Using Data to Dispel Back-to-Workplace Anxiety

The return to workplaces has employees worried about contracting the virus while at work. It is especially traumatic for those who have lost a friend or family member to the virus, compounded by job security

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By Nimish Gupta


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Early this year, the COVID-19 outbreak originating in Wuhan, China, spread like wildfire all across the globe bringing lives in various parts of the world to an abrupt halt. The health crisis led to an international economic calamity, landing a severe blow to the financial health of numerous countries as roads, offices and factories started emptying in efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic and life came to a standstill.

However, the progressive escalation of cases, anticipated forthcoming multiple waves of the pandemic, and lack of vaccine at present has resulted in the realization that the virus is here to stay and established the reality of the 'new normal'. Work-related stress, depression, or anxiety due to COVID-19 is amplifying many people's apprehensions, further aggravated by the mental impacts of lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation. The return to workplaces has employees worried about contracting the virus while at work. It is especially traumatic for those who have lost a friend or family member to the virus, compounded by job security.

This is where data is fast emerging as a saviour, providing companies with crucial inputs about returning to the workplace. It is aiding in calculatingly supporting decision-making processes, further widening the sector to new possibilities for technology. Although in general, most countries and organizations have successfully navigated themselves through the crisis management phase and have now started resuming operations, there still prevails anxiety and fear in the air.

To counter this dread, it is important to collect data in the form of information and evaluate the future role of the workplace. The reinvention of the role of the workplace is the order of the day and terms like "distributed workforce', "blended work environments', are the new buzzwords of the industry. The one thing that is transpiring from data is that work-life balance and health and well-being are coming to light as key stress points. It has become extremely critical to focus on data and knowledge transfer, to weave effective workforce strategies. These are coming to the fore as major influences for not just the built environment sector but across all sectors.

Data is allowing organizations to measure the employee experience. It is facilitating benchmarking of remote working experiences against being physically present in the office. This is enabling organizations to carry out a gap analysis of if the office or home works best for employees. Since every organization entered the crisis, with different strengths and different susceptibilities, there is wide variance in getting back on track. Data is simplifying vital questions revolving around problem-solving and knowledge transfer, both critical issues to deal with work processes.

For every employee in favor of the home working better than the average corporate office setting, there is an employee for whom this is not the case. This section of the workforce displays a separate persona in terms of their need of the corporate workplace. To address this challenge, data is being harnessed to assess the ability of home versus the ability of the office to support the persona and the role of the employee as an individual, to identify the gap. Data collected through workplace sensors can aide in the optimal utilization of workspaces tailored to create a better experience for the employees. However, every organization will have to evaluate their strategy and decipher how they intend to use data to drive their eventual outcomes and their future in the "new normal'.

All companies have different journeys because their dynamics are different. Some companies are moving extremely fast and adapting to change, while others are being more conservative and reserved, taking it one step at a time.

As a matter of fact, even without a formal office, people continue to remain productive, get work done, and manage normal work activities. However, once we emerge from the shutdown, people will question the necessity of coming into the office or the concept of working from home. Data can provide the evaluation of different options, looking at experiences from other businesses in the past and post COVID-19 contexts by using technology to deliver and formulate strategies on how to go forward using these solutions.

Nimish Gupta

FRICS (Managing Director, RICS South Asia)

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