The move to remote working has changed global working practices. This March, Harvard Business School found 81 per cent of people didn’t want to return to the office or preferred a hybrid schedule. For facilities teams, shifting circumstances, attitudes and working patterns present an ever-changing challenge to running offices safely and productively. Flexibility, communication and collecting evidence will be the main tools in their arsenal.
Our facilities team at MRI Software has been sharing throughout the pandemic how we are preparing workspaces and how we’re using technology to assist in that journey. We have 26 offices globally and we’ve probably been struggling with many of the same questions most organisations have been grappling with.
Moving forward amid uncertainty
In our world today, there is a new familiarity with the constant state of assessing and pivoting at short notice to best suit the changing circumstances. That environment, at least for the time being, is set to continue. The challenges include remaining compliant with government rules and guidelines, which are prone to change at short notice, and reassuring employees who might feel at risk by returning to the office.
A roadmap for responding to change
There are many factors that an organisation will need to consider in our changing environment, but there are some consistent elements that will comprise the framework of a return-to-work strategy.
The future challenges that UK businesses may soon face are ones that we have been adapting to for some time. To assess how we move forward, we asked our global team about how they saw their work life in the future and the conditions that would constitute a safe office. We also consulted our team on remote working and received answers that spanned the full spectrum, from full-time return to 100 per cent remote working. The results of these consultations have been core to our return strategies, which will remain under constant review.
As an example, we are looking to Australia, where our offices are open. However, many team members would need to use public transport to come into the office and so aren’t yet comfortable with returning. When asked, around 40 per cent of MRI staff said that they wanted to return but despite having the offices open, a consistent number for those people coming to work hasn’t yet been established.
For those who want to return to the office, our HR teams are managing staff expectations around the things that have changed and our new safety measures. For example, we now ensure that employees complete a form when they want to return to the office or visit a client, with vaccination status and recent travel details, meaning we can deny building access on a case-by-case basis.
The stakeholders involved in facilities management have widened. Facilities teams now consult HR, leadership, management and our wider staff. It is a silo that was broken out of necessity but has revealed a future opportunity to use our office spaces more collaboratively.
Over the next year, as the use of collaborative areas and conference rooms grows, policies change and case-rates fluctuate, we expect remote-working patterns to alter. Part-time office working will be managed via hot desks, ensuring that there will always be spaces for those who have fully embraced a remote-working lifestyle as and when they’re needed.
MRI Workplace Central, our suite of employee management and space-scheduling solutions, has been designed with this in mind. The systems ensure safe and well-maximised spaces using pre-configured policies aligned to desk management, usage and availability.
The role of technology
At MRI, we are using Workplace Central to understand in real-time who is using our buildings, as well as when and how they will be using the facilities.
Our facilities team is now testing a desk-booking module to give employees desktop and mobile access to interactive floor plans and search functions so they can quickly find and reserve a desk or room. MRI employees can also easily find a colleague or book a safe desk in the same area as someone they need to collaborate with.
In the US, we’ve begun holding face-to-face client meetings, making sure that both our employees and visitors know our protocol beforehand. Using Workplace Central, we can see who is coming in at the same time, adjust for overcrowding and higher traffic, and ensure rooms aren’t interrupted.
For housing providers and local authorities’ offices, where public footfall into buildings can fluctuate, visitor control is essential to avoid overcrowding in areas such as reception spaces. Using Workplace Central, teams can view visitors coming in at any time of the day. If there are multiple visitors at the same time then the employees whom they are visiting are asked to retrieve their visitor(s) as soon as the notification is received. This technology is already being used in our Sydney office.
The tools and approaches we’ve adopted are helping us to deliver safe, efficient spaces for our staff and our clients. Our hope is to use the data we collect to streamline processes, change our environments and start to understand and predict what the organisation’s behaviour will settle into following this very volatile time. Having watched these processes across different counties, our advice is to ensure flexibility across all aspects of the working environment, with the ability to adjust expectations at short notice.
Jill Judge is the global facilities director for MRI Software.