A workplace study released by Louis Carter and the Best Practice Institute (BPI) says 83% of CEOs want to reopen offices and get their employees back in the office. Aternity report in July 2020 stated that while 85% of employees were working from home, their overall productivity dropped by 14%. Employers could see an increase in healthcare costs, which is already high at $530bn.
Controlling the transmission of the virus can keep healthcare costs in check. Doing so will require a slew of changes resulting in a workspace befitting the new normal. Keep scrolling to know more about how to reopen safely and the best ways to do so.
Recommended Reading: 73% of CEOs Prefer Flexible Work Model
5 Things You Need to Consider Before Returning-to-Office
Reopening the office and asking employees to come back is a complicated process. You need to consider a few points before you embark on the return to office strategy.
1. Goal/nature of change – Tactical or Strategic?
Before you start to call employees back, decide what you wish to achieve. Has productivity been affected? Is it a particular function or team that needs to meet regularly? Is a collaboration between multiple departments the actual problem?
Deciding if it is a short-term morale-boosting exercise or a long-term strategic move will help you justify the investment in reopening the office.
2. Employee health
Employee health and safety should be your number one priority. A planned and phased reopening will help you implement preventive measures more effectively.
Following social distancing protocols, regularly sanitizing the workspace, and wearing masks at all times are a few factors that need consideration.
Moreover, all group activities need to be controlled by keeping in mind the safety guidelines issued by health departments.
Before you reopen your office, you need to consider the associated costs. For instance, with a hybrid workplace coming forth, do you really need that extra office space? Real-estate is a major cost and needs serious consideration before offices reopen.
Also, the cost of technological infrastructure needs to be evaluated as well. If half of the office population is working from home, how feasible is it to have desktops? Employee healthcare cost has also risen over the last one year. It is a major cost that all organizations need to consider before reopening the office.
Also Read: What are Hybrid Workplaces?
If this past year has taught us something, it is to be flexible. It is the key to keep operating. SOPs need to be created, keeping in mind that anything can happen anytime. With flexible workplaces coming to the forefront, it is necessary to keep an open mind when bringing back employees to the office.
5. Review of existing policy
As you reopen, you need to overhaul your policies, like leaves, medical reimbursements, and attendance, to name a few. It is also essential to get health information about the employees and understand their willingness to come to the office. The old policies aren’t going to work. Reviewing and changing them should be one of the major considerations when getting your employees back to the office.
How Technology can Help Reopen Offices Safely and Ensure You Keep it Running
COVID19 has accelerated digital transformation. As Zoom calls replaced meeting rooms and digital passes nullified biometric use, the strategy for returning-to-office revolves much on technology.
Here are eight technological interventions that can be instrumental when opening offices safely.
1. Scheduling and rostering
A phased reopening will call for weekly rosters, prioritizing, and scheduling work. The number of variables involved will be high. Manual management would be an uphill task. Workinsync’s team planner solution factors in employee availability, locations for better work scheduling, and office visits. You can also automate monitoring employee sign-in time and get unified, real-time insights into work hours and productivity.
2. First line of defense: Entry wellness checks
Entrance and lobbies are your first line of defense to fight the spread of the virus. Authorizing entry based on employee schedules and health indicators could prevent unnecessary crowding of spaces. It could also help in contact tracing.
Daily health surveys and apps are already being used by several companies for staff required in the office. Innovative solutions like WorkInSync’s QR-Coded Digi-Pass enable contactless entry/exit for employees and visitors. The lobby staff can further screen visitors using contactless thermometers. One effective alternative would be using a wall-mounted thermal imaging camera with facial recognition capabilities.
While the advantage is evident, the downside is the privacy concerns that come with technology that uses personal identifiers.
3. Software for desk and meeting room booking
Open office plans have long been a subject of debate. COVID settled most of it in a single stroke – it made people stay at home and made partitions necessary.
The objective of reducing the number of people at work is to contain the spread of infection. It will remain unrealized if the density of people isn’t reduced by social distancing.
While a rearrangement of workspace might work, coupling it with a technology solution, you can make it more effective. With desk and meeting room booking software, you can prioritize and allocate space based on the requirement. WorkInSync enables your employees to book and view desk allocation with ease. Specific teams can book together while following social distancing guidelines.
Similarly, employees can schedule and book meeting rooms in advance. To top it all, WorkInSync provides ready integration with Google and Outlook calendar.
On the other hand, startups like Density, Staqu, Zensors, and Contatrak monitor occupancy and use spatial intelligence to improve social distancing and contact tracing. Using computer vision, some of these solutions monitor body temperature, employee-count, and density to provide real-time alerts and suggestions.
Bonus Read: Explaining Hoteling
4. Hybrid workspace: remote collaboration tools
Even as employees return to the office, it would be impossible to hold group meetings unless you have large spaces. This brings us to the concept of hybrid workspaces, where few activities, like team meetings, continue to happen online.
Regardless of whether you despised in-person meetings, virtual meetings have been frustrating for most. Remote collaboration through video conferencing hasn’t been the perfect substitute. Ambient noises, the absence of tools like whiteboards, and the inability to gauge the body language make it a draining experience. “Zoom Fatigue” is today a reality.
Although Microsoft and Zoom have been working to improve their collaboration tools, there’s a long way to go. Perhaps, that’s the reason why tools like Miro have registered a surge in popularity over the last year. Such collaborative tools will lead to the evolution and popularity of hybrid workspaces.
5. Employee communication and engagement
With a changing workspace, the modes of communication and engagement too will transform.
If an employee tests positive, timely communication holds the key to limiting the spread of the infection. Mobile notifications, due to their full-time connectivity, are emerging as a preferred medium. Staffbase and Happeo are a couple of companies, among many others, which are prioritizing mobile for internal communication.
Better internal communication becomes vital to manage the performance of a geographically distributed workforce. Many BI tools are now increasingly focusing on this aspect. Although most users might be unaware, Microsoft Teams captures a lot of data related to employee productivity.
6. Cybersecurity at office and home
Admittedly, cybersecurity isn’t a new challenge. The scale of digital transformation has amplified the problem, and so has work-from-home.
According to London-based email security platform Tessian, 48% of employees were less likely to follow safe data practices working from home.
The number of phishing attempts has also seen a drastic rise since the pandemic began. Senior leadership and finance teams are understandably a high-risk category.
While reopening, it is critical to update and upgrade your cybersecurity systems to ward off any threat.
Even as tech majors extend work from home, 2021 will witness the gradual reopening of office spaces. As more people return to the office, the workspace dynamics will not be the same as in the pre-COVID era.
Physical distancing that was innocuously referred to as social distancing may end up actually resulting in one. After seven months of restricted mobility and being stuck at home, people would have developed new routines and work approaches. An abrupt shift or forced compliance would lead to the same discomfort that sudden imposition of work-from-home did. The new office culture will have to assimilate and accommodate the deviances for quite some time to come.
Reopening isn’t just about boosting productivity or employee morale; it should help companies gain momentum and stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, companies should ensure the safety of employees to the best extent possible.
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