A return to the workplace is imminent for many employees across the world, as restrictions in place as part of the coronavirus response are reviewed. It’s a welcome move for businesses that have struggled through the disruption of remote working, social isolation and travel embargoes. But a reintroduction to office life can be dangerous if mishandled. Businesses that fail to properly plan for this risk a fragile transition.
Despite this warning, only 10% of surveyed managers have done “extensive” planning. CEOs planning to reintegrate back into their regular business premises need a plan that maintains safety, manages resources and rebuilds morale. Below are 7 essential considerations to ensure a successful transition back to work.
1. Manage employee numbers in the Workplace
Large volumes of employees returning to a shared workplace represents a huge risk for the spreading and contracting of viruses. Managing the number of workers will be critical to protecting workplace health. The higher the number, the higher the risk. When it comes to COVID-19, it really is a numbers game.
Plan a staggered reintroduction to the office. Establish a process such that a rotating group of employees work from the office every few days. Create these groups across functional lines, both to ensure coverage across roles and to support employee distancing. Resist the temptation to open the doors to everyone on the same day – the risk isn’t worth the grand gesture.
Restricting employee numbers in this way will create a greater need for shift coverage. Beyond healthcare and similar essential services, this will also affect call centers, frontline retail, manufacturing and other industries. Business will need to manage this by informing team members in real time and across all devices through tools like registration alerts.
2. Maintain remote working
Despite the availability of regular workplaces, it’s prudent for businesses to continue some form of remote working for several months (at least). The reasons for this are financial and practical.
Rolling lockdowns and exits may continue for some time in regions where the threat of COVID-19 remains high. Seesawing back and forth between central and remote working states is hugely disruptive, but minimized by a workforce accustomed to and practicing it throughout.
Many organizations will elect to keep staff working from home for economic reasons. Others may have a return to remote working forced upon them if a staff member suddenly contracts the virus. This reinforces the importance of an effective communication platforms to connect with employees working from home.
3. Rethink physical setup
Reopening of workplaces won’t entirely remove all restrictions imposed during COVID-19. Businesses will still need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. It’s likely that pre-virus working environments are unsuited to these new restrictions.
Businesses will need to be proactive in reconfiguring their office spaces. The requirement for 6 feet between employees impacts on individual seating arrangements and shared spaces like cafeterias. Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield is one company taking a lead with this, testing a new “Six-Feet Office” with transparent shields dividing desks and floor markers directing foot traffic.
Some considerations for rethinking physical workplaces have been summarized by Forrester research.
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