The immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on offices around the world was dramatic. For many office workers, this meant a sudden pivot to practices that had previously played a supplementary role at most in their working lives. Face-to-face team meetings and in-person collaboration was replaced by video conferences, virtual chatrooms and online file sharing. The experience has changed people’s expectations of what work can be.
Despite the huge strides forward made by digital collaboration and communication tools in recent years, the benefits of co-locating workers in an office for at least some of the time are hard to replace. Making the office safe for workers to return is a significant task that many organisations are finding challenging. Fortunately, just as technology provided a solution to rapid home-working requirements, it can also help companies manage these new requirements. By investing in the right 'intelligent workplace' technologies, businesses can both make their office spaces safer for workers now and prepare for a long-term future where more employees than ever are working from home.
UK workers believe flexible working will increase long-term
The first challenge facing operations and planning staff is overseeing the phased return to work of employees to the office. Employers are conscious of getting this absolutely right to protect the health of their workers while also ensuring the office is as productive as possible.
Data, analytics and modelling are central to this effort. By arming themselves with the right data, employers are able to model the optimum approach to protecting the workforce. One approach in particular is of use in this context: Digital Twins. Virtual representations of physical objects – Digital Twins – are increasingly being used in intelligent workplaces.
Digital Twins pave the way for significant improvements in how we monitor and manage building operations and present a number of use cases that are beneficial in the context of COVID-19.
Modelling via a Digital Twin can help HR and facilities management optimise floor layout to reduce the numbers of people working in close proximity, as well as monitor the situation in real-time to limit the number of people within specific zones in a building.
Predictive analytics provide a means by which employers can model against ‘what if’ scenarios. This ability provides companies with unprecedented flexibility in an ever-changing world that increasingly demands rapid adaptation.
Remote monitoring & management
The ability to manage a building through a Digital Twin helps reduce the number of people required in the office, making it safer for those who need to be there. Facilities team members, for example, are able to monitor HVAC, electrical and mechanical equipment remotely, with the option to schedule physical on-site visits if required.
Encouraging workers back to the office
While remote and home working will now be far more prevalent than in the past, it will not entirely replace the office. Many employers want at least some of their workforce to return as soon as possible to rebuild the sense of shared endeavour and to unlock the productivity benefits that come with co-location. The challenge here lies in finding the right balance between home and office working, particularly when many people have grown used to the comforts of working from home and may be questioning the purpose of the traditional office environment.
If employees can do their job from home, what drives them to come into the office? The answer could transform the function of tomorrow’s office space.