Like many familiar aspects of business life, the form and function of offices are undergoing rapid change to fit the new reality. Today’s challenges have been an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, in business as well as in our personal lives. As our business operations adapt to the new normal, office designs are shifting to accommodate new workstyles.
Hybrid offices are one example of a pre-Covid trend accelerated by the pandemic. WFH has been far more productive than expected, but teams still feel the need for face-to-face collaboration for certain tasks. Consulting firm Gensler describes the hybrid workplace as promoting collaboration through activity-based design, using advanced technology and unassigned seating within a hospitality-driven atmosphere. Teams work remotely, coming together in a hybrid office as required.
A few major organizations have been test-driving the hybrid office in a hub-and-spokes design. A centrally hub office in the city center provides room for larger group activities, while smaller outlying offices give support to WFH staff living nearby. Hybrid offices reduce office space in the expensive city center, while preserving a visible presence.
Repurposing office buildings’ lobbies is another new-normal trend. In a hub-and-spokes office, the spokes facilities can be integrated into the surrounding community, creating connections among WFH staffers, clients, and the neighborhood. Buildings’ public spaces offer a branding opportunity for tenants to underscore their community involvement, as well as a meeting destination for workers and visitors.
To ensure that these new workplaces function well, designers and office managers are applying the latest in digital technology.
WFH staff need access to project materials whether they’re at home, at a spoke office, or at the central hub. In the hybrid office, paper documents may be stored at the hub, with limited access. But imaged documents are accessible to remote workers no matter where they are. The paper originals remain safely stored in the hub office.
Touchless technology is another asset for the reshaped office. RFID-based apps enable safe touchless entry to secure areas. Touchless lockers provide personal storage for WFH workers traveling to spoke or hub offices. Designers can even use touchless lockers as a physical divider to guide foot traffic and maintain safe social distancing.
Gensler predicts that the new style of office building will be far less insular and self-contained, and far more responsible to its community through creating public spaces, support businesses, and a live-work-play environment. Technology that supports human capital will be the key to successful office design in the new reality.
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This is the sixth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
The fundamentals – interpersonal connections, the natural world, a spiritual-values focus – are easy to lose sight of in the middle of an economic crisis. When things seem to be falling apart, it’s a good time to get back to basics and make sure your foundation is solid, ready to support a new structure.
On a personal level, a few minutes a day for a phone call to a friend or a face-to-face with a family member keeps everyone feeling connected. A walk through a park or a hike in the woods puts us in touch with the natural world. And setting aside time for meditation or worship renews our spiritual selves. A strong personal foundation makes it possible to be a strong business leader.
In the business realm, the same fundamentals of humanity and spirit are basic to a successful enterprise. John Mariotti, President and CEO of The Enterprise Group, recommends keeping these nine business fundamentals top-of-mind:
- “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” (Theodore Levitt) It seems self-evident, yet many businesses end up focused on process instead of customer relationships.
- Provide high-quality and reliable products or services. As Mariotti points out, customers value reliability. Quality and reliability are the underpinning of your brand.
- Keep the customers you have by selling them the products or services that made you successful. Keep your core business solid, especially when presented with new opportunities (and the risks that come with them).
- Charge a fair price. Too high, and you lose customers; too low and you lose your business.
- Always consider what is important to your customers. Listen. What are their pain points, and what can you offer as a solution?
- Know your costs and charge enough to make a profit.“Lose money on every sale, make it up in volume” is not a viable business model.
- Manage your cash flow. Monitor your projected cash flow to stay ahead of any finance issues.
- Keep your eye on the competition, and focus on what made you successful. Your value proposition and your distinctive brand will make you stand out.
- Hire the right people. Team up with people whose skills and attitude complement the values of your business. Protect the team and the brand by swiftly removing any “bad apples.”
We would add a tenth item to this list: Cultivate relationships with vendors who share your customer-centric orientation. Your business relies on customers, but it also relies on vendors to provide services or goods that you don’t make in-house. Seek out vendors who treat you the way you treat your customers.
When you keep your eye on the fundamentals that support all of your endeavors, both personal and business, you will weather the storm.
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Safety is on everyone’s mind these days. The same forces which have disrupted daily life is also disrupting the way facilities are designed, utilized, and maintained. Fast Company is forecasting that the hottest new job in commercial real estate and facilities management is the director of environmental health– a medical expert, preferably with expertise in infectious diseases.
The director of environmental health will be tasked with assessing the health risks posed by current operational systems and policies, and making recommendations for facility-wide changes that reduce health risks. However, individual landlords and tenants are going to be responsible to some degree for including health and safety elements within their own spaces.
Every office uses space differently. High-touch surfaces, traffic patterns, and distancing policies will have be designed to fit each tenant’s needs. Touchless technologyis already available for doors, electronic devices, and personal storage lockers. Touchless lockers with attractive design-friendly finishes can also be used as a separation structure to guide internal traffic, maintain social distance, and reduce contagion.
Also useful in social distancing are RFID wearables that alert staffers when they are too close to each other. RFID(radio frequency identification) is a mature, proven technology for asset management, from inventory control to document tracking to process management. It’s a simple matter to add RFID proximity wearables.
Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate owner with 11 million square feet of office space, predicts that many commercial office space organizations will hire environmental health directors. A focus on enhanced health and safety systems could be a strong marketing advantage in the highly competitive commercial real estate industry. Additionally, having a medical expert on staff is a risk management strategy; owners and operators of commercial properties are protected from claims of health-related negligence.
