In Ontario, the government is gradually reopening the economy, allowing facilities from retail stores and parks to open with restrictions to prevent COVID-19 spread. Premier Doug Ford hasn’t set hard deadlines for things to go back to normal completely, but over the next few weeks, people are expected to slowly return to their offices — with caveats.
“If there are two words that will characterize the post-pandemic world, it would be behavioural change,” says Ram Srinivasan, managing director of consulting at JLL Canada.
JLL recently wrote a guide on how companies can plan for office re-entry, covering issues like how to reconfigure the office to accommodate social distancing, and using technology as part of this strategy.
Bridging the gap with technology
Srinivasan notes that workflows and ecosystems could look “radically different” in the future. “For example, during the pandemic, we are seeing increased demand for virtual site visits,” Srinivasan says. JLL itself uses Blackbird, a London-based provider of cloud computing solutions, to facilitate these visits. “Even before the pandemic, at JLL we had been making strategic investments in these areas to support our clients and transactions professionals and this is likely to only accelerate once the ‘next normal’ arrives,” Srinivasan says.
The pandemic has put more of a spotlight on the tech abilities of companies, who are either seeing the benefits of their technology platforms or finding gaps in their capabilities.
“The environment we find ourselves in now will prompt a rethink across every sphere, from smarter workplaces and buildings to smarter communities and cities,” says Srinivasan.
How work will change
Srinivasan anticipates that there will be more investment in virtual collaboration tools, but because people are social creatures, workspaces that take a hybrid approach that allows for both face-to-face interaction and virtual working is the most likely scenario, he says.
Remote working technology, robotics for health screening, Internet of Things technology, and unmanned vehicles will become more important for replacing some human interaction.
Commercial office spaces will feel an impact even as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted. A four to six-phase re-entry process is likely for most companies, Srinivasan says, but some workers may not even return with those phases.
In JLL’s published guide, the firm notes companies could consider incorporating more touchless technology, redrawing floor plans and limiting desk sharing. Companies can also use technology to monitor access and occupancy on their floors to control the density of spaces.
“Space demand will evolve as the pandemic response evolves and we move into a next normal ecosystem,” says Srinivasan. “There are several forces at play here, but there are two that impact space demand significantly. The workforce could be more open to remote work in the future. At the same time, social distancing norms could mean workspaces that are not as densely packed.” Both strategies would be responsible strategies for shaping office demand, Srinivasan notes.
Regardless of how the COVID-19 situation evolves, integrating digital technology will only continue to accelerate with commercial real estate operators and office spaces.
“As always, the most adaptable will thrive in the next normal,” Srinivasan says.
What steps are you taking to ease back into the work environment? Let us know in the comments.
Jessica Galang is a tech journalist who has been tracking the Canadian tech ecosystem for the last several years. In the past, she was news editor at BetaKit and a reporter at The Logic, interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs in emerging industries.