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Excerpt from Tango’s virtual retail summit Moving Forward: Workplace 2.0 on June 24-25, 2020.

Planning the Return to the Office

Susan Clarke – Research Director, Smart Buildings, Verdantix:

“What we have seen from some of the early reopening strategies, both in the retail and office sector is that some of the programs just feel really complex with lots of moving parts. And you do think is this manageable in the long-term? We’ve already seen some of the large big-box retailers scale back some of their complex appointment setting initiatives because they weren’t effective and they were just adding too much complexity.

“And then there’s another area I guess, around cleaning. If we look at some of the return to work cleaning schedules that some firms are considering, they’re just really complex. So some of the ones I’ve heard about, as soon as someone checks out of a desk, a cleaning work order is issued and you automatically send a cleaning technician to clean down that space. And actually I have heard from one of the kinds of corporations that we speak to that that type of program was just becoming too difficult and too complex to manage.

“So they’ve decided to scale things back and actually leave some disinfectant spray on the desk and encourage people to do their own disinfecting. So I think simplicity is something important within return to work programs. And then finally the final S that we talk about with our safe, simple, and supportive framework is around supportive. And we used to talk about making buildings work for people, and that should very much still be the case.

“You need to be thinking about the best way to instill confidence with any of your workers returning to work. So I think that’s the kind of multidimensional framework that we’ve been developing and I think simplicity is a very important element.”

Joshua Cushner – Principal, Consulting Practice Lead, Arup:

“I’ll take the other side of Susan’s argument. Absolutely the job to be done is to make the complex feel simple, right? We have risk-takers and we have risk-averse people coming back to your workplace. And the risk-takers aren’t going to be too fussed with what you put in front of them. The risk-averse people are going to really need confidence, right? And that’s what they’re not going to feel until they actually experience the building.

“So I agree that the wayfinding, the simplicity, the ability to easily understand what you should be doing is going to be critical to get those risk-averse people more comfortable. There’s a laundry list of things that our return to office committee is dealing with right now. So that’s I guess the complex side of it. Right? A firm like ours that has offices all over the place, the community prevalence of the virus is completely different in each location. And it’s in some locations is decreasing and in some locations increasing.

“We actually just opened our Houston office and then we closed it per state of orders. And I think the constant movement of state guidance, right, is going to throw the best-laid plans up in the air to some degree as well. So having some knowledge of what the community prevalence is and knowing what your reaction to that might be sort of is the first gate for all of this. And then you get through all the ideas of the tiers of your employees.

“And do you have mission-critical employees and why do they need to go back? And then coming up with the plan that’s phased, that’s right for you. In the first keynote about the seating plans and all that planning and has to happen from a tenant’s standpoint. There are other things to do from a landlord standpoint that you wouldn’t have to do as a tenant. And I would say enforcement and what happens. Your policy when someone gets sick. You have so many options right now, right?

“You have options for A teams and B teams. You have options for one day on, one day off. Right? And so a lot of it comes back to why you’re going there. And then the nature of what you’re expecting to do also is part of this. Because your mindset easily tracks back to the old workplace and the things you try to do there. And you have to remember that it’s completely different now, and we’re actually trying to achieve pretty basic things in the return to the office. It’s not the extensive collaboration space in this medium term.”

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