‘Restart, Reset, Reinvent’ these are the stages which mark the industry’s road to recovery over the next twelve months and beyond, according to the Construction Leadership Council. Sharing these to provide a framework for our virtual Construction Breakfast earlier this week, David Morris our Head of Construction, lead the debate on what comes next for the sector.
Over 40 participants, many in ‘Restart mode’, came together to share concerns, experiences and pertinent questions about getting people back to work. With so much to think about, conversations covered a raft of topics – from how to implement Government safety advice to how to handle the all-important human factor and address peoples hopes and fears about returning to construction sites and the workplace.
Following a case update from David, some of the latest industry facts and figures and a call to be ‘peacemakers’ amidst the current uncertainty, Melissa Toney shared her thoughts on all things regulatory. Melissa is Head of Regulatory & Licensing at Gregg Latchams.
With many employers overwhelmed by the constantly evolving advice and regulations on workplace safety, keeping up to date and implementing them is no mean feat.
However, Melissa provided a reassuring voice, pointing out that every business is unique and that employers who have a clear plan and process for implementing the advice as best as they possibly can are starting from a solid foundation. This can be built upon by seeking advice where necessary and remaining adaptable and flexible as things change.
Another worthwhile strategy from Melissa was to be proactive, to think about what’s coming next and what that might mean for your business. Employers should also plan as far ahead as possible to avoid becoming overwhelmed or missing something important later down the line.
As well as the legal and regulatory elements, people are a key factor in successfully reopening the workplace and implementing new ways of working.
Our guest speaker, John Wright, Director and Head of the Bristol Office at architects Stride Treglown, looked at how people’s wants and needs, alongside the safety requirements, will impact the future of the office.
Do we still need an office?
“Yes. Contrary to some of the self-proclaimed opinion leaders out there the office is definitely not dead!
“Obviously it will be very different to before. In the immediate future, offices will of course be the same spaces with the same furniture but with 75% of desks closed off, no meeting rooms, eating spaces or other communal areas. Which works in the short term while lots of people are still working from home.
“Once we’re past the initial stage, and into the next phase, offices will have to be designed with how people want to work in mind. There’s been an accelerated change in how people work – they definitely want to work differently so what an office provides needs to change to meet that. And people are our most valuable assets after all, so providing an office that caters to them is really important to help retain and attract the best talent.”
What about home working?
“We are 11 weeks in and still going, so for those businesses that are still standing, it must work. For businesses who thought working from home was impossible, because they didn’t have the right kit in place or because they didn’t trust people, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle…”
“In fact, during this crisis, businesses have learnt a lot about their people and how they can work. Many businesses have surveyed their staff about how they’d like to work in the future; we’ve done the same. Some want to work 1 or 2 days a week at home, some more, everyone wants flexibility mainly. These opinions should be at the heart of any changes to workplaces or work patterns.
“Working from home has taught us all that we all value time with our colleagues but that we also value time away from them! Working from home allows time for concentration and saves on time spent commuting or travelling to meetings, people who haven’t done it before have also realised it’s not about skiving off to do the gardening or watch tv -0 they’ve actually been really productive.”
Will people still use the office?
“People do still want some days in the office, for lots of reasons. For some people, they don’t have the right set up to work at home, or they are distracted by their kids or they just want the physical separation between work and home life. There are also things that happen in workspaces that can only really take place face-to-face. The chance encounter with a colleague on the way to get a coffee, where a great idea is hatched, the ability to quickly grab people to brainstorm, and not forgetting the opportunity to get to know your colleagues. Being able to talk about families, hobbies and lives outside of work, go to the pub for an after work drink and spend time together, helps build the communities that businesses are built on; it’s really hard to replicate this virtually.
“Also, it’s harder to pick up when a team member is struggling and vital ‘on-the-job’ training and learning from those around you is also at risk of being lost.”
What will the future workspace look like?
“The days of the 9 to 5 in the office were already receding before this crisis but I think those days are now well and truly gone. Most people won’t go back into the workplace full time. ‘Hard graft’ work requiring concentration will continue to be done from home, where people are less interrupted. The office will still be important though. People will come into the office to meet a colleague or client face-to-face, or to collaborate with others and teach, learn and mentor. Organised team days will enable people to be in the office at the same time and work together.
“Of course every business is different, every office will respond to those differences with their own bespoke set ups. But there will be common factors, less battery desks, less rooms full of just workstations, a lot more space will be freed up with people working from home some of the time.
“The space could be used to install more task-based workstations, for example we might install an area for the mark up of drawings electronically. Other businesses might replace desk banks with a large kitchen table type set up to allow people to work collaboratively when they are in the office. On another day in our office it could be used to build a model or lay out plans.
“This flexibility in use of spaces will be a key feature of the new workspace. In meeting rooms for example, there will be less fixed, wired in, heavy furniture. More lighter pieces that can be moved easily and wheeled about. The space could host a large seminar in the morning, a yoga session at lunchtime and a smaller training session in the afternoon for example.
“There will also be more social/café type spaces in offices – reflecting what people are using the office for – enabling collaboration and interaction with colleagues. There will still be a need for quiet/closed spaces to balance this, for more introverted people who prefer a quiet space or people who need to tuck themselves away and focus in for a couple of hours.
“None of this is terribly groundbreaking, it’s just a pushing forward of the evolution that was already happening really.”
What else is there to consider?
“To make working between home and office successful, there’ll need to be better virtual meeting technologies, there could be a combination of ‘real people’ in the office and ‘virtual’ employees at home so it needs to work.
“With more flexibility and people doing their work in different places we’ll also need to have better people management, actively seeking out team members and checking in with them, actively organising for teams to be together on certain days, trying to spot signs of stress, unhappiness and underperformance so we can step in and help. The same goes for training and development, it will need more thought and structure.
“Workplaces will also need to provide better facilities to run, walk and cycle, communities’ habits are changing, people want to be more active and more sustainable and to avoid public transport.
“My ultimate hope is that the changes and improvements around sustainability and wellbeing at work that have been accelerated due to Covid-19 will remain. And that the workplace of the future will be less one size fits all and more designed with people and how they want to work at front of mind.”
The Construction Breakfast ‘Summer Series’ will kick off on Wednesday 24th June. Further information and invitations to follow.