By Dale Lawrence
Ready for a busy day? Your first day back to the office. Got your Americano? Check. Look at your phone and see that you still have 15 minutes before your meeting. Just enough time to catch the elevator to the twelfth-floor office, check email and then review some documents for your client meeting. However, as you approach the lobby, you see a line of people. Upon inspection, they are queuing with socially distanced spacing for the elevators. This is not good! Looking at the time again, you know the ability to get ready for the meeting is doomed. Due to the limited number of passengers allowed on each elevator, you know you will not make the call and likely will be here for 30 minutes or more.
Sound familiar? During the rush to bring business back in the time of COVID-19, this will become an inconvenience to millions of office workers and a major burden on productivity. It will occur four times a day EVERY workday.
The Social Distance Challenge
Most people don’t think of how elevators work. Pulleys, counterweights, resistors, motors, computer board, safety systems. You just push a button and the familiar sound notifies you that your elevator is about to arrive. The doors open and your trip starts. Depending on other passenger needs, your trip may be direct or have a number of stops. We take this for granted.
However, during this pandemic, the issue isn’t how many people ride with you. It is how few. As most elevators don’t have the space required for a six-foot distance for passengers to be safe, the only way to avoid risk is allowing very few passengers at a time and ensure cleaning of contact surfaces often. While some businesses are placing social distancing markings on the elevator floor, does that provide the necessary space?
Elevators were not designed for social distancing.
The Introduction to Flow Constraint
The impacts from COVID-19 are many and the return-to-work will just introduce more challenges to business. The elevator seems like an innocuous part of office life, but in reality, it is a serious constraint to the basic flow of people. Normally efficient but think of the rare days when one of the elevators is closed for maintenance. That adds extra delays but is usually manageable. Now think of almost all elevators closed for maintenance; the bottleneck would be significant.
Like all systems, any constraint to flow has an impact. From a high-level system view, the objective of the elevator is to safely and efficiently move people from point A to point B. Think of the objective as ‘100% safe delivery of people to their desired destination as-quick-as possible’. In a production or manufacturing facility, any reduction of the efficient flow is called a constraint and the by-product creates inventory. This inventory typically gets stuck prior to the constraint, increases and costs the operation money in lost sales, productivity and efficiency. Now shift back to thinking of the movement of people instead of producing a product. The disruption to moving people on the elevator creates a backlog of passengers. This backlog creates an inventory of people waiting for the elevator. This inventory will cost you money in lost productivity. Unlike inventory, the people involved also feel frustration.
Elevators are becoming the bottle neck in the office.
The Impact to Productivity
The typical elevator office passenger takes four trips per day, 250 days per year. This represents a transportation delay for your workers to arrive at their desk or workstation on time. In fact, a study conducted by IBM in the early 2000s with almost 6500 office workers in 16 US-based cities found the accumulated time spent waiting for elevators during workdays was significant. In New York City alone, they found the accumulated time for the city’s office workforce waiting for elevators exceeded 16 years annually in lost productivity. While elevator manufacturers have made significant improvements in the last few decades, COVID-19 will cause a major disruption to an already complex daily routine.
Imagine a 40+ story office tower with 2000 workers who normally arrive daily. Back to my earlier analogy, the system requires a movement of 2000 people, four times a day for an expected 8000 trips. Pre-COVID, increasing the number of riders per trip reduces the number of elevator trips. As example, an average of 7 passengers per trip across 4 elevators would result in 285 trips per day, per elevator.
Now think of the current COVID situation. An effective social distancing approach would now significantly increase the number of trips per day. Depending on how few passengers are determined can safety travel at one time will determine how many additional trips are required (the question also comes to who decided the new capacity - based on health expertise or building management decision?). A CDC study found that the virus can travel up to 13 feet as an aerosol and while they didn’t look at elevators, distance should be maximized. This creates a big challenge to normal elevator capacity.
The problem is compounded as elevator trips are not all created equal. There is an added level of complexity since the vast majority of trips are likely between three periods of time:
These rush periods likely mean the number of passengers greatly increase over the average (likely doubling the average number of passengers) while most of the 2000 workers utilize the elevators during each window of time. When modelling social distancing and factoring peak times, the impact could be an increase of 100% the average trips per day but 300-500% the number of trips during daily peak times. This would cause the backlog to be beyond the elevator’s ability. Imagine waiting 45 minutes for an elevator, four times a day?
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help your business plan and implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website or contact us for the latest insights and research into flexible work.
