Preparing your business for the return to work

04 June 2020
Real estate adviser Savills reveals the top five decisions that Mena businesses need to consider in the post-Covid-19 workplace

Covid-19 will change priorities for corporate occupiers and affect their decision-making processes when it comes to the workplace. Here, Simone Dobson, director of Savills' Property and Facilities Management (pictured right), considers the top five considerations that will shape decisions:

> Real estate planning 

The overall approach to an organisation’s real estate strategy should already be under the spotlight as we head towards a post-pandemic world. While the exact timing of a return to workplaces will vary, economies must go on and businesses will return from their remote working arrangements.

However, their perspective on operations will have changed and the enforced modes of working over the weeks of coronavirus lockdown will have presented new priorities. 

Planning will be top of the list, taking into account how the organisation utilises space and real estate assets. For many organisations, it will be a fine balancing act of cost management versus the flexibility of being able to respond most effectively in the event of future crises.

There will continue to be a flight to quality, as newer, well-appointed corporate spaces offer more advanced HVAC systems and features that support a healthier work environment. Buildings that are old or lower quality will find it more difficult to compete without significant capital upgrades.


Advanced HVAC systems play an important role in supporting employees' health


Workforce strategy

Before Covid-19, best practice dictated that the co-location of workers would help to foster innovation and deliver results. The pandemic has challenged the status quo and invited a rethink.

Decision makers within businesses now understand that the risk of spreading infectious diseases and the impact this can have on business continuity is a critical issue. This can help to determine whether key workers in the same business chains are located in the same physical spaces or spread out to de-risk these functions and prevent complete loss of productivity in the face of future pandemics.

Decision makers within businesses now understand that the risk of spreading infectious diseases and the impact this can have on business continuity is a critical issue

One option for such diversification can be the concept of ‘Hub And Spoke’ labour, with a central HQ and then multiple smaller business pods/offices in different places, to ensure that employees reside and commute in different ways.

Spreading teams to different locations can also have the added benefit of reducing pressures on parking availability. In many commercial areas in the Middle East, parking is at a premium, so flexibility around working practices could help to ease the overcrowded demand.

It will be up to individual businesses to decide, whether they choose to bring all knowledge workers together in a single city or office, or reduce risk and location burdens through geographic diversification. 


Spreading teams to different locations has the added benefit of reducing pressures on parking


Workplace strategy

The physical workplace and how it is used will be one of the key decision processes. The trend over the past few years has been towards sharing space and a more densified office, with open-plan work areas and shared workspaces. Clearly, this will be challenged as social distancing and a greater emphasis on a sanitised work environment become part of the decision criteria.

Sanitisation protocols will become mainstream and a greater emphasis will be placed on cleaning services, ventilation, operable windows (how many offices do not have windows that open?).

The elephant in the room will be teleworking – do you really need to go into the office every day? Companies have been forced by the pandemic into adopting strategies of managing a remote workforce. Home internet issues, remote server connectivity, productivity of long-term distance working and managing teams from afar are some of the counterarguments to working at home, but no doubt flexible working will be a key takeaway long after lockdown measures are eased.


Protocols for frequent sanitisation are now a part of everyday office life


Technology strategy

Will meetings ever be the same? While important face-to-face meetings will continue to be preferred by many organisations, physically meeting with teams and partners will be balanced with travel costs and necessity. Communicating virtually has become acceptable and many are finding video calls to be as effective, if not more effective, for many meetings.

Similarly, user-friendly technologies will rise to the top to ensure that people can work and learn from anywhere, with legacy systems replaced as workforces adapt to the new normal.

Across the Middle East, government and private organisations have gradually come to understand that digital signatures and contracts, replacing the physical paper and stamp processes, are an absolute must

Mobile apps with seamless cross-platform interfaces and cloud-based infrastructure has become a key requirement for modern organisations. If accessing files and folders through any device, in any place was not commonplace before Covid-19, it surely will be in a post-pandemic organisation.

Across the Middle East, government and private organisations have gradually come to understand that digital signatures and contracts, replacing the physical paper and stamp processes, are an absolute must. Tools such as DocuSign may become the standard for contract management going forward.

Many people are finding virtual communications as effective as face-to-face meetings


Risk mitigation strategy

Generally, office landlords across the Middle East have been remarkably flexible in their approach to Covid-19 and tried to find ways to help businesses reduce the impact of the pandemic on their expenditure.

However, from both a landlord and occupier perspective, greater emphasis will be placed on lease flexibility, as well as insurance terms that protect against business interruption and non-payments in the event of future pandemics or other global crises.

Companies may also look to the building operations and whether the services that are currently being performed ensure cleanliness, security and overall wellness. Owners and landlords will increase and improve building operations to ensure a higher standard of asset. Tenants should pay close attention to whether they will incur these costs, especially as some buildings may have reduced occupancy after the crisis period.


Companies will look to building operators to ensure services meet high standards of cleanliness and security


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