Kristin Hay is head of people and culture at Knight Frank Australia and a member of the 100% Human at Work network. Below Kristin shares her thoughts on what a human centred return to work will look like in a post COVID-19 world.

Governments around the world are easing restrictions with a view to return the world to some form of normalcy. This means that organisation and business leaders who have been busy dealing with the fallout from lockdown have had to turn their attention to the new dilemma of how to bring people back to the workplace in a safe and considered way.

Knight Frank was one of the first companies globally to publish a re-occupancy roadmap. Our Australian CEO, Rod Leaver, recognised the very human nature of what we were dealing with, and in the spirit of putting ‘people before place’ asked me to lead our return to the workplace taskforce. I was lucky to be able to draw on our team of internal experts from our consulting business when formulating our strategy.

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Together we followed five steps to guide through the process and maintained the ethos that our people had to be at the centre of every decision.

To begin we conducted a survey of our people, to gauge how they were feeling about returning to the workplace. I was pleased that our response rate was 80% and the results, whilst not surprising, were interesting:

  • 40% of people were concerned about returning to the workplace even after restrictions were lifted
  • 70% said they want to come into the office 3 days or less per week
  • Only 15% were feeling disconnected from the office whilst working from home
  • 99% said they were well-equipped from an IT perspective at home
  • 91% believe they are productive working from home

There were multiple things to consider as we navigated the immediate return to workplace plan, as well as planning for the longer term future.

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For the short term, we developed a staggered approach, which sees only 10 people initially in each office  –  this will be gradually scaled up. 

From a very practical perspective, we had to deal with the immediate concerns around bringing people back to central business district (CBD) offices in a safe and considered way. Our task-force worked tirelessly to develop a set of comprehensive protocols, employee guidelines, and very structured physical planning, where we took floor plans and overlaid social distancing requirements. 

However in a post COVID-19 world, the question for us has become not just who could work from home, but who should work from home, and not just home – where else does our best work happen?

In the past, we would have thought of the options as only being either work at the office or work at home, but our strategic advisory team has been exploring this concept of the ‘workplace as a service’ and that actually each individual’s best work might occur somewhere completely different and might be much more localised. 

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We’ve seen the emergence of ‘walking meetings’ or now local coffee shop meetings for those that live nearby to each other, which gives us an indication of the ‘localisation’ of the workplace. We’re starting to consider options such as ‘should we have suburban hubs?’

We know our people are telling us they are keen to continue with home and local working options and that for each person that can mean something completely different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ so it becomes all about choice and about creating sustainable solutions for where our people do their best work. We’ve started to see the emergence of what we are calling the ‘Performance-based Portfolio’, which as you can see might include 100% virtual networks, not anchored to a traditional CBD office.

It’s all about finding a solution that fits each individual and ensures that they will perform at their best. Whilst the physical return to the workplace has real estate implications, at its heart there are very real and human issues that we need to deal with, hence why it was so important for us that this was all driven from a people and culture perspective.  

I’ve been lucky that I’ve had the wealth of resources from within the business to draw on, but ultimately it’s through putting a human lens on our solution that we are aiming to get the best for and out of our people.


To learn more about the 100% Human At Work network and their efforts to create a better future of work – with support from Virgin Unite and The B Teamread more blogs from our content series.

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