The Covid-19 crisis has already had a massive impact across all sectors. One of the biggest obstacles facing all of us in the coming months is the question of how we are going to return to work.
In the week that UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma made public the government’s back-to-work guidance, ULI Europe’s latest webinar considered the various challenges facing the operational building management sector.
A quick poll taken during the webinar revealed that 85 percent of respondents did not expect the workplace to return to a pre-Covid-19 scenario, with 40 percent not expecting a return to regular working patterns until August or September.
According to webinar moderator Richard Betts, Group Publisher and Co-Founder at Real Asset Media, many of the UK government’s proposals, such as temperature gauges, Perspex shields, one-way systems and decreasing occupation rates are mainly geared towards protecting employees in the workplace and monitoring employee health.
However, both Christophe Gomart, Senior Vice President of the International WELL Building Institute, and Whitney Austin Gray, Group Director of Security & Crisis Management at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, agreed that monitoring the health of employees won’t necessarily solve the problem without measures in place to deal with (and isolate) someone safely who is unwell.
Moreover, as Steven Khoury, Head of France & Client Solutions Europe at The Instant Group, pointed out, the key issue is that not only are companies and employees afraid of a return to work, but they’re afraid of a return to the commute, where health and safety measures will be near-impossible to implement.
Key to managing the situation will be a degree of collaboration. While most of the panellists and audience believed that it is the duty of the occupier of buildings to establish their own workplace strategy, Csongor Csukás, CEO REPM France of BNP Paribas Real Estate, pointed out that everyone will have a responsibility.
For Csukás, landlords should agree a plan of action for their buildings with their tenants, and while the onus is on the government to institute regulations, individuals and their employers will also need to ensure they are working safely.
There will also have to be significant collaboration and interaction with employees. The stresses of the Covid-19 lockdown go beyond the problem of being stuck indoors, with some experiencing anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) over their situation. Employers will have to manage this and orientate around a long-term conversation, not merely a short-term solution during the crisis.
All of the panellists agreed that this is a difficult situation to manage and few of us have all of the answers.
Both Khoury and Richard Williams, Principal and Managing Director – Property Management of Avison Young, saw flexible working and working from home becoming the norm. Tech, too, will play a significant part in returning people to work.
Meanwhile, Gray and Gomart also believed that retail spaces could play a major role helping rethink and re-diversify existing commercial spaces.
One thing the panel were all agreed on is that the industry will have to think more broadly about addressing health and safety concerns in the post-Covid-19 world, and consider how this is going to impact operations management long-term across the industry.
Tackling this conundrum will take more than a sticking plaster of temporary measures.