Working from home and the workplace revolution has given us a greater appreciation of the impact of buildings on our wellbeing. But what about the mental health of those charged with managing buildings as they reopen, asks Alistair Scott, Founder and Operations Director at Integrated Estate Management.

We cannot know the long-term impact of the pandemic. It will continue to reflect through our actions and environments for perhaps years to come. It has been an incredibly difficult and stressful time but with the right intentions, its legacy can offer something positive.

Concern for mental health has been at the fore as normal comforts and coping mechanisms have become inaccessible. As organisations begin to reopen their workplaces and reconsider the balance between remote and office-based work, the impact of our environment on mental health is a particularly important subject.

“Unprecedented challenges should never be addressed in silos.”

It has long been recognised that workplace design influences the health and wellbeing of those within. With mental health in the limelight and many organisations offering their staff the opportunity to work from home, estate managers and employers are using the last of their site down-time to rethink their workplace design and management.

Those wanting to facilitate creativity and innovation need spaces that compliment communication and connection. But they must also think about what will tempt their worker back to the office now that avoiding the daily commute is an option. This is not a simple challenge. The time, space, and cost to invest in refits may be significant and that only comes after long considerations of how to balance the demands, preferences, and wellbeing of a diverse workplace.

Though workplace design and workforce mental health are prominent topics, investing in them without considering the wellbeing of every team member is tokenistic and will ultimately be ineffective. Caring for staff wellbeing comes from a strong and caring workplace culture – not from having plants, sofas and free coffee in the office.

The specific roles and needs of individuals need to lead developments and the mental health of those managing these complex changes must also be considered.

The role of the estate manager Estate managers have a huge task on their hands


regardless of whether organisations are looking to invest in workplace changes or not. Before buildings are reopened, they must be made safe. This means more than providing cleaning and sanitisation.

They must ensure each aspect of the site is safe and compliant with current regulations. For vacant or low- capacity sites, some systems may have been out of use and will require checking over. From checking alarms to flushing water systems for legionella, a great number of tasks have to be carried out. Many organisations will also be making some changes, from new touchless systems to adjusted, socially distanced layouts and this may mean retraining staff or adjusting protocols to fit new processes.

Many site users may find themselves apprehensive about returning to the office and will rely on their employer to reassure them. Business leaders, too, may be anxious; they want to ensure the safety of their employees, clients, and customers. Many have been through a challenging time financially and are aware that reopening their space poses a financial risk if their site fails compliance.

Estate managers might find themselves squeezed between the two groups, relied upon to carry everyone else’s concerns. This combination of expectation and a seemingly endless to-do list is a recipe for burnout.

Supporting your estate management Unprecedented challenges should never be addressed in silos. The past 18 months of the pandemic has challenged and forced innovation in every department. These learnings must be shared through cross-departmental work.

Estate teams should be working in close consultation with other senior leadership. The pandemic has amplified the voices of many workplace experts, including estate managers, who otherwise tend to remain ‘behind the scenes’.

These experts are just as important during the return to the office, but some will be concerned that these newly strengthened working relationships will be forgotten once their organisation settles into the ‘new normal’. Organisations that do fall back into old, siloed approaches will lose out on shared knowledge, novel perspectives, and creativity.

Close work between teams also helps to relieve pressure and reduces the likelihood of human error. Facilities management teams are intimately familiar with their sites and with matters of compliance and can help senior

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