Workplace experience

When to Start Planning for Your Return to the Office


 — October 14th, 2021

When to Start Planning for Your Return to the Office

As businesses move through the process, they’re finding they need more time to plan and execute a return-to-work strategy than what was initially allotted. On top of defining long-term remote policies, changes in recruitment strategies, and new office schedules, many companies find the need to rearrange the physical office space, then onboard new technology to better manage desk and meeting room reservations. And once the physical building requirements and policies have been addressed, an omnichannel employee communications strategy for the transition back to in-person work is needed. All of that takes time.

As a leader in workplace technology and employee communications solutions, our team can help you get a jumpstart on your return-to-work plan and determine the best tech and communications strategy as you reopen your office.

There are three things that are critically important to get right in creating a safe and successful return to the office:

  • Redesigning your office layout
  • Selecting the technology needed to support a return to the office
  • Employee communications during and after the transition back

Let’s walk through these key considerations in greater detail.

#1: Redesigning Your Office Layout for Workplace Health & Safety

There are a few decisions to make prior to implementing new technology in the office and making changes to your physical workplace. The first is to decide who is responsible for planning the physical changes to your office. Many companies have put together a dedicated, cross-functional task force to plan the transition back into the office, as it’s important to have representation from the teams that own the office planning, technology, and people management processes. Typically, this requires representation from facilities or real estate management as well as top decision-makers from IT and HR to help make the technological and work policy changes needed to support a new office configuration. Often, making changes to the physical layout of your office are necessary to support social distancing, flexible working, and activity-based working needs.

Next, you must determine how to rearrange your physical workplace to support social distancing while also meeting the needs of your employees. This means keeping available workstations at least six feet apart and offering a variety of spaces that encourage collaboration or individual work, helping to improve employee productivity. In order to decide how many workstations are needed going forward, you have to determine what your office capacity should be based on social distancing requirements, local regulations, and the size of your space.

You also have to consider what style of working you want to enable in your different office spaces. If you’re moving to an activity-based style that supports a hybrid workforce, it’s likely that most employees will accomplish heads-down, individual work at home, and come to the office when they seek collaboration with colleagues. This requires reorganizing your workspace to offer dedicated spaces for casual collaboration, productive group meetings, large-scale seminars, quiet solo work, and video conferencing technology to meet with remote-only employees. To ensure that you’re creating the right type of spaces that employees will actually use, it’s crucial to survey your workforce ahead of time and see who will be coming into the office, and what types of working spaces they need to be successful.

Most companies that we’ve worked with have taken at least three months to plan the physical reorganization of their office, with some variance depending on the size of their space, number of facilities, and the number of employees involved. In some cases, companies have had to figure out ways to reduce the number of workstations and other office equipment to accommodate the space needed for the new floorplans. It’s these small details that end up costing companies time and should be considered when planning a return to work. In addition to deciding how to best optimize your physical workspace to support new working styles and ensure health and safety, you should also consider what specific technologies need to be implemented to manage the limited number of desks and meeting rooms, as well as whatever collaboration spaces your new floorplan has.

#2: Selecting the Technology Needed to Support Your Return to Work Policy

A key component of enabling a flexible working environment and supporting a hybrid workforce revolves around giving employees the power to choose when and where they want to work in the office—while still balancing office capacity and retaining control over which spaces are available for employees to use. This can be achieved by implementing a desk hoteling solution. With hot desking software, your employees can book workstations ahead of time or ad-hoc within the parameters that you’ve set for them. Another benefit of this type of software is that you’ll be able to see reports detailing who reserved space on which days, and which resources or workstations they used. This functionality can help you track down individuals or resources that may be at risk of infection if an employee notifies your company of a positive COVID-19 test. Check out our recent article to learn how office contact tracing can work.

To bridge the gap between reservation data and utilization data, many companies are integrating IoT sensor technology to get better insight into office space usage. However, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself in order to make sure you’re implementing the right technology for your company’s needs.

Knowing what data you want to collect and how you plan to use that data is important when selecting the type—or types—of office sensors that you need. Whether you’re trying to monitor social distancing, count the number of employees that enter and exit the building, determine which conference rooms are in high demand, know which individual workstations are occupied, or identify space consolidation opportunities, different sensors may be required to collect the data. Check out our recent blog to learn about the different types of office occupancy sensors available and how each type of sensor can be used.

While desk hoteling software can help control which spaces are available and sensor technology can provide insight into how employees actually use resources in the workplace, neither of these solutions prevents an infected individual from entering your office. To help mitigate the risk of infection, many companies are seeking solutions to help screen employees prior to entering the workplace. As a high temperature is known to be a common early indicator of COVID-19, it’s unsurprising that temperature scanning stations are one of the many technology solutions being considered to help safely bring employees back to the office. Temperature screening kiosks can quickly take employees’ temperature at office entry points and automate workflows if an individual tests high.

Desk hoteling, occupancy sensors, contact tracing, and temperature scanning solutions are all critical pieces of technology being implemented to facilitate a safe transition back to the workplace. But in order to ensure the technologies you select have the desired impact, you must first plan out where and how each piece will be implemented. For example, an office hoteling platform requires creating a physical map of your entire workplace, which can take weeks or months depending on how big your office footprint is, or how many locations you have. And prior to implementing sensor technology, you’ll need to determine which sensors you need, where to install the sensors, and how the data will be transmitted back to your database. As with all aspects of return to work planning, all of these considerations require cross-functional input from facilities or real estate management teams, IT, HR, and executive leadership.

Given the sheer number of things that should be considered to successfully implement the necessary technology, we recommend that you begin these efforts at least six months in advance of your planned reopening date.

#3: Employee Communications During and After the Transition Back

Arguably as important as changing the floorplan and implementing new technologies is developing a comprehensive communications plan. In order to give your workforce peace of mind as you transition back into the workplace, it’s crucial to develop a structured, transparent communications plan. Above all else, employees want to know that their safety is your top priority. With new technology being implemented, mask and hygiene regulations in place, and capacity limits being enforced, things aren’t going to look the same when employees re-enter the workplace as they did before. You’ll need to communicate these changes in a way that’s contactless, flexible, and reassures employees that you’re taking all necessary precautions. To accomplish this, many companies are relying on their current digital signage networks. For more information, check out our best practices guide on how to use digital signage to communicate effectively during and after COVID.

Developing a return-to-work plan is a daunting task. From implementing the right technology to developing a communications strategy that will be effective now and into the future, there are a lot of factors to consider. It doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. We’re here to help. Whether you’re just a few months away from reopening the office or aren’t planning to return for a year or more, it’s not too soon to start planning.

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