IWBI released an in-depth report that lays out research approaches and specific operational strategies as the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for acute health threats into the future.
Over the next few months, we will repost a chapter from the report every week to help highlight specific themes and insights. The IWBI Special Report Chapter Series continues with “Facilities Managers and HR Teams Become Full Partners as Corporations Get Back to Business,” authored by IWBI’s Stephen Brown, WELL Faculty, Senior Vice President, Commercial.
Excerpt republished from: Prevention and Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery: An IWBI Special Report
Seemingly overnight, COVID-19 brought office work around the world to a halt. Once crowded workplaces still remain largely empty and billions of square feet sit largely unused. Spaces that once served as hubs for collaboration and camaraderie are still being replaced by makeshift home offices and Zoom meeting rooms.
After this sudden, seismic shift in the way companies operate, it’s clear that work is never going to be the same. What’s less clear is how, exactly, it’s going to change. In fact, depending on how companies respond in this moment, they could soon face two very different futures.
At some companies, working in a physical office may come to be seen as a burden and health risk. With the experience of COVID-19 fresh on their minds, workers may assume companies that require them back in the office do not prioritize their health and well-being. As a result, some companies could be faced with a difficult choice: mandate coming into the office and struggle with recruiting and retaining the best employees or go remote and struggle to build the kind of culture that defines their company’s identity.
There is another possible future companies could create—one in which, after this pandemic, employees actually have a heightened awareness of how their workplaces can contribute to their well-being. After all, in this period of extended work from home, many have realized the benefits offices can provide—comfortable spaces to connect with others and places to focus on the work at hand.
If companies invest in building positive workspaces, these places may come to be seen as an important bonus that can both draw in prospective employees and make existing ones happier, healthier and more productive. And, as investing for health becomes more important, and as health metrics are more widely reported, companies that show leadership in promoting employee health can benefit financially…
Excerpt: First Things First: Reassuring Safety…As many employees face the most stressful time of their careers, companies have an imperative to prioritize worker safety above all.4 Employers must carefully weigh the risks and benefits of reopening their facilities and only return when they are able to provide a safer environment for their employees. When companies ultimately decide to reopen, they can start by investing in making their spaces healthier by rigorously maintaining clear cleaning protocols and using appropriate ventilation and filtration.
Offering worker education is another core strategy, because investments in a healthier office will not be as successful if people aren’t also equipped with public health information once they leave. Employers have a responsibility to stay apprised of the latest public health guidance—and to then provide appropriate trainings to share those guidelines with their staff. They can use this moment to help establish a “culture of health” with COVID-19 training and build broader health literacy among their employees by offering trainings in areas like self-care and substance abuse prevention, providing access to free and confidential resources as needed.
Further, corporate policy changes can help foster a safer and healthier work environment. For example, availability of paid sick leave can be a prerequisite for bringing anyone back into the workplace. Because infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread more easily indoors, office work is especially susceptible to transmission. By not offering sick leave, offices can indirectly encourage employees to work while sick—a development that can hasten the spread of an illness and costs employers billions of dollars in productivity losses every year…
Excerpt: Workplaces that Energize and InspireYet in order for employees to actually want to come back in, the office can’t just be seen as a place that’s unlikely to make you ill. It needs to be seen as a space that can help to keep you well. After all, offices are not only places of work. They are also places of focus and social connection, places where new ideas can develop, where healthy habits can form and where a person can be part of a real community. In short, they’re places where employees can want to be.
Companies can spur this by investing in office environments that contribute to employee well-being. We know, for instance, that people with computer-intensive jobs are more likely to exhibit sedentary behaviors, which in turn puts them at risk of developing negative health outcomes like lower back pain, the leading cause of disability worldwide since 1990. We also know that simple interventions, like implementing ergonomic programs, can help…
Excerpt: Flexibility is KeyFinally, in order for our workplaces to contribute maximally to human health, companies can also acknowledge the times when it’s best to be away from the office. Studies suggest that offering greater flexibility—such as the option to work from home some days of the week, or empowering employees to modify their working hours to fit their needs—leads to less stressed, more satisfied employees.
Companies can offer flexible work arrangements where possible and invest in supporting their employees in setting up healthier home workstations. For example, they can offer stipends for interventions that promote healthy home environments, such as ergonomic furniture and high-quality electric lighting fixtures able to deliver bright light to supplement daylight as needed…
ConclusionThis moment offers a reset opportunity for many companies. Together, everyone—from the C-suite to the front lines—is going through a worldwide tragedy, and employees are paying attention to how their company responds. With every child that runs into a Zoom call, every home background that elicits a personal story and every moment we share a little more about ourselves—we are reminded that our coworkers are real people with complex and often competing needs.
In this moment, companies have an opportunity to break with the traditions of the past and build a new culture around human connection. Those that succeed will model the way to happier workers, stronger organizations and more vibrant communities. And that will benefit us all.