Seventy percent of employers anticipate downsizing their office space, according to a KPMG survey of CEOs. Pandemic-enforced work-from-home (WFH) has evolved into widespread adoption of the hybrid work style, a flexible combination of time in the office and time working remotely. Some businesses are going near-100% remote, reducing their footprint to a single small office. Many others are shifting to hub-and-spokes offices for their hybrid operations, letting employees put in their office hours in smaller “spokes” offices close to home, and reserving a downsized downtown “hub” office for central administration, IT, and major meetings.
The shift to smaller spaces inspires fear and loathing in facilities managers and operations administrators everywhere. The design phase alone is a daunting challenge; every department has to weigh in with their different, and sometimes conflicting, needs and wants. And then there’s the relocation logistics – what to move, when and how to move it, and where to put it all when it arrives at its new home.
It’s the stuff of nightmares.
It’s also a great opportunity to review office operations and make positive, profitable changes.
- Convert your documents to digital format via imaging
- Save the cost of moving all that paper, not to mention all the filing cabinets to house it. Retain only the necessary paper documents, and shred the rest.
- Support your “spokes” offices and WFH workers with an accessible, searchable database of imaged documents. Keep them on-task instead of spending time searching through folders in filing cabinets.
- Boost your community goodwill (and your bragging rights) by reducing paper consumption and increasing your sustainability rating.
- Convert to an RFID asset management system
- Save the cost of replacing lost furnishings. Tag furnishings to create a locational database, tracking items from office to office, and from room to room.
- Keep track of electronic devices that move from business office to home office and back again.
- Save the time and labor costs of a manual inventory that requires visual identification of assets. Output an accurate report of the business’s assets automatically.
Incorporate these upgrades into your office relocation plan, and you’ll begin reaping the benefits before your move as well as after. The right technology will banish those downsizing nightmares and set you up for hybrid workplace success.
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The pandemic has been a change accelerator in many ways, but few areas have seen more rapid revisions than the workplace. Two trends were already gaining traction before 2020: the open office plan was being reworked to include some private spaces, and work-from-home (formerly termed telework) was spreading beyond a few narrow industry sectors.
Now these trends are rapidly becoming the norm, and they are bringing with them a host of design, operations, and corporate-culture questions.
The End of the Open Plan Office?
A recent survey of tech companies with open plan offices found that fewer than half expected to stick with their open-plan layouts after the pandemic. Yet even with the additional space requirements of private or semi-private workspaces, more than 80% of these companies expected to need less office space in the next 18 months. More than half anticipated entirely eliminating some of their office space.
For designers and facilities managers, these forecasts require a re-working of office space. Reduced storage space calls for space-saving high density storage systems. The noise reduction and privacy of semi-enclosed spaces call for dividing structures like touchless locker systems. Moves to smaller spaces call for office relocation services.
Is WFH is Here to Stay?
Work-from-home (WFH) is now a permanent fixture in workplace operations. Numerous surveys and metrics have shown the productivity advantages of WFH, and businesses are adopting technology such as document imaging, video conferencing, and digital whiteboarding that makes WFH practical.
With the success of WFH, managers and designers are now beginning to ask the big corporate culture question: What is the purpose of an office?
What About Corporate Culture?
As John Seabrook (New Yorker Magazine) writes, this question brings up other questions: “Is [the office] a place for newbies to learn from experienced colleagues? A way for bosses to oversee shirkers? A platform for collaboration? A source of friends and social life? A respite from the family? A reason to leave the house?” The answer, to one degree or another, is “Yes.”
The hybrid office, combining WFH with flexible in-office time, is right on trend. Hybrid workspaces help businesses reduce their office space footprint while giving WFH staff a needed dose of in-person interaction.
However, for a hybrid office to function well, corporate culture has to change many of its former patterns. Many employees worry that decreased “face time” will damage their peer and mentor relationships and diminish their opportunities for advancement. Improved transparency, communication, training, and especially diversity and inclusion policies will build employees’ trust that they are visible, supported, and recognized for their contributions.
Taken together, the trends of the Covid change accelerator can seem overwhelming. National Office Systems is a strategic partner helping you plan and implement workplace designs and technology to adapt to the changes.
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Large or small, any business decision requires good data. The Internet of Things (IoT) pools data from numerous “smart” sources and delivers actionable data across your enterprise – operations managers, facilities managers, HR, marketing. Real-time data adds agility and flexibility to your operations.
And the more data, the better. RFID has proven its value as an asset management system, tracking inventory, furnishings, process components, even paper documents. Building on that information technology, smart devices are providing a wealth of data to the IoT.
So how can office furnishings generate digital data for better management decisions? Take the example of smart lockers in a hybrid office. Flex-schedule staffers without assigned workspaces use day-use lockers to store their personal items while they are in the office. Additionally, they can securely retrieve packages (documents or electronic devices for off-site work, for instance) at any time, without scheduling a face-to-face hand-off.
Data from these networked smart lockers produces two kinds of management insights: (1) a snapshot of current usage, and (2) a detailed picture of historical usage over time. Paired with touchless technology that lets users open lockers with an RFID personnel badge or a mobile phone app, managers can learn:
- How many lockers are in use on a given day
- Which group of lockers is overused or underused
- Which locker an individual used, and for how long
- When, or whether, a package was picked up
With this abundance of data, managers can make decisions about:
- Occupancy density
- Space utilization
- Personnel flow
For example, if lockers are fully utilized on a particular day of the week, predictive software in the facility’s IoT alerts management to okay a climate control adjustment for that day. If a laptop is placed in a locker for a staffer, an automated notification is alerts the staffer to pick up a package, and a second notification tells a manager when the laptop is picked up. If a particular bank of lockers is underutilized, a space-utilization alert tells the facility manager to consider a more user-friendly location.
And when management decisions need up-the-line approvals, hard data from accurate sources gives credibility to any request. Make the most of smart technology, and make data-driven decisions. Your bottom line will thank you.
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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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