Contribution by Denise Hogendoorn
For many years, innovations in the field of facility services emerged on a step-by-step basis. However, because of the coronavirus crisis, changes to our working methods have developed at a rapid pace. Working from home and remote working have become the rule, rather than the exception. Organizations and their employees have discovered that this brings many benefits. So many in fact, that employees would like to spend one more day at home working than was the case pre-pandemic. That is around two days a week, in total.
Working from home is nothing new. Still, until last year, action designed to facilitate the work of employees was aimed very much at offices. But now, this more or less permanent new way of working requires a greater focus on different types of work place, including those that are neither in the home nor in the office. Examples are flexible work spaces, hotel lobbies, or coffee bars. The working week will soon be spread across multiple locations – ‘hybrid working'.
This will have consequences for company premises. Will more spaces be needed at offices for meetings and for individuals or teams to work together? Or can we manage with less space, given that other work locations are now being used? Considerations of this kind form the first step in the new company premises strategy. The second is how to effectively support the new balance in the various work places. Five hybrid challenges and five facility service answers:
1. Working away from the office requires facility service packages
Offices will still be around, but not everyone will always be working there. Consideration should now be given to the services provided at multiple locations in different circumstances. At flex offices, these services are already often excellent, but significant advances need to be made with regard to work spaces in the home. Examples include the provision of an ergonomic work place, a good internet connection, and healthy food and drink during online events.
New services for people working from home are also starting to emerge, such as lunch and fruit deliveries, and cleaning. This can all be arranged using flexible packages, allowing people to use the services as and when they need them. It also enables employees to support local businesses, which is very much in keeping with the sustainability aims of many organizations. Facility service providers should be encouraged to share their ideas on how they could offer their solutions for offices, the home, and elsewhere. Such services could be provided at locations other than employees' homes, based on agreements reached with local entrepreneurs or branches of national chains, such as copy shops, dry cleaners, coffee bars, and cafés. These agreements could see employees could do their printing there and have their work clothes cleaned there on account, or having their lunch and coffee at a discount.
Innovative, revolutionary? Not at all: in Belgium, meal vouchers have been a standard part of employee remuneration for many years in a large number of a companies. Employees can use the vouchers to have their lunch away from their office or to pay for their supermarket shopping. Facility service packages are the answer to hybrid work patterns away from offices.
2. Fluctuating use of offices requires flexible services
Because of the hybrid way of working, the number of people in offices is likely to vary from one day to the next. Providing services in line with the number of people present will be a challenge. One solution would be to spread out visits by facility service staff to offices by allocating certain days to certain teams, or by using a reservation app that includes a limit on the number of visitors. Despite this, many companies will not take this option because regularity is not really hybrid by nature.
A useful alternative would be to upscale services on busy days and to scale them down when things are quieter – such as in the case of unmanned receptions on Fridays. This would require a range of packages, related to the number of employees expected to be present. The easiest way of calculating this would be to look at how many people have been present on any given day in the past. A more effective way is to determine the figure for each individual day of the year. This would require solid data with the help of a smart building which, thanks to various technologies, could accurately record how many people are present each day and how they actually use the building. In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, smart buildings are no longer an unnecessary luxury, but rather a necessary tool for organizing work premises and services to perfection.
3. Meeting and working in teams at the office means offices have to be programmed accordingly
The office is becoming a place for work duties that can be performed more effectively there than at home – meeting up with colleagues, holding formal discussions, working in teams, and welcoming business contacts. These activities require the right kind of services. There are sufficient suitable spaces for this, including the necessary facilities. Examples that come to mind are welcoming guests, catering, changes of layout, and technical support.
Facility managers play a pivotal role in organizing these activities. They combine the work place, services, and hospitality to create a total employee experience, both in and outside the office. Because of today's hybrid way of working, facility services should be factored into any design or redesign of offices and work places. For facility managers, this means programming buildings in terms of how rooms and spaces are used and how activities are offered.
4. Health and well-being need the guarantee of a safe work place
The health and well-being of employees have always been important, but thanks to hybrid working, they have become an even greater challenge. Employees working from home often spend the whole day sitting in the same place, at their laptops, getting little exercise. It is also more difficult for employers to identify any changes in employees' mental health. Greater attention needs to be paid to this aspect.
As employees return to their offices, the provision of a safe work place is the first crucial step. For years, cleaning was a candidate for making savings, but is now a key precondition for office working. More than ever before, employees are hygiene-conscious, and they will want a clearer understanding of what measures are being taken. For this, too, a smart building is an important tool. Facility managers can also play an important role in providing healthy food in offices and at local amenities, and by offering various sporting and other activities. This falls within the province of human resources and facility managers alike. Each can support the other in this matter.
5. Employee involvement requires active community building
Because of the hybrid way of working, it will no longer be necessary for employees always to go to their offices. This will have an adverse impact on employee involvement. It is important that employees regularly see their colleagues, and the office still plays the main part in that regard. The office will change from a place where you have to be, to one where you would like to be. It will become a clubhouse suited to the various lifestyles of the employees – a mix of work places, design, facilities, and events. It will be an environment in which you experience the company culture, that strengthens team relationships, and one where you can simply enjoy your work and perform it well.
Facility managers can stimulate involvement by organizing knowledge meetings, social events, and other group activities. The challenge will be to translate this to outside the walls of the office. Activities will therefore often be organized on a hybrid basis, using online options. To achieve this, facility managers will be working more closely with the marketing and communications department.
The definitive success of the hybrid way of working will depend on organizations coming up with new strategies for their premises. Services will no longer just be provided for offices, but will instead have to be adapted to different locations, numbers of employees present, and activities. A safe and effective working environment remains the cornerstone, but the facility management playing field has grown in size. A greater focus is needed on health, well-being, employee involvement, meeting, and working in partnerships. Facility managers, designers, human resources, marketing and communications will have to work increasingly in partnership to secure that final objective – happy employees.