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Empty Offices in the Wake of Covid: Strategies for Moving Forward
Adapting to the New Normal in the Wake of Covid-19
It was March 2020 and all of a sudden we got information about people getting really sick all over the globe. Truth be told, I was panicking. Who wasn’t? Perfectly healthy people getting really sick. The place where I was working didn’t allow us to work from home until it was insisted by government that we had to do so. It caused friction between the employees and the head of the company.
This surely wasn’t the only place where the whole new situation caused friction. It changed our way of working completely overnight, or almost overnight. Covid-19 impacted our working environment immensely:
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Companies were forced to send their employees home to work remote.
Meetings took place online: Increased use of technology to facilitate remote work and collaboration
Less to zero traffic jams at rush hour
Challenges with maintaining work-life balance as work and personal life boundaries blurred
Companies have to rely on trust that their employees would work
Increased levels of stress and anxiety due to uncertainties around job security and health concerns
The importance of prioritizing employee well-being and mental health in the workplace
Shifts in the job market, with some industries being severely impacted and others thriving
The need for increased communication and collaboration to ensure effective remote work
The adoption of new policies and procedures to ensure workplace safety, such as social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.
Importance of breaks in nature during the working hours
The discussion arrises whether employees are more productive remote or at the office.
We weren’t ready for this. But we were all forced in this direction, and we made it work. The biggest effect of Covid-19 must be our transition to remote work. How should we deal with this and how can we leverage the advantages of remote work?
Creating a Flexible Work Environment: Trusting and Tracking Your Diverse Team
Know as a company that people are all different. This is something we are aware of when we started going to school and when our children started going to school. Everyone learns differently based on our personal background, our past, our current situation, our brain capacity and our personalities. I wrote more about our learning styles and how that impacts our meetings here.
With that in mind it is important to keep in mind what best environment your people should work in in order to get more momentum in their work, higher productivity and better quality of work they do. Some people work better remote, some people work better in the office, some people need both. I’m not saying you should definitely give everything your employee is asking for, but it’s good to keep in mind what their preferences are.
You could do the following:
Do a questionnaire: what are people’s preferences, how do they learn, how do they prefer to work. Can they give clear examples of when something went well in their work and what has caused it and vice versa?
Set up an agreement with your people who come in and when. Be clear to communicate this to all employees so that it doesn’t add issues in the collegial atmosphere.
Flexible working hours: when working remote, when working at the office.
Consistency: make sure that the agreement is consistent for all employees and that there are no privileges for individuals.
Accountability: Establish clear expectations and consequences for not adhering to the agreement. Hold employees accountable for their actions and ensure that they understand the importance of following the agreement.
Feedback: Encourage open communication and feedback from your employees. Listen to their concerns and suggestions, and be willing to make adjustments to the agreement as needed.
Compliance: Make sure the agreement complies with any relevant laws and regulations, such as those related to working hours and breaks.
Review: Regularly review the agreement to ensure that it is still effective and relevant to the needs of the organization and its employees.
Set up some kind of method to “track” your people without controlling them. Keep in mind that this might be good for your company to see how many hours go in certain projects, but this definitely might have a negative impact on your employee’s productivity and sense of appreciation and trust.
Be sure that you also introduce the same kind of tracking for people who work at the office. It doesn’t mean because your employees are out of sight that they don’t work. It also doesn’t mean that when they’re “in sight” they do proper work.
Trust and know your people. Most people really try their best in working for your company, if they feel accepted, heard, appreciated and when they have a deep purpose of why they’re doing the work for your company.
Maximizing Workspace Efficiency
Do research about your workspace. Maximizing workspace efficiency might result in save money on the long run, or short run! Do research first about the current workspace: how is it being used, when is it being used. Get a clear overview of the place first before jumping into optimizing, or generating solutions for possible problems.
Imagine the image below is your working space. There is one big meeting room, one smaller, reception area, kitchen area, lounge and eating area and a working area. Let’s do a little research on this example.
