Jun 4, 2020
Nov 9, 2023

Practical workplace tech: How to reopen the office

Like every other workplace, we are trying to figure out when, and how, we can return to the office safely. Here’s our plan.
Matt Harris
Head of Workplace Technology
Practical workplace tech: How to reopen the office

In our blog series, Practical Workplace Tech, our Workplace Experience Team shares some of the solutions we’ve developed at Envoy, what we’ve learned works (and doesn’t), and provides practical guidance to bring these solutions to life in your workplace.Every workplace is currently trying to conquer the same set of problems, all centered around returning to the office. When do we reopen? How do we safely bring employees back? Do we need an office at all? These are just some of the questions workplace leaders are trying to answer, and fast. Some companies have already announced a remote-first strategy, while others want, and need, to return to their offices. Where do you start and how do you tackle these big decisions? To help, I thought I would share how Envoy tackled these questions and what our return to work plan looks like. Here’s how we prepared, built, and cross-checked our plans:

How did we develop this plan?

Create a cross-functional team

The first step in building our back to work plan was to assemble a cross-functional team. This includes members of the facilities, marketing, human resources, and customer success teams, in addition to senior staff. Each person brings a unique perspective to the conversation and ensures we are thinking holistically about our return to work plan.

Set guiding principles

One of the first things the working group did was determine our guiding principles, which are:

  • Focus on the health and safety of employees
  • Stay true to our company culture and values
  • Use adaptive decision making

One of our company’s core values is to Create Great Experiences. We wanted to stay true to this core value and create a welcoming experience for employees and visitors, even when faced with the logistical nightmare of guidelines and restrictions. Agreeing on these principles at the beginning helped us make decisions as we went through the process. A few members of the team sat down (virtually, of course) to talk about how we developed these guiding principles, what resources we used, and what our thought process was in the following video. https://vimeo.com/424612787

So what’s the plan?

The Ready to Reopen Plan is our full planning document and links out to the resources that our team is using to plan every step. This is a living document; we keep updating it as we go.Our Ready to Reopen Portal presents the plan for our employees in a format that’s easier to access and explore. Below is a summary of our tactical, phased approach to reopening the office.

Phase 0: Minimum business activities

This is currently the phase we are in. Only a small number of employees can be at the office for essential activities. Workers can come in for short tasks that cannot be completed at home, and they must submit a ticket to the workplace team before entering. Otherwise, the office is closed to employees.

Phase 1: Essential only

State and city guidelines will determine when we can move into phase 1 of reopening the office. We expect this to happen within the next two months. Only 10 people are allowed in the office at one time (~10% of our staff), and they must be conducting essential activities or someone with an untenable WFH situation. Employees are strongly discouraged from taking public transit to the office, face coverings will be required at all times, there will be no lunch provided, and dogs will not be allowed. All company activities will remain virtual.

Phase 2: Limited capacity

Once the office can get enough personal protection equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies, in addition to meeting local guidelines, then we will move to phase 2. This would allow 50% of our staff to return to the office while still providing 300 sq ft per person (we built this calculator to calculate the needed sq footage per person). Employees will need to answer a questionnaire to be approved to come to the office, but otherwise, workers who want to return to the office and have a role where physical presence is a priority will have access until we hit capacity. In this phase, we will provide boxed lunches, but the lunchroom and common spaces remain closed. Conference rooms would reopen with limited capacity.

Phase 3: Relaxed capacity

By the end of 2020, we hope to have most people back in the office while maintaining a safe work environment. We will allow employees to come to the office via public transit, guests can visit, and the office will reopen common spaces as long as employees maintain social distancing.

Did you develop this on your own?

We used a variety of external and internal resources, analyzed our technology stack, and considered macroeconomic and local factors. Here are some resources and tools to consider using to develop your office reopening plans:Resources: Here are a few resources we used to help shape our plans. You can view a full list of resources here.

Tools: We recognized early on that we were going to need a lot of tools and systems in order to reopen safely, while also remaining budget conscious. Therefore, we decided to use a lot of the tools we already had in place, and also are building our own new tools to tackle these problems.

  • Density (occupancy sensors): Since we have Density sensors deployed in our office, we are using them right now to ensure there are not more people in the office then we expect each day.
  • Kisi (access control): When someone enters the building, we get an alert from our badge reader to ensure the person entering is permitted to enter. Once we start allowing people back into the office, only those who are approved to come into the office that day will be able to use the badge reader.
  • Asana (project planning): We are using Asana to project manage our back to work plans.
  • Google docs/sheets (document collaboration): To keep things simple and collaborative, we build our plans and processes in Google docs.
  • Lucidchart (collaborative diagramming): We used Lucidchart with our floor to build 6-foot radius circles in various areas around the office and ensure we could enforce social distancing requirements.
  • Envoy (workplace technology solutions): We will continue to use our own technology to allow both visitors, and employees, to check into the office each day, including a daily screening and helping with capacity limitations in the office. We are building a product specifically for this need, and you can sign up for the beta today.

Reopening a workplace in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t easy, but luckily there are a lot of resources to help. There is no single solution that will work for all companies, but I hope that some of the materials provided here help you craft the right solution for your team. We’re making our plan, our underlying documents, and our portal available to the public so that you can borrow or extend it. Our Ready to Reopen portal is available as an open-source project on Github. We shared the code so that other companies can create effective communication portals for their employees. It pulls data from Google Sheets so it’s easy to keep content up-to-date without a tech team, and uses Jekyll for easy publishing. Consider adding this to your toolbox for reopening the office.

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Matt Harris
Matt Harris
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