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Crucial Inclusions for your Return to the Workplace Plan

Crucial Inclusions for your Return to the Workplace Plan

Broll Property Group's second Property Intel Podcast, 'Why return to the workplace?', highlights a myriad of considerations behind a planned, individualised and carefully orchestrated re-entry to the workplace.

A return to the workplace is a monumental task that goes beyond compliance to new safety and health regulations. Given that it's the second paradigm shift for employees who were forced to work remotely, concerns around their mental, physical and emotional well-being in the new working environment need to be taken seriously if they are to adapt to dynamic new business cultures and elevate their productivity.

"There are going to be questions because the new reality we are facing is so different from anything we've ever known," says Dr. Natasha Winkler, an organisational psychologist and organisational design consultant. "South African's who now have an opportunity to return to the workplace and resume production within the team dynamic, are asking: 'Why we should return to the workplace at all?'"

This question is the theme of a recent podcast that the Broll Property Group hosted, which included, along with Winkler, Lianie Minny, Managing Director, Internal Developers and Richard Flame, Director of Facilities Management, both from Broll, and two of Broll's clients; from the Hollard Insurance Group, Kyle McWilliams, and Brett South from Hilton College.

The podcast addressed not just the 'why', of a return to the workplace, but the 'how', and included real-life testimonials from Broll's clients of their considerations when applying facilities management processes and compliance regimes in a pandemic workplace and school environment; two completely different ecosystems but with one common and crucial denominator: the care of PEOPLE.

As Gugulethu Mfuphi, host of the podcast, noted: "This conversation emphasises people. We talk of collaborative partnerships, compassion versus compliance, and we speak to the heart of who we are as individuals. This is also not exclusive in the South African context, but applies equally to all in Africa so that we can create a better world of work." 

To answer why we should return to work means, as Winkler points out, understanding why we even work in the first place. "The employee contract may be focused on financial reward, but work also gives us a sense of pride and accomplishment. A workplace is a means to achieve this and allows us to live out our purpose. The lockdown shifted work into our home space, and although we may think we were and are all in the same boat, that boat is not necessarily the same for every person."

In the rush to return to a common workplace, consideration of individual employees' unique mental and emotional well-being has increased. Winkler observes that this goes beyond the concerns of 'safety' protocols and compliance. "There is a need for teams to engage and collaborate beyond technology platforms, and outside of economic benefit. By their very nature people miss engaging physically with their colleagues. We look for status and not in the way that social media or virtual platforms portray us."

Winkler highlighted other reasons for the need to return to work as being able to share the uncertainty and change that the pandemic has manifested, the 'unfairness' of it all, the moral and ethical dilemmas of being locked down, navigating together the new boundaries that have emerged, sharing the stress and tension around safety and compliance, and the changing boundaries of the dynamics of productivity.

Lianie Minny added that while agile working has at large been successful, the responsibilities of working in isolation have brought about a disconnect. "The sense of camaraderie that you get from working in the same space as your colleagues and having access to all the right tools, means an employee can tap into collective energies. The office space now needs a central hub, a heart in the workplace where everyone can come together. This connects the different sectors of business operations and removes silos and hierarchies." 

Minny talked about the optimisation of real estate to its best potential so that it can be used in various ways to account for different employee's needs. This requires, she says, a different work culture, and one that embraces the four 'C's'; collaboration, concentration, connectivity and ... chilling! 

The latter is something that Kyle McWilliam of Hollard endorsed. "We have always had fun activities in our central spaces, for example playing pool or table tennis. As well as promoting deep team collaboration and connectedness, this is a critical part of the journey of returning from isolation. We need to ensure that people are given the right environment to be productive and this requires a complete mindset change.

"Our leadership discussions have been very detailed about how we return to work, complicated by the fact that we have multiple levels of operations and work types, all of which work very differently. Some Hollardites work better at home, but some work better in an office environment, so we have been working hard to understand how to formally plan our workplaces to cater for those differing needs, even though we are still at an early stage of our journey."

McWilliams points out that Hollard has always been a progressive company, and continues to build on this reputation by building a new way of work that focusses on employee value proposition, while remaining close to its unique culture. This entails embracing a hybrid mix of digital and physical collaboration, albeit with social distancing. "An optimal working environment allows our employees to spend time in a quiet area at the office, or have café-like conversations elsewhere, depending on their needs and the nature of their role."

Richard Flame added that communication by its very nature is an aspect that Broll's Facilities Management considers crucial in terms of quality of life in the workplace. "At the onset of Coronavirus the role of facilities management was elevated. And not just around safety and compliance. Risk assessments now include understanding the psychological impacts of employees who are returning to work.

"It's not just about how you are transported to a building, where sanitisers are or how many, how to monitor temperatures and mask wearing, isolation and social distancing, it's also about the opening up of systems and taking care of the culture of people's comfort."

Brett South from Hilton College said that this resonates very strongly for his school. "Schools are unique and complex because they are relationship-driven and collegiate environments, encompassing the pupils and their parents, the teachers and contractors, all of whom have personal needs and concerns that need to be considered in the context of daily activities."

Hilton College is primarily a boarding environment of some 600 pupils, which means business and residential activities merge. "In essence, as we are a microcosm of society, we need a holistic approach as a community." Hilton College appointed South as head compliance officer, to whom a number of specific Covid-19 teams report. "This includes our contract partners, and together we undertake risk analysis and produce operating protocols that are tailored to the specific activities in the school environment. These are living documents that are reviewed regularly, supported by walkthroughs by senior management to ensure they are being applied."

Hilton College has employed an operational model that will be tweaked as needed to cater for the dual medium learning methods that education is currently operating.

In being transparent about how to manifest a new agile working environment, both Hollard and Hilton College are proving the value of the new role of facilities management, moving it from purely management to a consciousness of the psychological health of every individual in a working ecosystem. "You can't replicate what Hollard and Hilton are doing across all workplaces however," says Flame. "At Broll we believe in bespoke solutions for different relationships, business cultures and business activities.

Flame also emphasises that Broll's end-to-end solutions moves its customers across all the technology platforms in use, so that many new organisational disciplines can be integrated in the facilities management approach. "This requires intense collaboration among occupiers and building management. Competencies can't stand alone which is why we have moved away from purely occupier services into more integrated and cooperative solutions, even if those encompass remote relationships away from the office or school space.

Minny sums it up: "Facilities management in the new world of working has become the concierge or a guide through the process of change, be that mentally or physically for employees and employers. How Broll deals with these changes as custodians means we are facilitating and encouraging the incorporation of the psychological aspects of all players. This is about building a new trust in the corporate culture so that the interplay of organic and productive relationships can thrive."


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