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Facilities planners, managers look to cloud enterprise platforms

AI, analytics, collaboration software and advanced HVAC technology help reconfigure and manage safe and flexible workplace environments for employees returning to the office.

Employees returning to their office facilities from remote work environments are encountering a very different landscape and daily routine. Their workspaces have been redesigned and work schedules reconfigured according to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Among the design architects are facilities planners and managers charged with formulating mathematically feasible floor plans and scientifically sound safety measures that include additions of cameras and sensors, subtractions of desks and chairs, multiples of hand sanitizers and divisions of plexiglass. At the core of workplace changes that promote health, safety, flexibility, productivity and employee engagement are AI, machine learning, analytics, collaboration and management software, augmented and virtual reality, smart building tools, building information modeling, wearables, and advanced HVAC technology.

"The cool thing is these technologies are being tied together," said Kevin Nanney, senior director of product management at ServiceNow, during an interview by TechTarget's Jamison Cush. "I talk to a lot of customers about returning to the office ... about space management and utilization. But the one thing that everyone does bring up is contact tracing. Are we set up to really trace things like occupancy of certain areas, vacancy of other areas, utilization of space? We [can] look at all this information [and] make decisions around real estate planning, around workplace planning to ensure safety or to ensure that we're properly utilizing our facilities post-pandemic."

But then there's the emotional X-factor to consider. Beyond recreating and maintaining a safe workplace, cloud-based technologies can help facilities planners and managers reassure employees that the environment is safe. "It's relieving that anxiety," Nanney noted. "It's engaging with the employee to make sure that everyone's comfortable with the situation that they're in for returning to the office."

In this video, Nanney and Cush discuss the cloud enterprise platforms and applications businesses are implementing to redesign, restructure and manage safer, more agile offices and work routines.

Jamison Cush 00:00

In office work or remote work, are we ever going back into the office?

Kevin Nanney 00:31

That's a great question. The answer is yes. We will be going back into the office. Will it be like it was before? No. It's going to be different. And to answer that question, the answers will be different depending on the company, depending on the industry, the type of work you're in. Obviously, there are essential workers, there are nonessential workers. For that nonessential worker, what's the policy going to be for being in the workplace? You're seeing a lot of companies do the right thing and approach this with a learning mindset. It's going to be hybrid for a while. Work from home part of the time, come into the office, if you're ready to come into the office for part of the time, and then I think there's going to be this learning curve to really gauge which employees are ready to come back, which are not. How much time is it going to take? Is our workplace set up and ready to handle this return to the workplace? I think there are a whole lot of variables that go into answering that question.

Jamison Cush 01:36

And I think a lot of us have forgotten what an office looks like, or what it's supposed to be like. From your perspective and your expertise, how would you describe the differences between an ideal office in 2019 versus an ideal office in 2021?

Kevin Nanney 01:51

The ideal office in 2021 is going to have less people in it. The main thing that we're going to want to do is we're going to want to relieve employee anxiety with going back to the office. Now there's vaccinations coming out, people are starting to feel a lot more comfortable. You're seeing it out in the world, people are going out a little bit more -- maybe they should, maybe they shouldn't. But now you're in an office workplace for a certain [number] of hours over the day. How do you create that physical distance in the workplace? It's going to look different, whether it's spaced-out desks, whether it's non-reservable desks and people are spread out a little bit more. There are some companies that are sending people to the same place every day for those employees that will go back to the office every day. There are some that are just setting up neighborhoods and they're setting up capacities within those neighborhoods within those office floors to say, 'Hey, we can fit 80 people in here, we're going to open it up for 20.' Sharing the fact with the employees that that's what the company is doing, it's relieving that anxiety, it's engaging with the employee to make sure that everyone's comfortable with the situation that they're in for returning to the office.

Jamison Cush 03:04

One thing we've heard a lot about is health check technology. How does that look in a real-life situation? Are we talking someone standing by a door with a temperature gauge on my forehead? How are companies managing that or implementing that?

Kevin Nanney 03:23

It can be that it's temperature checks at the door. That temperature check will come in, they will take that temperature, it will activate or deactivate your security badge, it will keep or cancel the reservation that you've made for the workspace for the day. We are seeing different technologies. The cool thing is these technologies are being tied together, whether it's a health check at the door, or the employee is doing an online health check the night before. There are a lot of companies using technology to engage with the employee to say, 'Hey, are you ready to come back to work? Would you mind answering a few questions?' Really getting through some of the policy, [ensuring with] that green checkmark that that employee, one, is ready to come back to work and, two, has sort of passed whether we call it a health attestation or some type of health check to come back to work. And then once they physically get there, is the company going to take temperatures? Are they going to pass out face masks? Are they going to have hand sanitizer all over the place? We are going to see these changes in the workplace. And is it necessary? Is it not necessary? It's necessary to relieve the employee anxiety for returning to that office, I feel. And you'll see companies have different opinions on this.

Jamison Cush 04:47

I can also imagine that contact tracing is a technology or a process that will play into that as well. What role do you see that playing as we return to work?

Kevin Nanney 04:56

That's actually a big deal. In the role that I'm in I talk to a lot of customers about returning to the office; we talk about space management and utilization. But the one thing that everyone does bring up is contact tracing. Someone has raised their hand and said, 'I'm sick, and I came into the office yesterday. I'm so sorry.' It's going to happen. So, the onus [is on] the employee to [let the company know]. 'OK, Kevin came into the office yesterday, and now he's sick. What meetings was he in? Where did he sit? Where did he go in the office? Did he show up for that reservation? Who had reservations around there? Who else was on that floor?' Everyone needs to be contact traced. I go back to this communication phase; there needs to be overcommunication so that people are aware so that they can quarantine for 14 days. The one thing we want to do is, we want to stop the spread of people getting sick, because it's a dangerous situation. This is a huge deal for making people aware and preventing that from happening.

Jamison Cush 06:04

I'm guessing that air quality is also an issue that's helping, or something that would also help stop the spread. HVAC systems or ensuring proper airflow in a business. What role do you see that playing with companies as they reopen?

Kevin Nanney 06:18

I don't hear that talked about as much as things like contact tracing or physical distancing in the office. But I do see companies saying, 'Hey, we're not going to use these conference rooms that are glass-enclosed, and you close the door and everyone sits in there for an hour or two. We're going to make these conference rooms or these collaboration areas more out in the open.' They are thinking about airflow, they are looking at their HVAC systems. But it's not as hot of a topic as contact tracing, physical distancing, health attestation, vaccination status tracing. So, a lot of these topics I hear more than I do, is our HVAC system purifying the air correctly? Or do I need to leave all these windows open so that the airflow is what it should be?

Jamison Cush 07:05

I'm thinking outside of the office. When we're talking about new normals, a lot of it is mask wearing and social distancing. That's what we're being told. What does the new normal look like from the office from that perspective? From the employee returning to work perspective?

Kevin Nanney 07:21

Obviously, there's going to be a new norm, and people will be wearing masks inside the workplace for a foreseeable future. The layout of the office is going to be different, the cafeteria might be closed, there might be more outdoor seating. There is just going to be a lot more attention to the workplace, and is it set up for safety? Are we set up to know what people are doing when they are in the office? Are we set up to really trace things like occupancy of certain areas, vacancy of other areas, utilization of space? And then, can we take that data and do something with this so that as we evolve in that return to the workplace, and we look at all this information, we can make decisions around real estate planning, around workplace planning to ensure safety or to ensure that we're properly utilizing our facilities in the situation post-pandemic.

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