What is the way back to the workplace?

New post covid Workplace Experience
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Where were you when lockdown began?

When did COVID become real for your company? What was “that moment”? When it went from a curiosity…to a news story you couldn’t avoid…to a concern your operations couldn’t ignore. Its traumatic effect on the workplace slammed the door of traditional companies, threw out established systems, forced organizations to invent totally new processes.

As vaccines now begin to offer hope for a new reality, where will you be when it’s time to reopen? The moment of return may not be as stark, immediate or memorable. But its key difference will be one of control. This great work from home experiment that was forced on so many organizations and industries is now about potential. You will be in charge of the decisions that define the safety, the workplace, the personalized communications of your workforce.

Your physical workplace didn’t disappear. But stepping back through its doors and inviting back your employees will require not just careful planning but considered intent. Will it be just about “getting back to work”? Or will it be about creating a modern workplace designed to thrive? “Thrive” being that joint experience of vitality and learning — which has been linked to better job performance, creativity, well-being and more positive professional interactions.

Maybe this will be memorable, after all!

Play it Safe

The rollout of COVID vaccines is a welcome relief. But it will not be an end to the comprehensive health and safety communications that need to be an integrated part of your new workplace.  Just as the virus is novel, so are the situations your employees will need to be educated on:

  • Guidance related to parental leave when the office is open, but schools remain closed.
  • Plans for those at higher risk, such as older or immunocompromised employees.
  • Limits on the use of other worker’s phones, desks, offices or equipment.
  • Procedures for excellent hygiene, including regular hand washing and wearing a mask.

In addition, you’ll need to be prepared for individual concerns about the vaccine itself to cross over into the workplace. How will you communicate policies related to immunization — especially as it relates to people who choose not to vaccinate, for whatever reason?

This is more than a company-wide email. The changing — even volatile — nature of these situations and the related messages requires flexibility. This is where digital signage can bring to life an agile, decisive and data driven strategy for messaging. A software-driven system can coordinate the design and cadence of multiple messages. This is not a broadcast, but a more powerful targeted publishing model, that can deliver relevant data at the right time to exactly the right screens. That will include prominent on-site displays, but also the more personal and potentially influential screens of individual desktop workstations, laptops and mobile devices — anywhere employees are located.

You won’t need to have all the answers on day one — or even day 100. Who can, in this situation? But you can assuredly have a platform in place for active, evolving awareness and support.

Finite Space, Many Possibilities

Technology can also begin to transform how your workplace space is reserved, how it’s used — even what it means for your returning employees. Reservation apps and QR code check-ins integrated through space management features can help manage how many people are coming into the office, by requiring the pre-booking of workstations, conference rooms, and collaborative spaces. This same system can also enhance visitor safety and security, by avoiding the questionable hygiene of in-person communal keycards and limiting access to only certain times and points of entry.

The benefits here are a streamlined reservation process — no more double booking or walking in circles looking for an open space. This also provides the type of data-driven overview of schedules that will help you plan accordingly, to make sure the workplace maintains a safe occupancy threshold.

Data insights from a space management platform can help you understand when and how often employees are using areas within your office. Patterns can help guide your decisions as you create the most productive post-quarantine workplace, converting or creating new areas to strike the right balance between hot desking, individual workstations, private offices, shared group spaces — even work from home.

Your renewed workplace is about more than logistics. As companies have looked to maintain their culture during Zoom or Teams meetings, it has raised the interesting question whether people have been so productive at remote work because they had strong social bonds before the pandemic. If that’s the case, how can new workspaces support more interaction to further team building? A little over a year ago, your organization may have generated ideas by brainstorming on a physical whiteboard in a packed conference room. A new process would be asynchronous collaboration on a digital channel, incorporating ideas from across the workforce, with refinement on an open videoconference.

Here, especially, the shared remote-time during COVID suggest that the boundaries between the physical and remote office need to collapse. In-office video meetings can no longer involve a group around a table while others watch helplessly from a side screen, without constructive participation. Effective videoconferencing options can instead link up in-person and work-from-home staffs. A hybrid model leverages a workplace experience platform to provide always-on, equal access to key business apps and content — a truly smart office that combines the best of both in-person and remote workers.

Making it Personal

Simply put, no plan to resume operations succeeds without the buy-in from your workforce. Their well being is paramount. While many have shared in transforming kitchens and couches into home offices, and now count commutes in steps instead of hours — at the same time, no two employees will have experienced this crisis in the same way. Some may have conditions that increase their health risk and be reluctant to return. Others may be eager to leave remote work behind but have new caregiving responsibilities that make it difficult or impossible for them to do so.

The expected feelings of isolation and disconnection in remote working have been amplified by the expectations of the workplace. Many working at a distance report concerns with feeling trusted and valued by colleagues. In hybrid situations, employees worry that their lack of physical presence means they will be overlooked for important projects and are anxious that management may reward office presenteeism over ability.

Leading with empathy and understanding is critical. But equally so is the technology that can empower better, more relevant communication and participation — redefining the role of the office in employee success. Modern workplace experience platforms are cohesive systems that allow employees to work from anywhere. Their screens are powerful instances through which workers can report their progress; collaborate effectively; and access any of the resources, intranets and business apps they’d expect to find in the office.

The targeting capabilities of this type of platform also means that messages and access can be customized for groups, teams — even single individuals — based on their demographics, location, roles or other key identifiers. Now the content on screen is especially relevant, promoting the type of two-way engagement that ensures teams feel connected and invested, helping to strengthen corporate culture, and boost productivity and loyalty.

It’s Your Move

If the ultimate decision is to bring “people to work”, or “work to people” — well, that choice seems clear. Yesterday’s workplace is gone. Don’t mourn it. Instead, take advantage of the open plan you now have to evaluate the purpose and design of your workforce strategy.

“COVID disrupted everything” may be the understatement of the century. Now it’s your turn. Disrupt what wasn’t working in your traditional workplace. The right technology platform exists to support your solution for in-person and remote, and the enhanced creativity and collaboration of both.

Welcome back. There has never been a better opportunity for workplace transformation.