How will we work from the new office?
Over the past three months, millions of employees around the world made the shift to remote work. As a result, there have been countless articles sharing best practices to work from home (WFH). People shared tips on remote collaboration, Zoom meeting etiquette, and the best gear to buy for the new WFH lifestyle.
As we look ahead, we can start to see the resurgence of work in the physical office. The return to the workplace is coming and workplace leaders are doing everything in their power to prepare. Their number one priority is to create a safe workplace that their employees feel comfortable returning to.
So what is it that will make employees feel comfortable going back to the office? Well, I’m no mind reader, but I am an employee who is eager to get back to my workplace—and I wanted to share what’s on my mind.
How are we supposed to get to work safely?
Let’s start with the basics—transportation. This is the first thing that every employee needs to do to get to the office. Envoy surveyed our own employees to see how the team feels about returning to the office. Commutes came up as one of the largest concerns.
Some employees have personal transportation that they can use to get to the office safely. Others rely on shared or public transportation that might increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Of course, that exposure increases the risk to everyone else in the office as well.
We asked workplace leaders from Buzzfeed, Okta, and Envoy what they thought about this concern in a recent panel discussion. “We don’t want our employees using public transportation for as long as possible,” shared Julia Goldberg, SVP of Global Real Estate, Office Services, and Security at Buzzfeed. “So we want to continue enabling our employees to work remotely. And when they have to come in, we will reimburse them for parking so they can take private transportation if that’s available to them.”
If your company is not able to afford this type of flexibility, consider how you might be able to provide safe alternatives. This could include programs like co-worker carpool programs through Scoop. Companies are also considering company car allowances, private bus services and leasing smaller office space in suburban locations closer to where many workers live.
Once we get there, how do we actually get to our desks safely?
I daydream about seeing my coworkers’ faces in person. I also have nightmares about every single surface I will have to touch to make that happen. Door handles, turnstiles, elevator buttons, and more could be covered with germs.
Many companies have already installed touchless technology throughout their workplace that automatically opens doors and calls elevators. Those that don’t should consider investing. Touchless technology is key to minimize the spread of germs and make sure you’re taking care of everyone in your space. If your company is not ready to make the investment, your team should put aggressive sanitation procedures into place. Cleaning every shared surface that employees must touch to get to their desk is a new imperative.
Want to learn more about touchless technology and the safe return to the office? Download the workplace leader’s guide to touchless technology.
What will our new office setup look like?
I love the open floor plan that modern offices have adopted. I love sitting right next to coworkers so we can collaborate. Or switching it up and working from a comfortable couch in the afternoon sun.
While some think that the pandemic may mean the end of the open-floor office, Goldberg disagrees. “Cubicles aren’t the way forward. Companies don’t need to rip out of their furniture yet, because we don’t know how long this will last. Instead, we’re going to create plexiglass enclosures or shields that we can move around the office. These are flexible, clean, and durable.”
Armen Vartanian, SVP of Global Workplace Services at Okta, shares that his team is focused on “creating the right physical distancing measures in the office to accommodate a short term new normal. We want to de-densify gathering areas, create circulation paths, and space out desks so that our team can remain at a safe distance from one another.”
How will we collaborate with people in the office?
That brings up another question: what do we do about gathering in meeting rooms, sharing a whiteboard, and collaborating with coworkers?
The seating chart is not the only thing that needs to change to maintain social distancing guidelines. Workplace teams need to ensure meeting rooms operate at no more than 50% capacity. They also need to reconfigure flex spaces so that teammates don’t get too close.
Workplace teams also need to plan, communicate, and enforce enhanced cleaning regimens for all shared spaces. After employees use a meeting room, you’ll want to make sure your cleaning crew can clean it before anyone else uses it. “Procuring the right supplies to create a safe and sanitary environment is not only around the more traditional cleaning supplies,” explains Vartanian, “but also the technology that’s going to support those measures to enable safety.”
Envoy’s own CEO, Larry Gadea, recently announced Envoy Protect, a new workplace safety solution to help enable safe workplace reopenings. Gadea shared that we expect this functionality to expand to areas like systematized meeting room cleaning, easy reporting of safety issues, and automation around space allocation.
What about office perks and team lunches?
When I return to my daydream of working from the office, I imagine making my espresso in the communal kitchen, grabbing lunch from the buffet, taking a break to play ping pong, and laughing with coworkers at happy hour (yes I know, what a typical SF tech workplace). What will happen to these awesome office perks?
Thankfully our CEO assured us that we’ll still have office lunches, but he says “they’re not going to be in typical Silicon Valley style anymore. It’s going to be individually boxed and available in four different areas of the office.” But this isn’t feasible for every company.
Companies will need to decide what bits of culture they can preserve while also keeping their employees safe and healthy. Berhnard Mehl, CEO and co-founder of access control company, Kisi, says that “shared amenities like coffee machines, refrigerators, shared snacks, and ping pong tables that used to play a role in defining your workplace culture might have to change. Or employees will have to adopt self-responsible behavior, similar to a gym. Wipe down your equipment before and after you use it.”
Vartanian agrees that office perks will start to change. “All the amenities that we used to deliver to employees were based on congregating together. The new benefit will be flexibility. You need to provide your employees with the choice to come in when they want to.”
How will I know I’m safe?
The number one concern that came to light in Envoy’s internal return to work survey was getting others sick or getting themselves sick. Employees have a legitimate fear over potentially contracting and spreading COVID-19.
To lessen the chances of that happening companies are implementing mandatory employee screening before coming to the office. The screening questions range from travel-related questions to health symptoms. This acts as a stop guard to prevent anyone who might be sick from coming onsite.
While this might feel like big brother, many people are supportive of employee screening. At Envoy, 66.7% of employees are supportive of having some sort of employee pre-screening before returning to work, and 16% are indifferent. When we asked our customers, 91% said they’re interested in using employee screening tools to help them manage the return to the workplace.
What can you do to prepare?
Even with all of the employee screening, physical distancing, and cleaning measures put in place, I still have anxiety over returning to the office—and I’m not alone. In Envoy’s employee survey, the average answer to the question, “How do you feel, personally, about returning to the office?,” was a 5.3 on a scale of 10.
But Vartanian states that “caution needs to be the tone to return to the office, not eagerness,” and he’s right. Companies will need to prioritize caution, safety, and flexibility to ensure that their employees feel comfortable coming back to the office.
Don’t just trust me. Get input from your team. This can inform how your company can meet the individual needs of your employees and plan a thoughtful return to the office.