Tenants, too, can derive some risk management benefits by installing hardware and furnishings specifically designed for workplace well-being. Although many businesses have learned that work-from-home is a productive and cost-effective workstyle, a hybrid of WFH and office is emerging as the new normal. As offices are repopulated, either part-time or full-time, health-oriented designs and policies are going to be the new future of facilities management.
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Touchless technology isn’t a twenty-first century innovation. Automatic sliding doors were ubiquitous long before the “Star Trek” set designers included them on The Enterprise. But now in the COVID-19 era, zero-touch technology has come to the forefront as one of the ways reopened businesses can reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Current research shows that the coronavirus enters the body through the mouth, eyes, and nose. One of the ways virus particles are carried to those entry points is by our own hands; we touch contaminated surfaces then unconsciously touch our faces.
Think of the number of surfaces you touch in the workplace: door handles, chair backs and arms, desktops, pens, notepads, keyboards. And that’s all before you go to the break room and pick up the coffee pot which may or may not have been touched by someone else who may or may not have clean hands. It’s enough to make us all germ-phobic!
Good news: New applications of touchless technology are helping us get back to work without spreading the coronavirus on high-touch surfaces. As reported in Fast Company, voice command technology is one solution that many designers are extending into new areas. Elevators, for example, can be controlled via voice command using technology that already exists. Another touch-free technology: Gesture readers. Retrofitted touchscreens can read gestures without a user actually touching the surface – a big help for retail and museum settings where touchscreens are in common use.
In offices, zero-touch technology is already available. Touchless lockers are one way to keep work areas both uncontaminated and uncluttered. Staffers use RFID-enabled ID badges to unlock their assigned lockers. When these lockers are configured into full height or counter height partitions, they control foot traffic and maintain social distance.
Voice technology, too, is finding its way into offices. Voice commands can link together computers, monitors, and conference systems for presentations and meetings. Presenters avoid manual contact with cables or keyboards.
Everyone is pledged to new cleanliness strategies to reduce the risk of virus transmission as businesses reopen. However, it’s not practical to disinfect every surface continually throughout the day. Zero-touch technologies like touchless lockers, voice commands, and gesture readers are helping to make safe reopenings a reality.
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This is the third in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
Resilience is innate to us all. We have built-in mechanisms to endure and recover from physical challenges, and we can strengthen our physical resilience, as any athlete will tell you. We can strengthen our psychological resilience too, by connecting with others and doing something meaningful every day.
The ability to adapt to challenges and novel circumstances is the hallmark of resilience, not just for individuals but for businesses as well. But unlike human resilience, business resilience is not innate.
Most businesses have provisions for sudden disruptions to supply chains and operations, but few have the same resilience built in to the business model itself. Your old business model may not be holding up well to the challenges of today. But you can modify the model to add a measure of resilience that not only helps your business survive, but thrive in the “new normal.”
The business experts at Gartner offer a five-step approach to improving business resilience:
- Define the current business model.Customers, value proposition, capabilities, financial model – what have they been, up to this point? What has changed in the current crisis?
- Identify uncertainties. What uncertainties are likely to affect the business? Define the disruptions.
- Assess the impact. Create a Business Impact Analysis that covers the categories of impact, the time frame and cycles of impact, the relative weights of different types of impact, and the dependency risks.
- Design the changes to the model. An example: Some organizations are changing to fully remote work, supported by imaging (document conversion) to maintain productivity. Focus on what would need to change in your organization’s model to meet Step Three’s impact; no idea is off limits here.
- Execute. The four previous steps inform the decision-making process. Once decisions are made and the new business model is defined, take an agile approach to execution. Ensure that all department leaders, from IT to customer service, have bought in to the new business model, and are integrating it into their operations.
The same is true for business organizations. Change is inevitable, but it is usually slow and gives plenty of notice. In a crisis, however, change doesn’t wait. No business can be entirely shock-proof, but those which add resilience to their business models can meet the challenge: endure, adapt, strengthen, and thrive.
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Telework has unquestionable benefits – employee satisfaction, health, and productivity are often cited – but without easy access to business documents, those benefits may not be realized.
Forbes reports telework savings averaging $11,000 per employee per year, including the value of healthy, productive employees and the cost savings of reduced real estate and other facilities expenses.
But teleworkers need access to information in order to work efficiently, and that includes access to data which may currently be available only in paper form. Remote sharing of physical documents is obviously unwieldy. Teleworkers must to come to the documents’ location or the documents must be delivered to the remote workers. And if teleworking team members all need the same documents, the logistics get even more complicated and expensive.
All the teleworking productivity gains are wiped out by the paper document bottleneck.
You might think that a simple PDF of a physical document would be easy to share with any teleworker who needs it. That’s true. But what if there are hundreds or thousands of pages that teleworkers need to access? Further, what if they need to search for specific individual elements within those many documents?
That’s where enterprise-level imaging becomes a vital component of teleworking productivity. Imaging, also termed document conversion, creates “smart” digital documents – secure, searchable, and shareable via cloud computing. When paper documents are converted to a smart digital format, teleworkers’ productivity is preserved. Digital documents remain secure (have paper documents ever been lost or destroyed in your business?). And managers can monitor staffers’ work and support their collaborations remotely.
Some businesses have the time, expertise, and resources in-house to plan and execute a comprehensive imaging program. For many, however, an experienced outside vendor saves them the time and cost of a long learning curve and the personnel to administer an imaging program. If your business is making a move to telework, and time is of the essence, talk to a trusted imaging vendor about the best way to convert your paper documents and avoid the information bottleneck.
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