The very first COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States, though experts estimate it will take months before vaccination becomes an option for the general public. Still, it is a sign that we are steadily moving toward post-pandemic life. When it comes to certain parts of commercial real estate, that may not look exactly like it did even a year ago.
Offices emptied at the beginning of the pandemic as companies sent millions of employees home to help prevent the spread of the virus. As we’ve learned more about it and how to protect workers, more are returning to the office. But according to a Qualtrics study, two out of three Americans still feel uncomfortable about returning to their workplace.
The CDC outlines its recommendations for bringing workers back, which involves developing a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan by evaluating whether the building is ready for occupancy, pinpointing weaknesses in the workplace and developing hazard controls.
That, in large part, charges property owners and managers with providing peace of mind for their tenants by focusing on outbreak prevention and worker safety in the months ahead. Technology will play an important role in that, enabling employees to feel safer when they return to the office.
According to research from CB Insights, “To stay ahead of the curve, companies will need to consider key investments across wellness, remote collaboration tools, mobile cybersecurity tech, accessible HR tools and workforce training programs for professional development and upskilling.”
Various new technology offerings have cropped up in the past few months to address the concerns of companies focused on bringing employees back into the office. One example of technology that could aid in the future of office management got its start back in 2017 but is perfectly poised for this moment.
“Nimway was initially developed as an internal tool to help Sony’s own employees find their way around the huge campus in Lund, Sweden. With 13 different buildings, people were having a hard time locating meeting rooms, finding available workspaces and even colleagues,” said Lars-Gunnar Lundgren, the head of Nimway. “We soon realized we weren’t the only ones—lots of other companies had similar problems—so we decided to turn Nimway into a commercial solution.”
Nimway technology was designed and is being continuously developed with end users in mind, said Lundgren, by supporting employees in their everyday lives and also by providing facility managers with useful occupancy data.
An example: an employee can use Nimway to find and book meeting rooms, which will help companies manage capacity restrictions. Plus, the software’s wayfinding feature guides employees to the chosen meeting room.
Nimway also developed new features to help minimize health risks for those who return to the building. Using the technology, employees can book a desk in the office up to 14 days in advance. And when they’ve finished working, Nimway’s desk sensors mark the space as “unavailable” until after it has been cleaned.
“Obviously Nimway can’t guarantee people’s safety, but what it does is help companies implement the COVID safety policies they’ve decided to apply,” Lundgren said.
For that reason, he added, Nimway isn’t encouraging companies to rush into reopening their offices.
“Rather, we want to support them with useful tools when their process begins,” said Lundgren. “There are different restrictions in different countries, but one thing we’ve observed everywhere is that it takes time and careful planning to get this right. Our customers are aware of this and that’s why they’re working to get the technology they need in place ahead of time.”
Even beyond the pandemic, Nimway allowed users to analyze space utilization and, as a result, improve office layouts.
“This reduces the need for additional buildings which, in turn, reduces short-term raw material use as well as long-term energy consumption,” Lundgren said. “You could say that ‘green’ thinking is built into the Nimway solution.”
Companies can also continue using the program as it was originally intended—as a vehicle to eliminate the stress of everyday tasks such as finding a meeting room or colleague.
“Nimway allows employees to spend more time and energy on creative and productive tasks. This is fantastic for both staff and business owners since people can put their energy where it really counts,” said Lundgren. “It’s good for company culture … and for the bottom line.”
No matter which tools a company chooses to boost employee safety, privacy and morale in the coming months, the office will continue to be a place where workers can connect and innovate—two aspects of work that have been sorely lacking during the pandemic.