The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic compelled people worldwide to retreat to the safety of their homes. All institutions, barring a few essentials started to work from home with the support of technology. As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, the stringent lockdowns made way for gradual unlocks and businesses had to take a decision on reopening office spaces, although the risk of infection remained constant.
According to an article by Inc, Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack opined that remote working would not just magically disappear. People had already adjusted to the new way of working with more flexibility in terms of working hours and saving on commuting time. He said, he was afraid that if he compels his employees to return to office, he might lose talent as many people would like to continue working from home especially when a host of other companies are offering this facility.
It is true that there is no one solution that fits all companies. Leaders must consider multiple variables while making key decisions about returning to workplace. Many firms have started by asking 15% – 25% crucial people to return to office and then gradually decide about the future course of action. The Canadian insurance company Manulife in its China office started by recalling only 25% of the employees and gradually over the period of 4 weeks increased the number by 75%.
A Deloitte survey of the financial services firms in US revealed several key return to office strategies like role-specific measures, geography-specific requirements, or a combination of both, employee support measures, density reduction, sanitation, etc.
Image Source: Deloitte Insights
According to a Deloitte Insights article, the leader of a financial services firms stated that they were hoping to bring back about 40% of their workforce to the office approximately by August 2021. For many sectors returning to office physically is not an urgent requirement. Many firms are contemplating allowing a part of their workforce permanently work from home with occasional visits to office for face-to-face team interactions.
Currently many leaders are working out smooth return to office strategies and ushering several changes to create a new workplace dynamic that also needs new employee engagement modules and fresh rewards and recognition programs. Some of the factors to consider while doing this include:
Who should return to office?
This is a key question, if not the most crucial one, that all leaders must consider. There are certain job roles like marketing that can be fulfilled adequately through remote working. Considering the present health hazard, companies would be better off by letting such employees continue to work from home and call only those employees back to office who are extremely essential for business functioning and decision-making.
Shifts in employee and customer experience
With an emerging hybrid model of operation, where a section of workforce works from home while others operate from the office, new employee engagement measures would be required. Steps would also be needed to re-establish the work culture of the company where all employees feel they are treated fairly and equally.
Considering each employee’s needs and preferences
Enabling remote working for the long term would require reorientation of work protocols, onboarding and training norms, team-building efforts and recognition programs. Everything should be shifted to an efficient digital model and if that entails upskilling employees for improving virtual interaction with clients, it must be done as soon as possible. For employees who are coming to office, programs must be created to ensure employees follow the pandemic rules of social distancing while dealing with customers on premises – in order to ensure the safety of both employees and customers.
Getting the workplaces ready
Business management must ensure stringent sanitation rules are followed in the workplace. Some firms have redesigned their office space to accommodate easier social distancing measures, some have staggered working hours while some firms are also using contact-tracing apps. Installation of infrared thermal sensors and air purifiers are the basics.
And finally, as businesses navigate the new normal, they must always be prepared for new challenges by being agile and flexible – ready for any scenario – be it return to the remote working model in case of a second wave or a long-term hybrid working situation without losing revenue and customers.