Closing the workplace door on COVID-19

IBM Global Real Estate helps lead a smarter re-entry
by Karen Boush
5-minute read
Socially distanced coworkers working in an office lounge

Like a wildfire that defies containment, COVID-19 began spreading worldwide in 2020. Virtually overnight, business strategies shifted. Workplace health and safety took on increased urgency. Organizational agility also became paramount, given constantly changing public health directives.

True to its calling, IBM sought to draw on its vast experience and technological resources to help protect not only its own employees, clients and partners but also those of other enterprises.

“IBM is great about thinking through problems like this. That’s who we are and what we do, for our company and the world,” says Cameron Potts, Vice President, Operations & Transformation, IBM Enterprise Technology & Security.

The company’s real estate and facilities management organization, IBM Global Real Estate (GRE), helped lead these efforts. In response to initial government stay-at-home orders, GRE collaborated with site executives and crisis management teams to move 95% of IBM’s global employees from the office to home. With a security-rich infrastructure and digital workplace tools already in place, the company was well prepared to support a remote workforce.

The organization also lost no time in establishing front-door processes for temperature and symptom screening for onsite essential workers. Inside buildings, it reinforced personal hygiene, social distancing and other established health guidelines with signage and other tactics.

Next, the organization looked ahead to how to safely reopen sites once governments eased restrictions. IBM employs approximately 350,000 people in 170 countries. Decision makers needed a flexible, best-practices approach that could be adapted to various business needs and regional public health directives.

Helps enable safer workplace experiences for employees at

370

IBM locations

Analyzes space utilization

99%

faster

We consider the GRE organization ‘client zero for Watson Works.’ By proactively using smart technologies to help protect onsite employees and other workers from COVID-19, we can reinforce their trust in us.
Marianne Flores
Director, IBM Global Real Estate

To guide IBM and other large organizations in reopening, Marianne Flores, Director, IBM GRE, teamed with Potts and other leaders across GRE and human resources to develop the IBM Return to Workplace Playbook. The playbook provides a comprehensive decision-making framework and checklist for all phases of re-entry, including site assessment readiness, preparation and safety.

With these tasks completed, Flores and Potts began redefining IBM workplaces. They sought to facilitate onsite safety, productivity and efficiency with cutting-edge technologies.

Man talking on his smart phone in the workplace while wearing a mask
Woman looking at her smart phone in the workplace while wearing a mask
It’s employees’ health and safety that’s on the line. GRE put itself front and center into the equation of how we safeguard IBMers as they return to work.
Cameron Potts
Vice President, Operations & Transformation, IBM Enterprise Technology & Security
A people-first pandemic response
It’s employees’ health and safety that’s on the line. GRE put itself front and center into the equation of how we safeguard IBMers as they return to work.
Cameron Potts
Vice President, Operations & Transformation, IBM Enterprise Technology & Security

The GRE organization consistently uses data and insights to be an AI-driven real estate organization. Prior to the pandemic, it dramatically improved space and lease management and reduced costs using insights generated with IBM® TRIRIGA® solutions.

During the pandemic, use of innovative technologies became even more critical to the GRE organization. To address the complexities associated with helping ensure the health and safety of all IBM employees, Flores and Potts collaborated with a broader IBM team, including TRIRIGA and other offering specialists, to create new applications to benefit a variety of users, from central planners to site facility and operations groups to remote employees.

These efforts led to the launch of the IBM Watson Works™ suite, which enables data-driven, evidence-based decision-making in the following critical areas:

• Workplace re-entry and facilities management
• Workplace safety
• Contact tracing and care management

Watson Works solutions capitalize on innovative AI, blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to deliver real-time insights for navigating pandemic-related complexities. Built for security and privacy, they also help ensure adherence to HIPAA and other healthcare laws and regulations, including those pertaining to COVID-19.

GRE was the first organization to use Watson Works solutions. “We consider the GRE organization ‘client zero for Watson Works,’” says Flores. “By proactively using smart technologies to help protect onsite employees and other workers from COVID-19, we can reinforce their trust in us.”

GRE is rolling out Watson Works applications worldwide based on regional COVID-19 trends. Employees who have been officially invited to return to the workplace can complete their daily check-in from home with the IBM Workplace Health Advisor self-assessment tool. Using either a laptop or mobile device, they answer a short online questionnaire on current COVID-19 diagnosis, exposure and symptoms. If they are cleared for workplace re-entry, they can download a green work pass, which allows them to skip manual assessment processes at the front door. If they are not cleared, they are not allowed to enter an IBM facility.

If cleared for workplace entry, employees reserve a desk or a meeting room using the IBM TRIRIGA Workplace Services application. In addition, the system uses space optimization and utilization data to help site facility teams create safer workspaces. For example, the system makes only socially distanced desks available for use then automatically generates cleaning tasks after use. A desk becomes reservable again only after it has been cleaned and disinfected.

Socially distanced coworkers working in an office wearing PPE
Two socially distanced coworkers colaborating in an office lounge wearing masks

Corporate teams can monitor site risk and case volumes through user-friendly dashboards in the Return-to-Workplace Advisor solution, which integrates with the TRIRIGA Workplace Services application.

Furthermore, GRE leaders are deploying the IBM TRIRIGA Building Insights solution, which provides real-time occupancy status overlaid with TRIRIGA workspace data. The organization is enhancing the solution with IoT building sensors, WiFi access points and heat-mapping technologies that can deliver critical information on space usage, including overcrowded areas.

Finally, the GRE team anticipates adopting the following Watson Works offerings:

• The IBM Maximo® Safety solution to help monitor adherence to pandemic-related policies and protocols
• The IBM Digital Health Pass solution to help securely verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering the workplace

The GRE team also plans to work with human resource teams to automate processes for virus contract tracing using TRIRIGA solutions.

99% faster space utilization insights

By January 2021, GRE had implemented Watson Works solutions in 370 locations. By transforming its COVID-19 response and compliance processes, GRE ensured that IBM teams that need to make faster, pandemic-related decisions — including site and business unit leaders, country general managers and crisis management teams — have quicker access to key insights.

With Watson Works solutions, the GRE team reduced the time to complete space utilization analysis for a location by 99%, from 10 days to 10 minutes. In addition, with highly accurate space utilization data, GRE leaders can optimize usage and expenses across IBM’s global portfolio.

“GRE needs to make strategic real estate decisions and design the future workplace. We are able to dramatically reduce the time and effort required for data collection, data analysis and insights generation,” says Flores.

Most important, employees, clients and other people who enter IBM facilities can see, feel and experience the difference. Knowing that IBM has invested fully in protecting them from COVID-19 infection can increase their confidence and help them perform at their best.

“It’s employees’ health and safety that’s on the line,” says Potts. “GRE put itself front and center into the equation of ‘How do we safeguard IBMers as they return to work?’ GRE helped IBM pivot, almost overnight, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

IBM logo
About IBM Global Real Estate

Based in Armonk, New York, US, the GRE organization manages 72 million square feet of space in 1,200 locations across the globe. Its portfolio includes IBM offices, labs, data and educational centers, and warehouses. Approximately 600 IBM employees carry out the GRE mission to deliver excellent work experiences.

Solution components
IBM logo
About IBM Global Real Estate

Based in Armonk, New York, US, the GRE organization manages 72 million square feet of space in 1,200 locations across the globe. Its portfolio includes IBM offices, labs, data and educational centers, and warehouses. Approximately 600 IBM employees carry out the GRE mission to deliver excellent work experiences.

Solution components