Are there areas that are always vacant? This might be tricky since there will be an eb and flow of people coming in to work, but it’s important to know so you can optimize the space:
Are there areas that people don’t go? Why is that?
Are there areas that don’t work? For example: the meeting room is crammed on Monday when everyone is in the office.
As you can see above we did a little hypothetical research about when people would come in during the week. Of course when you go fully hybrid there might even be differences in mornings and afternoons.
The kitchen area is always occupied: people making coffee, preparing their lunch,.. The break room is often used too, especially for lunch times but also informal meetings take place in this area. The secretary is only at the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Meetings don’t take place that often because they’re usually elsewhere. Restrooms are not taken into consideration in this example.
When we add all the occupied areas throughout the week we can see some vacant spots here and there. The green/blue area are areas which can use some optimization. When looking at the functions we see the break room as a place to relax, chat, drink coffee and eat lunch. But this room is also used for informal meetings. (Example will be continued further)
When the research is done:
Has the place become too big?
Should there be a part of the building listed for rent, co-working space or another function like a little coffee shop where people can work too? Generate ideas to leverage the workspace.
Considering moving? What are the costs if you stay vs looking for a cheaper and smaller space?
A possible solution could be that we add another function: the coffee place. A place where many people already hang out to do some solo work, small 1:1 (informal) meetings, and a place where you can relax and eat lunch.
For this solution we’re combining functions of the workplace and of the coffee place. This leaves room for two smaller meeting rooms which can be turned into one and a storage & archive area. Even the reception area could be integrated elsewhere to have even more space for another function.
In this example you can see that 1/3 of the space is sub-rented and can generate extra income for the company. Keep in mind that such changes in the working environment should be tested first.
Hybrid meetings: tips
When going hybrid it means that your company works both remote and in-person. Among many factors to think of, working hybrid comes with challenges which come to the surface especially in meetings or other forms of collaboration.
AJ&Smart (a design agency in Berlin) wrote an amazing blog around hybrid meetings.
According to AJ&Smart, there are three biggest challenges when running a hybrid meeting:
Creating an even playing field: it can be tricky to ensure that everyone feels as validated in the same way.
Technology issues: Poor technological setups can make it difficult for remote participants to keep up with the meeting, while weak internet connections and shaky video quality can detract from the value of remote attendees for those who are present in person.
Keeping all attendees engaged
When looking at our physical set-up here are some ideas to maximize your hybrid meeting:
Clear view of the presentation: Whether you're presenting slides or a whiteboard, make sure that all participants, both in-person and remote, can see the content clearly.
Well-functioning video and audio: Good quality video and audio are essential for a successful hybrid meeting.
Devices for everyone: If some participants are attending remotely, consider providing devices, such as laptops or tablets, to ensure that everyone can work together on collaborative activities, such as brainstorming sessions using tools like Miro or Mural. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can work together effectively, even if they're not in the same physical location.
Improve lighting: Good lighting is important for making sure that participants can see each other clearly during the meeting. If possible, try to choose a meeting room with good natural lighting.
Display all attendees on screen: Both in-person and remote participants should be able to see who is attending the meeting. Consider displaying all attendees on a screen or monitor, so that everyone can see who is in the meeting and who is speaking. This can help to create a more engaging and inclusive meeting experience, and ensure that everyone feels connected and included in the discussion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our working environment tremendously, forcing companies to:
Adopt new policies and procedures to ensure workplace safety
Increase communication and collaboration to ensure effective remote work
Prioritize employee well-being and mental health.
The biggest effect of COVID-19 has been the transition to remote work. This leads to questions of “how should deal with this?” and “how we can leverage the advantages of remote work?'“.
Creating a flexible work environment and maximizing workspace efficiency can lead to higher productivity and better quality of work. It is crucial to trust and know your people, set clear expectations and consequences, and encourage open communication and feedback to ensure success in the hybrid work environment.
Thanks for reading!