COVID-19 has affected all Canadians and every organization, and those working in tech have been among the most dramatically impacted. Now is the time to consider when and how Canada’s tech companies should be getting ready to head back to the office.
It is apparent to everyone, but particularly to those in the high-tech world, that communicating the “how to’s” of safely returning to the office is paramount.
The issues are many, complicated, and tricky to get right. PropTech tools and technology are already playing a powerful role in shaping our future workspaces to meet our transformed post-pandemic needs and expectations.
Tech workers, by the nature of their digital — and often remote-friendly work opportunities — will need special incentives and motivators to return part-time or full-time to the office work environment. One of the many critical components to encourage the return to the office is to ensure staff feel safe and secure in doing so. The sooner we can ensure and prove the safety of the workplace, the smoother the transition will be.
Tech companies, with workforces that are comfortable using technological products in their often fast-paced and changing environments, have an opportunity to lead the charge moving forward and set the new standards of productivity, adaptability and excellence. Here are four tips, tools and tactics that, when implemented collaboratively by executives, managers and staff, should make the return to the office as successful as possible.
1. Embrace in-house hot desking and room booking
Traditional technology companies are built on a high-growth mandate. This can often end up reducing the amount of desk space per person due to speedy hiring and the drive to maximize space. This needs to change.
Staff will need larger individual workspaces and more expansive, flexible shared areas to feel comfortable and productive.
Room booking, while common practice prior to COVID-19, will now operate in tandem with hot-desking booking tools that track a rotation of at-home and in-office workers to keep pace with a hybrid work program; these shared surfaces will need to be cleaned on a much more regular and frequent schedule.
2. Fold-in digital contact tracing
Contact tracing, a concept we’ve become all too familiar with, will become increasingly automated to decrease the burden on office administrative staff. All sorts of new tech products are coming to market that track staff movements and contacts within the office space or any work environment, and firms must maximize these tools to gain leverage.
On the simple end, room bookings, meeting registrations and capacity limits can be monitored with software booking solutions. For the technologically (more) advanced, key card and smart phone tracking systems with automated contact notifications can be applied for contact tracing and as an advance warning system to help prevent future infection outbreaks.
Tracking who was exposed to what, and when, will help staff feel safer and more secure in the shared areas of the office and decrease the likelihood of having to shut down the office and quarantine the entire company with every incident.
3. Enhance cleanliness and sanitation.
Cleaning and sanitation routines will be much more regular in all industries, including high-tech, and will need to be performed in multiple time slots throughout the day. The priority used to be to minimize interruptions to workflow, but that must now come second to ensuring a hygienic workspace.
The collection and distribution of cleaning reports must be ramped up, both for tenants’ internal spaces and buildings’ common areas. While often overlooked in favour of disinfected surfaces, office air sanitation is predicted to be a crucial new priority. Landlords should install advanced air filtration systems and environmental sensors that test the air for pathogens in common areas like elevators, lobbies and amenities. We have even seen automated disinfection and cleaning robots installed within the office for convenience and efficiency.
4. Improve and streamline communication.
All the cleanliness and contract tracing in the world won’t help much if staff don’t know about the initiatives or understand their efficacy.
Companies must back up tangible and physical changes to their work environment with clear, open and truthful communication, using communication tools and platforms that staff find helpful, easily accessible and efficient.
Without emotional buy-in, staff will not return to the office — even within a hybrid model. Communication is key to getting emotional buy-in.
Staff must be proactively made aware of workplace realities and how the company is pre-empting or heading-off any potential outbreaks. The tools, software and logistics put in place to keep employees safe should be communicated thoroughly and often.
Everyone has a different comfort level with personal space, and industry leaders must cater to all different social styles, especially when one considers the analytical personalities that tend to dominate in the tech sector. People need facts, hard data and scientific evidence to persuade their natural skeptical nature. Open, transparent conversations and a willingness to get and apply feedback from them as well as to them, are crucial to draw employees back into our workspaces.
Chris Fyvie is a Vice President and Sales Representative with Colliers’ Toronto office, specializing in serving the technology, advertising, media and internet industries.