Can Buildings Regain the Trust of Office Workers?

Building safety is a critical aspect of workplaces, but the pandemic has raised a whole new set of issues about trust when it comes to using buildings. How can buildings regain the trust of their users?

Trust and Covid-19

Trust is an important and highly-prized quality in business. Trust is what differentiates successful, durable brands from their competitors.

You can see how Covid-19 has pushed this aspect of brand communication to the forefront.

Mintel research into health management trends suggests that the pandemic has pushed basic wellness needs to the forefront of people’s agendas. Brands that have responded to this are busy building trust by focusing on how people feel. This is how they are working to build trust with customers who are facing challenging times.

However, one broad area of branding that is struggling with the whole issue of trust is the office.

There are barriers to how it can rebuild trust with users:

  • Regulations and restrictions around social distancing
  • The huge rise in home-working, and
  • People’s own reluctance to re-engage with working spaces.

Proclaiming the death of the office may be premature, but it doesn’t look like we will be returning to the days of big spaces crammed full of workstations any time soon.

However, in adapting to periodic lockdowns and changes in working attitudes, what steps might offices and other workspaces take to regain trust?  As part of this process, how might they transform themselves so that they are fit for different working patterns in the future?

Letting Go

The first thing to do is to let go of the past. This is a well-established aspect of personal psychology, but it applies to brands too.

Embracing change can be difficult when it is imposed on you, and when you’re in the middle of what’s happening. It is hard to get a sense of perspective.

Hence the recent calls to get people back into the workplace and to try and put the economy on more even footing based on people returning to do what they did before lockdown.

But we know that isn’t possible. The resurgence of infection rates is a testament to the fact that we now live in a different world, for the foreseeable future.

And the habits and lifestyle changes that go with this seismic shift are becoming more commonplace.

The task, therefore, of office workspaces is to work out how to absorb these changes into new models, that will give users the confidence to re-integrate them into their lifestyles, to trust working in the office again.

The Role of Technology

On one hand, you could see some aspects of technology as barriers to a return to the workplace.

Video conferencing apps such as Zoom have woken many enterprises and individuals up to the potential of remote and home-working.

And the rapidity of digital communications and the convenience of cloud-based software have made bypassing the physical workspace that much more practical.

But, while digital collaboration and communication platforms will continue to evolve and play a central role in working life, there are technologies that could help people return to the office.

Examples include:

  • The Bump Personal Motion System from Tharsus involves personally-worn devices that alert people about the close proximity of other workers, to help them maintain social distancing

Communication tools, too, play an important role. Businesses that maintain uniform and clear channels of communication with employees are better positioned to build confidence in the physical workspace.

Workspace apps can also support practical infrastructure, such as how people book workstations or rooms for use, and how to adapt building occupancy to the new realities of social distancing.

Technology also supports the contactless interaction with infrastructure, such as using mobile devices to call elevators, operate office lights and blinds, and for ambient temperature control.

Physical Changes to Build Trust

Rebuilding trust with workspace users requires that there is a visible, and effective, degree of physical adaptation.

Office spaces need to have clear distancing, protective screens and, preferably, some sort of directional, one-way system that governs how people move about safely.

Anything that looks like it’s been designed on the hoof, or is the result of rapid improvisation is going to send out the wrong signals to workers.

Ultimately, workspaces need to embrace change as if it is permanent, putting firm, demonstrable measures in place.

There are also fundamentals to consider such as office ventilation. Ensuring optimal air quality is essential to make buildings Covid-secure. Genrally, the greater the number of occupants of a building, the greater the need for good ventilation.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are vital in preventing the accumulation of the tiny airborne droplets that can transmit coronavirus.

The Building as Brand

Businesses often neglect bricks and mortar when it comes to brand building in the digital age. But the office is part of the media mix that brands should be using to build their reputations.

One key question should ask itself is: is the physical workspace a brand asset that it can afford to neglect, or even to lose, post-Covid?

In the middle of a pandemic that is not going to go away anytime soon, having the vision to see beyond immediate concerns is challenging.

But this is what brands, and their workspaces must do. If, in this context, the physical workspace will still play a key part in how they work, then they must ensure it will work as a brand asset, and an extension of their brand values.

This means regaining, or rebuilding, the trust of those who will be occupying and visiting this workspace.

A Partisan Approach

We’re a Manchester-based brand consultancy, supporting purposeful brands and the built environment, helping them develop strategies to meet the challenges of change.

For more information, please call us on 0161 860 7010, or email hello@partisan.studio

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