There’s never been a better time for HR to team up with building management teams

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With a second lockdown in the UK and the return of work from home where you can advice, it’s clear that we’re now seeing long-term change when it comes to remote and flexible working.

As a result, the role of the office has undoubtedly evolved. In turn there is a growing likelihood that the offices and workspaces of the future could become the places where we go to meet colleagues for ad-hoc creative or strategic planning sessions, or simply because we want to connect with others, rather than acting as a permanent base.

Once we’ve emerged from the national lockdown, if people are going to choose to go into their workplace, rather than have to, then we’ll need to create offices where people really want to spend time.

They’ll need to be inviting, comfortable spaces with excellent hygiene and safety measures. And if we’re really clever about it, we can also create working environments that improve productivity and wellbeing – both critical factors given how challenging and isolating many people have found working from home to be.

As a result, HR managers could take advantage of this second lockdown period to work more closely with building management teams to improve the working environment.

In my experience, the best way of doing this is by using insights taken from building data and analytics to create more comfortable, safe and productive working environments for staff, when they decide and are able to return to their usual workplace.

According to research from the Harvard Centre for Health and the Global Environment, working within ‘green environments’ can increase cognitive function by 61%, while controlling CO2 can do so by more than 125%.

By monitoring and managing the office atmosphere, building management and facility management teams can optimise workspaces to benefit staff and enable them to work more productively.

Safety is at the forefront of all our minds at the moment and configuring an office to implement social distancing measures, without having to find extra space, can be challenging. Having a better understanding of how the space is used is invaluable here, as predictive modelling can be used to scenario plan how an office can be best utilised with reduced occupancy, in order to follow social distancing guidelines.

To help us understand how to make our offices work better, in terms of both safety and wellbeing, we can turn to data. At Buro Happold, we use data from sensors, BMS systems, and smart lighting systems connecting directly to the cloud to allow the analysis of real-time data.

Our workplace analytics provide insights on how and where spaces are being utilised and assess workplace behaviour; for example, how often people leave their desks for a break, where they start conversations and how long a ‘one-hour meeting’ actually lasts.

They can also help to plan how a reduced and socially distanced workplace could look; for example, these illustrative animations, with varying occupancy rates, demonstrate how data can be used to highlight with red circles where any potential breaks in collisions may take place.

Sensors can also monitor environmental data such as CO2 levels, temperature, humidity, lighting and noise. By capturing and using data in this way, a complete picture can be built to demonstrate how effective a workplace is in terms of its space utilisation, energy efficiency, and, most importantly, connectivity, productivity, wellbeing and safety.

Once there is a better understanding about the working environment, and how it might be affecting staff, improvements can be then made to enhance the space.

Vodafone has used sensors to uncover opportunities in its London office to reduce more than 30% of its meeting spaces by resizing them to meet actual usage demands and to highlight opportunities for significant improvements in staff productivity.

The sensors revealed that, for a third of the time, CO2 levels were over the threshold considered optimum for human productivity, so the team is now able to better manage the levels with a pinpointed accuracy.

Undoubtedly, as a result of Covid-19, physical workplaces need to change. Smart HR teams can take advantage of building data to better understand how the workplace is affecting its employees and how it can be enhanced to create a better working environment for all. With most people working remotely, there has never been a better time to get our offices fit for the future.

Shrikant Sharma is director of analytics at Buro Happold

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