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C-Suite Series: The Future of Office Environments: Imperative or Obsolete?

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May 29, 2020

Adrian Bartha

There has been much talk lately on the future of work and whether we’ll all be working from home forever OR whether office work will ever return to what it was if a vaccine is developed. 

“Work from Homers” say permanent WFH:

  • Provides optimal safety
  • Increases productivity
  • Lowers expenses for employees and employers
  • Increases flexibility in hiring globally

“Office Centrists” say:

  • Work from home can never replace face-to-face human connections
  • Clients expect a face-to-face world
  • Leaders find it more difficult to connect with their teams
  • Permanent WFH may lead to increased mental illness in some

Rather than betting on predictions, why don’t we use this as an opportunity to better evaluate risk across the board to protect our people?

Here’s a crazy idea for our office workforces: why not trust them to tell you where they are at their best? If we trust our workforces to do their job, wouldn’t they be the best to know what work format they’re most likely to find optimal?

In the safety profession, we engage the frontlines to learn about each task and hazard they face, as well as the controls lining up with each hazard. This is a two-way consultation which helps the organization better protect their people but also gives them the opportunity to create more predictability and scalability in operations. I don’t see why we can’t do the same for office-bound colleagues who may have different risk (and productivity) levels depending on their role, team dynamics, age, health conditions, family status, etc.

To build on this…

1. What can we learn?

This is not the first time we face life or death decisions. Building a health and safety technology company has taught us while predictions can be provoking, there are some short-term actions office-heavy workforces can learn from in traditionally hazardous industries. The way a 50,000 employee bank responds to their workforce may be at the same level of sophistication as that of what is already being done at a 500 person utility contractor company who evolved their thinking on this topic over the past 20-30 years. A powerline worker, for example, may navigate several tasks a day that can be deadly if not executed safely, BUT strong safety systems embedded in the operations and culture keeps them safe, allowing them to return to their family every day. There are valuable nuggets in these examples for the white-collar workforce to borrow from.

It’s how we work, not where we work…

Most of the workforce do not work in offices (sorry to burst your bubble). For the majority, it is about HOW they work which is changing, not where they work. This means embracing an operational risk mindset: re-evaluating each job profile, each task, associated hazards, and putting in the necessary controls. Measure and manage it, like any other part of your business.  I would argue your people are probably the most important so it should be right up there on your exec dashboards with cash flow, if not already.

And what about when we work?

For those of us formerly working in an office, I wonder if WHEN we work will start to become as fluid as WHERE we work for some occupations.

Let’s bring it back to the heart

WHY we work is even being re-thought as soul-searching takes hold on whether what we’re doing is truly meaningful to us and our communities. This is probably healthy…

The pandemic has continued to elevate the importance of health and safety of our workforces across organizations. The silver lining?  Many organizations are truly re-assessing the risk of every job to help better protect their people from not only COVID-19, but the other risks we always took for granted (and from whatever comes next).

What are your thoughts?  Share them with me at Adrian.bartha@ecompliance.com

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