The return to the office—and the hybrid workplace—are hot topics for C-level executives across the nation, as companies decide how and where team members will work going forward. But creating a new way to work, in which some people work 100% in the office, some work 100% at home and others do a bit of both, presents a challenge for employers. How do you start? Who works from where? How do you set up your offices differently today?
ConvergeOne has a 28-year history of proven ability to visualize, plan for the future and successfully respond and adapt to the world around us. Even before the pandemic, we relied on a distributed workforce, and we were users of our own technology solutions. Our investments in technology, data security, virtual engagement, collaboration, and communication meant we were better prepared than most heading into the pandemic.
Below are nine key takeaways for your return to work strategy.
1. Gain a competitive edge
COVID-19 changed the way people worked and cemented a desire to work remotely. Hybrid work strategies will allow your company to retain and recruit top talent by offering flexible work options. A study by Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce would consider leaving their current employer within the next year. Job seekers increasingly have the upper hand in today’s job market, with employers competing for a finite labor pool. A survey by ZipRecruiter showed that 38% of job seekers desire positions in which they can work remotely—and there’s no doubt that the truly talented workers will be getting what they want.
2. Consider your end goal
Is your goal to ensure everyone eventually returns to the office because your business cannot support remote work? Your HR team can help define how that looks in terms of facilities planning, creating business continuity plans for essential workers, technology and more. What will your return to the office schedule look like? If your end goal is hybrid—where your employee base is mixed between office, home and a combination of both—it’s still essential to ensure people feel comfortable going back to the office and being in larger group settings.
3. Prioritize the comfort level of your team members
"The safety and wellbeing of our team members and their families was and continues to be a top priority," says Colleen Haberman, ConvergeOne's vice president, human resources. "This focus drove us to listen to and communicate with our team members during every step of the process."
You may need to vary your return-to-office approach depending on the geography of your team members, because each area has a different experience with COVID-19. The comfort level and local safety concerns may drive different timetables and plans for returning to the office.
4. Determine who works where
Employee input will be helpful, but ultimately management must determine which people and jobs must be done in the office and at what frequency. Consider updating or creating a Hybrid Work Policy to provide clarity, support organizational consistency, and help managers designate virtual or hybrid roles based on job requirements, team member preference, and business needs.
5. Put safety first
In addition to the standard sanitation and mask policies inside your offices, you may consider modified floor plans that promote social distancing, installing Plexiglass panels or eliminating open cubes that allowed more visibility of colleagues. Touchscreen, temperature scanning kiosks can prevent people who have a fever from entering, minimizing risk. UVC Purification Lighting in warehouses may minimize transmission of the virus among essential workers.
6. Understand how people use space
New sensors and technologies allow companies to evaluate how people are using space to better adjust the design and footprint of physical spaces and facilities and to use it as a virtual/hybrid meeting tool to also promote safety. This allows companies to reconfigure office space accordingly, and keep tabs on social distancing. For instance, if more than four people gather inside a room that traditionally held twelve people, the video endpoint alerts them that they are out of compliance, and prompts somebody to leave the room.
7. Create hyper-targeted communication
Many companies may have TVs mounted on the walls of offices and video endpoints in conference rooms and in the hot desking areas. This digital signage inside the office—as well as workplace apps on phones or laptops—can effectively communicate such messages as updates on changes in the CDC guidelines, or which areas are mask-free workspaces, or even information about a new outbreak in a specific office. Leaders can deliver information in a hyper-focused way to the people most directly impacted. With a hybrid workforce, it’s not always known who will necessarily be in a particular office on a particular day. At large companies with multiple offices and thousands of employees, these targeted messages may work better than email—and they won’t be ignored or lost in a junk folder. Virtual communication and engagement tools for hybrid team members is also important, and ConvergeOne offers technology that can help.
8. Create systems for rotating office workers
More companies are adopting hot-desking, or generic, predetermined office spaces for rotating groups of people to come into the office and work. One of our partners, AppSpace, provides an electronic reservation system which offers another level of safety. It’s touchless: an employee can log in with her own smartphone app and pick out their workspace, much like she might reserve a movie seat on an app for a theater.
9. Keep culture rolling
Company leaders must find ways to bring teams together in a hybrid workplace that continues to drive team engagement, communication and a positive culture. The hybrid workplace will require an effort to ensure there’s a connection and comradery between teams. Some employees may go into the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, and others on the same team spend time there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They may not see each other in the office, and benefits of an office may be lost: those serendipitous run-ins, kitchen conversations and face-to-face geniality. In the past, good office design worked to boost those office interactions which led to innovation, productivity and creativity. Schedule team calls on a day that you know everyone will come into an office, and if you have virtual team member participation, then actively seek ways to engage them.
Heading back to the office can be fraught with challenges and complexities, but in reality, the hybrid workplace is something we’ve been headed toward for many years. The pandemic pressed the fast-forward button and cemented the change virtually overnight. With the right planning and technology, employers can welcome employees back to the office in a way that’s safe, flexible and collaborative.