel location.
Now RFID systems are tracking medication from manufacturer to patient – something that’s especially important in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine. RFID labels are applied at factory, tracked to the pharmacy, and ultimately to the individual patient receiving the medication.
With RFID so widespread in the healthcare sector, the question of ROI arose among decision makers. The Mayo Clinic, whose scientific methodology is unimpeachable, undertook a study of the return on investment of hospital RFID systems. Researchers examined search time, shrinkage rates, utilization rates, and RFID implementation costs in a 600-bed hospital.
And the results? The team calculated:
- Payback of initial installation costs – 2 months
- Three-year projected ROI – 327%
Those numbers would make any accountant smile. Of course, every operation is different, and as the saying goes, “your results may vary.” In other industries, RFID can be even more productive, linking to MIS and ERP systems to create an end-to-end BI (business information) system.
A projected ROI of 327% is quite attractive, and with a customized industry-specific RFID system, you may find your ROI is even better. However, unless you have in-depth RFID experience, it’s best to work with an expert. An experienced consultant will design and install a cost-effective RFID system ideally suited to your business. Break out your calculator and start watching your ROI grow.
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Integrating new digital technology in the workplace inevitably creates a change in corporate culture. You may be digitizing documents to build a searchable, secure e-document database. You might be adding an RFID system to link your ERP system to your MES (manufacturing execution system). But workplace change is not always welcome. How can you build a “digital-positive” culture where the tangible benefits override the resistance to change?
If you’re spearheading a digital integration, these tips can make the transition easier:
- Plan, plan, plan. It would be great to have a crystal ball to tell us what our future needs will be. The next best thing is a cutting-edge industry expert to guide your digital expansion. Work with a vendor-consultant to develop a plan suited to your organization’s specific operations.
- Promote the digital changeover to staff. A lack of buy-in can sabotage your plans. Sell the digital improvements internally, and get everyone excited about the benefits. Keep communicating throughout the integration, and report the results. Upper management may respond to financial benefits, staffers may be interested in making the work easier, but everyone loves productivity improvements.
- Provide training and reinforcement. Some people instinctually understand digital technology. Others don’t. An effective training program tells employees that they are valued, and saves the cost of replacing staffers who might otherwise struggle with digital tech. Further, it ensures that the technology will be used properly and will deliver its promised benefits.
- Establish boundaries for the “always-on” digital environment. The internet never sleeps. It’s easy to start expecting instant responses no matter the time of day. But workers require an “off” switch; insufficient down time results in reduced productivity and burnout. Create a “digital etiquette” policy to set boundaries on staff accessibility.
Digital technology is ubiquitous, and new digital applications spring up like mushrooms every day. No matter how much digital technology your business already utilizes, you will continue to expand your tech systems regularly. Consulting firm Deloitte recommends taking a proactive approach to each new integration of technology, re-interpreting your corporate culture for the new application. When you keep your corporate culture digital-positive, your business will stay productive, retain employees, and increase the customer base.
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With a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, many businesses are developing return-to-work (RTW) strategies. Some organizations have adapted well to work-from-home and they are opting to continue 100% WFH, with its greatly reduced real estate costs. Some essential industries, however, never moved to WFH. Many others see hybrid offices as the best balance between WFH and a physical business presence.
The latter organizations are making changes to build their teams’ “covid confidence” – the employees’ assurance that their work environment is covid-safe. Some facilities are hiring environmental health directors to establish operational policies and systems that reduce health risks. Others are working with consultants to redesign foot traffic patterns and reduce touch surfaces like door knobs, light switches, and paper.
Physical changes to the workplace are only half of the covid-confidence picture, however. The other half is leadership. Employees must trust their leaders to have everyone’s best interest at heart.
Experts list three trust-building behaviors that good leaders exhibit.
- Establish positive relationships with team members. For covid confidence, leaders should routinely check in with their people about their concerns, and work to resolve conflicts.
- Demonstrate knowledge and good judgment. Leaders should be up to speed on covid-safe measures, and use this knowledge to make good decisions.
- Be consistent. Unpredictability is the enemy of trust. Teams trust leaders who do what they say they will do to create workplace safety.
The U.K. think tank Resolution Foundation recently found that 35% of employees were actively concerned about contracting covid-19 in their places of work, despite their employers’ significant covid-safe changes. This high level of concern points to a need for greater trust in leadership.
For a successful RTW transition, teams must have a high level of trust in their employers’ covid-safe workplace measures. Designers and consultants can provide the policies, systems, and structures to create safety. It’s up to business leaders to build return-to-work trust and covid confidence.
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