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Amid COVID-19, Lessons in Workplace Readiness From a Corporate Real Estate Director

Gordon Wright, director of HOK’s WorkPlace group, spoke with David Funaro, director of real estate & strategy for SAIC, about how the government services and information technology support firm is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 20,000 employees working at sites around the world, SAIC’s experience offers valuable lessons in property management, workplace strategy and communications during crisis.

HOK’s WorkPlace team has been talking to our clients with global real estate portfolios about the impact the pandemic will have on their office environments. Below is one of those conversations that we believe offers valuable takeaways for all corporate real estate executives. We thank David Funaro for his time and insights.

Gordon Wright: Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, did your company have a remote or distributed work program?

David Funaro: SAIC already had a flex work program in place, and it had been gaining speed over time. We recently had gone to a 9-80 work schedule as well as a flexible work schedule. People at SAIC have been mostly positive about the shift to flex work. Now that we are in middle of the pandemic, we prepare and coordinate regular updates to employees that go out from executive leadership about the company’s broader efforts to allow people to work both remotely and from the office during these trying times. These communications not only outline the resources, tools and processes available, but also reiterate the care that the company has for employees and their families. It is reassuring to see such a high level of compassion from our leadership in these communications.

What actions are you taking to ensure that your offices operate safely and efficiently once they’re reopened?

Due to the criticality of our business, many of our offices remain open. Our biggest challenge now is maintaining the safety and health of all who enter our offices, especially for those who cannot work remotely. This includes providing employees with access to hand sanitizer and masks where possible, increasing the frequency of office cleanings—particularly in the secure work environments—and ensuring that our vendors are abiding by CDC guidelines.

What policies or precautionary measures might your company put in place to safeguard staff going forward? 

In leases there will be very specific clauses added regarding force majeure, so that in a catastrophic instance like this a business or a tenant can gain some type of relief.

This event is certainly going to change how we communicate with each other. As people become more comfortable managing and working remotely, additional safeguards will be needed to ensure data and communications are encrypted and protected.

This event will change how we use the office and measure the utilization of space. We typically try to design our office space at a density no greater than 200 square feet per person. But is the square foot per person metric critical when we need to practice social distancing and when so many people are effectively working from home? I see our office space becoming less dense and circulation—the distance between desks—becoming more important. I also see new metrics being developed based on employee productivity, cost per person or even around a percentage of safe circulation.

In hindsight, what would you have done differently in your corporate real estate planning or workplace strategy to prepare for an event like COVID-19? 

I’ve learned from this event that you can never be fully prepared for the worst but that planning and preparation should be centered on employee safety and business continuity. I’m thankful that years ago our senior management bought into a flex work program that made this transition to work from home easier.

We now need to be a lot more open-minded as to what the workplace is going to look like post-COVID-19. It’s up to the HOKs of the world and corporate real estate organizations to help design and determine what the workplace environment will be. There’s going to be a big opportunity for change when we come out of this.

About this series: HOK WorkPlace leaders are sharing their thoughts and client insights about the state of today’s work environment and how it will adapt to the new coronavirus realities.

 

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