Sawaram Suthar is the founder of TheNextScoop and Jagat Media. A digital marketing consultant, he has experience in branding, promotions, page optimization, research, and strategy. He has an MBA from the University of Pune. Anyone can find him on Twitter @sawarams.
Work environments won’t look the same as they once have and that’s okay. Make your employees get back to office with an adjustment period, safety measures and a concrete plan.
It’s no secret that the workplace is undergoing a fundamental transformation, thanks to the global macroeconomics of 2020. As remote work becomes the default setup for more employees, organizations are rethinking their technology strategies and constructing hybrid workspaces, which simultaneously bring the office experience home and reimagine existing offices for new purposes.
Companies are making these changes in the context of increased employee reliance on real-time collaboration tools, as well as ongoing concerns about traditional in-office environments. In a Cisco survey, almost all respondents (98%) expected future meetings to include WFH colleagues joining by video and audio links, while almost the same number (97%) sought safety improvements in the event of returning to company campuses.
Making office environments sufficiently safe serves a double purpose. First and foremost, it benefits everyone’s health and provides peace of mind. Second, it enables a more balanced workplace experience, in which employees have the option to either work at home or in a more formal environment, depending on their shifting needs. Such flexibility can boost productivity.
But what do organizations need for building these types of hybrid workspaces? Here are 4 tips for preparing to move workers back into the office.
1. Redefine your policies
Before moving the workforce back into a traditional office setting, policies need to be redefined that articulate expectations of remote work vs. in-office work. This could entail giving employees the option of choosing a full-time remote setup, a full-time office setup, or something in between.
Likely the office will need to operate at a lower capacity than it was previously, so that needs to be accounted for as well. That could mean defining a schedule that includes alternating days or specific in-office hours. Regardless, before getting anyone back into the office, these policies need to be established and well-communicated.
Other factors to consider:
- Will flexible hours be offered to employees, for example those with families or children who may still be at home?
- Will alternating days be required to adhere to new capacity limitations?
- What check-in requirements will be established for managers supervising remote teams?
- What devices and technology will be required for both at-home or in-office employees? How will that technology be serviced and supported?
- What practices will be put in place to enable a transition back to a fully remote environment, should the need arise?
2. Continue to support remote employees
Before delving into the best practices of the physical office space, it’s important to note that remote work will most likely continue in some shape or form for the foreseeable future—if not forever. In a recent survey, the data shows that as the pandemic wanes, employees will
continue to work increasingly from home, with 58% indicating they will be working from home 8 days a month or more.
Ensuring these remote workers are set up for success should be a key part of the long-term strategy. Simply porting the traditional workplace experience, as is, to remote environments isn’t enough. Over 90% of telecommuters also say they want tools that improve their WFH experience. More specifically:
- 59% seek dedicated collaboration devices for real-time interactions that provide rich context.
- 51% would like digital note-taking functionality to streamline the process of recording, sharing, and reviewing notes from a meeting.
- 47% want digital whiteboard technology to either work with blank canvases or annotate existing documents, images, and files.
With these solutions and others, remote workers can move beyond the common reliance on email and feel like they’re more closely connected to one another and to customers, too.
Since loneliness and frustration with modes of collaboration are both persistent challenges in WFH, it’s important to have platforms that make WFHers feel like they’re “right there” with everyone else, via high-quality audio and integrated features like screen-sharing.
3. Establish environment changes to make employees feel safer
In-office work isn’t going away fully. In some U.S. metros such as Dallas, 40% of office workers had already returned by September 2020 per The Wall Street Journal, although in other locales like Manhattan the percentage is barely out of the single digits.
There are multiple obstacles to safely returning to any shared space. In the same Cisco survey, 97% of employees want their employers to make changes to increase safety as they return to the office. In particular, these respondents seek changes in the following areas:
- 66% are looking for increased sanitation for rooms and devices.
- 58% want enforcement of social distancing in meeting rooms and elevators.
- 51% would like to see less desk sharing.
- 50% would like to have fewer things to touch in meeting rooms, as well as mandatory temperature checks.
When preparing to move workers back in the office, having a plan to address these common concerns is critical. Not only should the office spaces be more rigorously cleaned on a routine basis, but reporting on this cleanliness, as well as capturing utilization rates and metrics around social distancing adherence shows the business is taking their concerns seriously.
4. Use intelligent workspace technology everywhere
Intelligent workspace technology plays a big role in enabling a new, safer office environment. For example, implementing touchless controls for meeting rooms and devices and wireless screen-sharing, both of which minimize the amount of touching — like pushing buttons or connecting cables — required to collaborate with others.
Similarly, digital signage has become more valuable within office spaces as a way to prevent clustering and confusion. Eye-catching signs with clear instructions help workers and office visitors find the right locations as efficiently as possible. These signs can also transmit other instructions such as requirements about spacing and mask-wearing.
And finally, automated meeting room tracking helps manage occupation and utilization rates in real-time. This provides IT and facility managers with the insights they need to make informed decisions about the workplace.
Ensuring safer and more productive work environments
The transition of workplaces into more distributed digital spaces is only beginning. Global Workplace Analytics has estimated that worldwide, employees are not at their desks as much as 60% of the time. And according to the Cisco survey, 64% of employees are expecting more work flexibility that encourages at-home work and adaptable schedules.
Accordingly, there remains a lot of room for employers to reimagine their workspaces to better accommodate their constantly on-the-go employees. With a sound strategy, businesses can successfully enable a hybrid environment that optimizes a mix of both remote and in-office workers, making each feel safe, connected, and productive.
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