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Employee health and wellbeing: considerations for the workspace of the future

In the wake of 2020, it’s impossible to have a conversation about workspaces without addressing the topic of employee health and wellbeing. Indeed, few areas of concern have moved up the agenda as quickly. This issue of workplace wellbeing is one which dominates the research findings of our most recent report, The Way Forward.

Over half (61%) of industry leaders say that COVID-19 and the health and safety of their employees are driving them to reassess the strategic value of the workspace and the role it plays in their business. It’s at the forefront of the minds of developers, COOs and facilities professionals, so you can be sure it’s on our minds too.

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has dominated business decisions throughout 2020 and looks set to do so for much of 2021 as well. It is this temporary crisis that has thrown light on employee wellbeing as a hot topic of concern – but that doesn’t mean health and wellbeing is going anywhere as a workspace consideration once the pandemic fades from view. It’s here to stay — as a fundamental component of real estate strategy.

Our research findings show that almost a third (32%) of industry leaders hope to increase employee wellbeing and future-proof their workspaces against health emergencies by making proactive changes to their real estate. It’s this future-proofing that is important right now. As business leaders, we all have the chance to use this time to bounce back, more resilient than ever.

A more flexible approach

Flexibility is absolutely essential to a more resilient real estate strategy. That means distributed working practices which don’t rely on mass office occupation levels. Remote working was forced upon many of us over the last year — allowing for a rethink of the idea that teams have to be in the same place and physically together to be productive and successful. Employers are waking up to the fact that happy employees appreciate flexibility and choice, and that the tools and features are now available to facilitate this without any detriment to the business.

Collectively, expectations are changing. When we asked industry leaders how strongly they agree with the statement ‘we expect less employees to work in the office due to health and wellbeing concerns’ — the average score was 8/10. So, while almost three quarters (73%) said that health and wellbeing has moved up their agenda, the solutions they are intending to implement appear to be more focused on having less people in the office at any one time, rather than upgrading the office space itself.

A more connected approach

Connectivity is the key to doing flexibility properly, and consistently. A reliable unified communications (UC) platform is indispensable to the modern workspace, as borne out in our research findings, in which, on average, industry leaders scored UC platforms 8/10 in terms of their importance. This matches the rankings for Mobile/Wi-Fi connectivity and smart Access Control systems. The focus is clear: keeping teams connected(online), secure and talking.

Although only scoring an average of 5/10 with regards to importance, many of our respondents claimed that they are turning to space and occupancy control features such as company apps and desk booking systems. These tools are invaluable sources of quantitative and qualitative data which allow designers to make better, more informed decisions in their approach to building workspaces. As we consider our eventual return to the workspace and the increasing demand for flexible working, such measures are becoming vital for companies that want to place employee health, wellbeing and safety at the heart of their real estate strategy.

A more converged approach

Embracing flexibility and connectivity is a good first step for businesses that want to be more responsive to workplace wellbeing. But it’s so important not to stop there — it’s all too easy for flexible working practices to become a cure-all, discouraging business leaders from making more tangible, system-wide changes. Converged, smart building solutions which encompass everything from facilitating remote working to managing and maximising office space are already available.

From upgrading the technology to connect people from wherever they choose to work, to providing exciting collaboration spaces on site; these smart solutions are achievable now, through a converged approach to building infrastructure — bringing flexible operations and technology together. This convergence allows for a workspace to create a compelling employee experience, tailored to their own preferences and needs. The result is a personalised, digital environment where real-time user data is converted into bespoke experiences, improving the safety, security and wellbeing of each employee.

The opportunity is there for the taking

Nothing is set in stone for the future, but one thing is for sure: we have the technology, the expertise and, most importantly, the opportunity, to transform the workspace completely. And now is the time, despite and even because of the challenges we face, to take this opportunity with both hands. Employee health and wellbeing really can be the first priority for workspace design, simultaneously streamlining operations and benefitting businesses across the board.