After months of navigating the disruption of shuttered offices and the pivot to remote work, many businesses are assembling plans for when they might return and what they'll do to help protect employees. From mapping out office layout spacing, considering products with antimicrobial properties, to setting up health checks and phased returns, there are many considerations that come along with this complicated initiative.
When are Businesses Returning to the Office?
Some states and counties that have "reopened" have seen an increase in infections, forcing them to reverse course. So, it's very likely the uncertainty for businesses will continue for some time. In the meantime, there are resources to help organizations plan their strategy:
- S. Chamber of Commerce State-by-State Business Reopening Guide
- CDC Businesses and Workplaces COVID-19 page
- OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
For businesses that do plan to bring employees back—or weren't able to go remote in the first place—the recommendations include reducing employee density and other ways to lower exposure risks like wearing masks, antimicrobial resources, more space between desks, and closing conference rooms.
For example, global commercial real estate services firm, Cushman & Wakefield, recently published its "6-Foot Office" concept. In addition to increased furniture spacing, it suggests designing foot-traffic patterns throughout workspaces and rules of conduct to help improve safety.
The CDC also recommends:
- Conducting daily health checks
- Conducting a hazard assessment of the workplace
- Improving the building ventilation system
New Ways of Working
In its detailed back to work recommendations, Gartner suggests creating a COVID-19 response team and implementing "an A/B roster to ensure that only half the staff are in the office on any given workday." Combined with health monitoring, such phased returns might help limit the potential spread. Gartner also advocates evaluating the entire organization and splitting it into three categories of those who can't be remote, those who can, and those who can be partly remote. That information helps leaders set return to work priorities.
Regardless, remote work will likely continue for the employees who can be effective contributing from outside of the office, so the challenge is how to make that as seamless and positive an experience as possible. Things to think about include:
- Effective support for a distributed workforce from an IT perspective
- Seamlessly giving employees access to apps and data anywhere and anytime: VPN? Cloud?
- Choosing the most useful collaboration tools
- Supporting a wide range of technology that is mobile. Can employees use their own devices?
- Providing a well-monitored and secure environment
Apart from supporting remote work, the IT industry is also thinking about what a return to the physical office will look like and what can be done to help. CompuCom strategic partner, HPE, just announced a range of five new return-to-work solutions intended to help organizations accelerate business recovery and reopening plans to be implemented and managed through HPE Pointnext Technology Services.
Using intelligent surveillance, thermal cameras, AI software, and video analytics, HPE offers:
- Social distance tracing and tracking: Helping employers monitor and implement social distance guidelines. Use cases include alerting employees through Bluetooth-enabled devices if they are too close to one another for an extended period, or leveraging video analytics to determine face mask usage in required areas.
- Touchless entry: Using a hygienic approach for employees to securely and smoothly enter a location without touching door handles and other points of entry. The solution uses facial recognition for contactless access, multi-factor access-control, and identity verification.
- Scanning Stations: Using digital thermometers to identify individuals with elevated body temperatures and using thermal cameras, machine learning, and video analytics to augment access control in an effort to proactively alert employees and staff to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
- Augmented reality and visual remote guidance: Allows on-site employees to collaborate effectively with remote employees to take on complex maintenance operations remotely. By offering digitized 3D visuals of a system or machine, a remote employee can identify a problem, such as a broken gas or water valve on a factory floor, to request necessary and timely repairs.
- Workplace alerts and information sharing: Helps employers share workplace information and push location-specific alerts to employees, using apps and dashboards. Employees gain real-time alerts, specific to their exact location in a building, on any changes or updates occurring on-site.
Nimble and Adaptive Remains a Priority
With so much uncertainty remaining around COVID-19, being ready to react fast to change may help.
As it became clear just how serious COVID-19 was, the organizations that were able to quickly pivot to remote work suffered the least disruption. For example, about 60 percent of CompuCom's employees in India already had laptops, and we were able to quickly get equipment to the rest, so we were one of the first IT companies there to go fully-remote.
It's a good lesson going forward. Being nimble and adaptable often leads to better business outcomes through innovation and new opportunities. It's why digital transformation was a priority before COVID-19, and current events have accelerated the drive for improvements like automation.
In an insights piece entitled "From Surviving to Thriving," McKinsey wrote, "by reimagining how they recover, operate, organize, and use technology, even as they return to work, companies can set the foundations for enduring success." Yes, these are difficult times, but crises also create opportunities.