Koen Matthijs is chief division officer, operate & manage division of the Nemetschek Group. Here he looks into the future of buildings in the time of Covid-19

We are currently experiencing a massive work-from-home experiment. From one day to the other, companies around the globe sent 10.000s of their employee home. What will happen to our offices worldwide once people start coming back? In some countries people are already returning to their workplaces and businesses are expecting practical guidance and smart tools to make it safe.

Will the office workers continue working as they did before? Will they still want to share offices or has the special situation changed how we can work together? How much office space will be needed then? Currently, no one can predict exactly what the impact of this unprecedented situation will be on the workplace.

In the short term, workplaces will most certainly be taking on three core challenges when workers return to the office: implementing new standards for sanitation and workspace utilization, ensuring worker comfort and productivity during a stressful time and – possibly - managing renewals of social distancing in case of a “second wave”. Integrated Workplace Management Systems can ensure a safer and more efficient workspace during this time.

Using enhanced technologies can also send a powerful signal to employees that their wellbeing is a priority, while at the same time creating opportunities for future improvement. Because, in the long term, the remarkable shift towards remote work also presents transformational opportunities for the workplace. While many employees are finding it difficult to maintain productivity in their home office – whether due to space constraints, family obligations, or other distractions – others have discovered that many work functions can successfully be conducted from home. Even if companies are likely to transition all or most of their employees back to the office environment, greater flexibility for remote work is nevertheless likely to become a trend. If so, employers can benefit enormously from a reassessment of their workplace needs.

In order to make such a reassessment successful – whether managed in terms of employee productivity and satisfaction, money saved on real estate or maintenance, or other relevant metrics – workplace managers need to thoroughly understand how their spaces are being used. Again, Integrated Workplace Management Systems can gather that data and build the basis for decisions about whether or not to shift to an agile work environment, how much floor space might be required, what kinds of physical improvements (e.g. ventilation systems) might be required to enhance employee wellness, how to streamline cleaning procedures in light of changing standards, and other process-based or physical transformations. The significant disruptions of the current situation will change behaviors and standards, and both better data and better tools will be required to adapt quickly and effectively to the new demands of the modern workplace.

Companies, that have deployed those systems ahead of the current crisis can count themselves lucky. They are now able react and adapt quickly. But what´s more, this is a learning process for all of us, not least for the technology. Stored in Building Information Modeling Systems (BIM), this large amount of data (or intelligence) can be reused for future office projects. That means that architects and engineers can draw on those experiences and improve their building designs to better meet future needs and requirements. For offices, that are up to future challenges.