The million-dollar question on everybody’s mind is, “when will we return to the office?”
Individual employers must decide the best course of action, but make no mistake, their decisions will evolve many times before reality sets in. Google announced earlier this summer that its 200,000 employees will stay home until July 2021. Part of that decision was to help employees plan for the future. Most likely, Google needs that time too, because developing a return-to-work plan is no easy task.
Your organization has unique needs when it comes to creating a successful — and safe — transition back to work. While many companies have started the transition, the majority remain somewhere between full-time remote work and a slow migration into the office for special circumstances.
“The new normal” everybody refers to will resemble a hybrid workforce for the foreseeable future, and very likely, for good. Salesforce surveyed 3,500 customers around the world and continues to survey the general population regularly to keep tabs on the state of work during the pandemic.
One of Salesforce’s surveys showed 64 percent of respondents say they want to work from their office or workplace at least some time, while the rest prefers to work remote full time. What’s more, many employers plan to reduce their office space and physical footprints to save on costs and limit in-person traffic at the office.
“As a result of COVID-19, the workplace will be forever changed,” writes Ben Tranel, principal at Gensler, in this article. “We won’t step back in time, simply ‘returning’ to our former offices.”
As you develop a return-to-work plan, consider these three important objectives:
- Technology must be a central part of your plan.
- Your employees will make or break technology adoption.
- "The new normal” is here to stay.
Technology Simplifies Returning to Work
While companies like Amazon and Google continue to update their plans for returning to the office, the focus remains consistent among businesses. The plan is to gear up and support a remote or hybrid workforce into 2021.
A recent announcement from REI explains the outdoor retailer plans to embrace remote and hybrid work as much as possible going forward.
“[This year] we learned that the more distributed way of working we previously thought untenable will instead unlock incredible potential,” said REI President and CEO Eric Artz, in this announcement. “This will have immediate, positive impacts on our ability to attract and retain a diverse and highly skilled workforce, as we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
REI plans to sell its newly built and unused headquarters and transition into smaller satellite offices in the Seattle area.
As IT leaders develop a plan that will help employees transition to their workplaces, consider how technology will ensure safety while allowing them to communicate from wherever they are.
Identify How — and From Where — Employees Will Need to Communicate Daily
This next chapter of modern work will look different for many, and most enterprise organizations plan to accommodate a hybrid workforce, comprised of people at home and at work.
- If you began the transition, how are you connecting remote employees to those in the office?
- Are your meeting rooms still in use? If not, what needs to happen to allow employees to use them?
- What technology will you use to ensure safety at the office?
Give Your Employees the Technology They Need
Your employees need technology to connect with clients, collaborate with one another, and receive updates from the organization.
People can meet with one another from their laptops and smartphones, sure. But, what about those gathering at the office? How can they connect from a conference room to remote participants?
You need a way to tie meetings together no matter who’s meeting from where, using whatever means is available to them (laptop, smartphone, tablet, or conference room).
Prioritize Technology that Will Keep Work Environments Safe
IT leaders have begun thinking about technology in a way that may feel unfamiliar to them: Safety. A new and essential part of the technological ecosystem that IT is responsible for will be:
- Thermal imaging cameras for taking employees’ temperatures upon entry
- Proximity tracking and analytics for measuring social distancing
- Personal touch solutions for controlling meeting rooms by mobile device
You Need Different Technology in Your Return-to-Work Plan
People who work in the office have different needs than those at home. Those in the office will rely on conference room technology, while a laptop is essential for remote workers. If employees experience gaps in their technology outfit, they need IT support to obtain the tools needed to work effectively.
If not, IT runs the risk of shadow IT — any device or application that isn’t supported or sanctioned by the department. Naturally, shadow IT can cause many issues:
- Security gaps and weaknesses
- Wasted time and money
- Productivity challenges
IT leaders should combat shadow IT from derailing their return-to-work plans by identifying the cause of these rogue applications in the first place.
Connect with your employees to determine the ways they prefer to work, including where they work, how they communicate with others, and which tools they use to complete their work.
Knowing these use cases gives IT valuable insight that they should leverage to implement safe and secure solutions that the organization will adopt long term.
Through this process, IT benefits in other ways too:
- It creates direct lines of communication between IT and other departments.
- It builds trust with the organization by making the process transparent.
- It helps prevent shadow IT applications from creeping into the organization, saving time and energy.
WFH Isn’t Going Anywhere
“This is just a phase.” Ever heard that before?
A common thread connecting IT departments across the country is that remote work won’t last.
Some think otherwise.
“I think we will all be more cognizant of how densely packed we are. And, how clean,” said Cindy Coleman, Gensler’s Midwest workplace strategy lead, in this Star Tribune article.
Re-entering the office comes with underlying angst. Spaces that used to accommodate a bustling workforce became desolate as the work-from-home mandates went into effect.
To the surprise of many, the transition wasn’t so bad. In fact, productivity soared for some, or at least remained steady. With the daily commute eliminated and persistent office distractions gone, many organizations embraced the benefits of this country-wide experiment while others accepted it reluctantly.
Working from home full time proved a hassle for some employees. Those with children at home became part-time teachers on top of their 40 hours; some don’t have a conducive environment for remote work; and many simply aren’t office workers, so #WFH isn’t an option.
Where does that leave us?
Going forward, IT must be ready to support a hybrid workforce, especially during the transition back to work. Many organizations continue to instruct their employees who can work remotely to do so until further notice, with a portion of the workforce likely to stay home permanently.
The first phase of a return-to-work strategy must accommodate those who need to get back to their workplace in order to conduct day-to-day business.
Your Path Forward Starts with Technology
During this transition back to work, it’s critical to acknowledge that most organizations will support a hybrid workforce into 2021. What’s more, supporting employees must be done with the future in mind.
Employees will need everything from work-from-home kits and VPNs to reorganized office spaces and conference rooms that create safe, socially distanced environments. IT teams must think of the scenarios that ultimately benefit the organization and then invest in technology that both keeps employees safe at work, but also keeps them connected in an increasingly remote world.
Have you overlooked any of these 3 items in your plan for returning to the office?