By Eric Johnson
Further into the future as the pandemic has waned for some time, idea of flex work as a normal aspect of business operations may become permanent as organizations grow accustomed to the cost savings and flexibility offered to workers. With several considerations, organizations can plan around the culture shift and assist employees by creating purposeful guidelines and norms for the future.
Currently many individuals in offices may have their own conference number that they can use to create conference calls through their own setup. As we move into the stable future, we expect individuals to have a personal video call conference number or click-link as well. Organizations should develop training around the technical / advanced use of video conferencing, etiquette, safety, and other elements to ensure that employees have appropriate understanding of how to efficiently use video at a higher frequency, and that there is a clear set of expectations from the organization.
This may be permissible through the current conferencing tools within the organization, as a feature increase, or may require a brand-new vendor to meet the needs of the organization.
Home Environments and Setup
Everyone understands that working from home comes with a certain level of distraction, significantly correlated with the increase in number of household members. Consider providing employees with training on how to handle these distractions and offer forums for people to share best practices. The risk may decrease somewhat as children are consistently back in school, however if a spouse is working from home as well, boundaries will need to be created to develop a consistent environment that supports the work needed to be completed.
Additionally, IT may want to develop a set of guidelines from a home networking perspective to give employees guidance on bandwidth needs, security needs, and other technical components to perform their work. For example if an employee has a low bandwidth IT service, they may need to increase their plan in order to achieve the bandwidth necessary to provide video, or if their internet is spotty and frequently disconnects, they may need to change carriers. There may be situations even where wired Internet is not available, and the employee solely relies on satellite or even cellular Wi-Fi hotspots. Organizations will need to consider these home limitations and may potentially partner up with a carrier to offer discounted services if possible.
Work Environments and Required Attendance
While more employees work from home, there will always be a need for a work location. management needs to identify the times or situations where employees will need to be in the office. Doing this now will provide the opportunities to understand what those situations are and to have discussions with employees to get their feedback and provide input. Management should also consider the possibility of satellite office locations such as WeWork or Regis that could possibly give employees an office environment with reduced travel times if the concentration of employees is high enough to warrant the business decision to do so.
As the country has been thrust into a sudden work from home situation, many of the ways in which working from home has evolved has been a function of individual approaches thus far. Moving into a fully post pandemic world, organizations can use this time too shape what that future will look like so that they are able to hit the ground running once it arrives.
Read more about Flex Work:
Returning to a Safe and Healthy Office Work Environment Blog Series - Blog 5: Remote and Flex Work Options
By Brie DeLisi
Many organizations are in the process of considering if and how to bring their employees back to the workplace. There are potential risks involved in bringing employees back, especially at full capacity in the office. In the call center example, employers are facing this consideration with a fairly large workforce in a shared work environment with close quarters.
Average cubicle or workstation recommendations are around 100 square feet per employee (a 10 x 10 ft workspace) and if employees were to stay isolated in their 100 sq. foot ‘bubble’ that might work, however there is a decent amount of movement throughout the day and the likelihood of maintaining proper social distancing is unlikely. With this consideration, annual base office rental rates per sq. ft is around $10-14 per year, depending on the space. It can then be determined that each employee workstation space alone will cost about $1,000-1,400 per year, not including annual operating expenses, furniture, electrical, etc.
Organizations are likely looking at the costs of leasing what has been largely empty space for the last couple months and wondering what to do next. When considering the options for the future, fortunately, there are a number of options to consider for the work environment structure, with pros and cons to each for consideration:
Full return to the workplace – this is a situation in which all employees return to the office, there will likely be changes in the day-to-day operations to limit interactions.
Partial return to the workplace for the entire workforce, Situation A – in this situation, perhaps half the employees return to the office for half the week while the other half work from home, and swap for the latter half of the week.
Partial return to the workplace for the entire workforce, Situation B – in this dynamic, half the workforce returns to the office while half work remotely in a permanent situation
Fully remote workforce – in which the office environment is largely liquidated, and all employees work remotely
At Propulo, we’d be happy to discuss the options and considerations for the future of your call center workforce!
Future blogs in this series
Read more from this blog series:
BLOG 1: THE NEW NORMAL
BLOG 2: OFFICE ENVIRONMENT SETUP
BLOG 3: SAFE WORKING PROCEDURES AND PPE
BLOG 4: PREPARATION FOR RETURN - EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATIONS
BLOG 6: CONTINGENCY PLAN DEVELOPMENT
Read more about Flex Work: