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Setting up Remote Work was Hard: Re-Opening the Office will be Harder

One of the hardest business challenges brought on by the pandemic has been helping our traditional office staff to work from home. We just weren’t built for remote work. We had to come up with ways to share information that were new. We have been forced to do awkward Zoom meetings (who talks when? Is that a dog I hear?), when what we really crave is face-to-face. There was new hardware to provide our staff like webcams and microphones. And don’t even get me started on the less tangible aspects of remote work like maintaining productivity and basic sanity.

Helping our organizations and employees to survive and thrive with the new reality of remote working has been difficult to stay the least, but that is nothing compared to the difficulties that face our businesses as we look to get our people back into the office. It’s not as simple as asking everybody to come back. COVID-19 is still alive and well and the way the office used to be is not up to par for whatever this “new normal” will look like. Today we’ll explore important considerations to help make the task less daunting as you begin the work of getting your people back to corporate HQ. We’re not experts on this topic but the management team at Tigerpaw Software has put a lot of time and planning into our own return to the office and hope that you’ll find some of our approach useful as you do the same. We’ve also included links for further reading to help you further.

Don’t rush

Just because your state or local county says offices can reopen doesn’t mean you have to rush into the return. Tigerpaw Software’s #1 concern is the health of our employees and staff. Like many businesses we have elected to wait a few weeks to a month after we are given the green light to see how things go. An abundance of caution for sure, but our people and their wellbeing are our top priority. If you, like us, are functioning at acceptable levels and don’t have roles that absolutely require people to come back in order to continue doing business, waiting and following the trends could be very wise. How are some of the largest companies in the world preparing for the return of their workforce? Find out in this CNBC article.

Give extra consideration for staff at high-risk

We made the decision to setup remote working capabilities for some of our staff members long before it was mandated that everybody had to work from home. We’ll take the same care now that we’re getting people back to the office. At the risk of sounding repetitive, our people matter more than anything else. If you know of certain people with pre-existing health conditions or that are in a high-risk age category (or live with someone who is), make arrangements for them to come back only when you feel things are truly as safe as possible. Read this article by The National Law Review with advice on how you should and shouldn’t approach this particular topic.

A cold is no longer just a cold

For those who do return to the office, make sure you educate them on what you expect if they feel ill or have come into contact with others who are ill. A cold is no longer just a cold. COVID-19, the common cold and the flu share many of the same characteristics. Train your staff to stay home and to get tested if their doctor recommends. An abundance of caution will be critical to ensure the health of those who return to the office. Also, make sure that your team members understand that it is okay to work from home again if they feel that their health or the health of those who they are close to is compromised. asking. Similarly, be sure to let your team know that you would like to know if they come into contact with somebody that has COVID-19 symptoms because knowledge is power and can help reduce the chance of spread.

Increase sanitation accessibility

We’ve all been in this long enough to know the basics of keeping the COVID-19 virus at bay. Keep a minimum of 6 feet between people. Wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible. Wash your hands and wash them often. Most offices are not adequately set up from a sanitation perspective to allow for the new normal. Consider setting up additional hand washing stations where possible. Make sure you have hand sanitizer easily accessible throughout the office, especially in high traffic areas. Ensure that your cleaning and disinfecting regimen is raised to new heights. An abundance of caution and sanitation options are going to be critical to ensure we don’t just open our offices but keep them open. Check out this awesome blog by @work that includes CDC guidelines and a host of other suggestions for keeping your office as safe as it can be.

Floor plan simulations

Time to dig out those floor plans and start running scenarios. Just prior to the pandemic, TIgerpaw updated our entire office. Fortunately, most of our work areas already have sufficient dividers and a lot of work went into improving traffic flow. But given the current reality we knew we had to do more. Being operationally efficient is one thing, but designing a space to allow for more distancing and safe workflow is another altogether. Dig out those floor plans, dust them off, and design a few scenarios to review with your managers. It will take some work but having the visuals will go a long way to do the planning before the hard work of making it real. Check out this article by the CBC that has some great ideas already implemented in other places around the world.

Graduated workforce reintroduction

Nobody said you had to have everybody come back to the office at once. Why not start with critical departments and slowly reintroduce other members of your workforce as you feel more comfortable with the new arrangements? We’ll all be making adjustments to our spaces and workflows even if we’ve put endless hours into initial planning. Slow and steady wins the race, so taking your time will go a long way to make the transition as easy and rewarding as possible for everybody. Here is an interesting approach to gradual workforce return by the banking sector in Spain.

Consider your culture when considering remote

There is no right or wrong answer to whether you allow remote work even after the pandemic has faded. Tigerpaw, for example, has a culture that has grown over the years by having a workforce that is used to working in one location. We have some remote positions (like the person writing this article!) but culturally we are built to be together. Other organizations like Twitter are allowing all of their staff to continue working remotely if they so choose. Some of our partners are electing to have a portion of their workforce continue remotely while bringing certain departments back to the office. There is no one size fits all answer and starting with a deep understanding of your company’s culture will go a long way to make sure you do what is best for your organization. If you do decide to keep a portion of your staff working remotely, here is a solid blog with tips on ensuring productivity.

Consider the whole picture

You may want to allow some staff to remain remote for reasons other than how well you’ve setup for the new normal. Some reasons for this may have nothing to do with how prepared your office is and everything with to do with how your people have to get there. Do they have to take crowded public transit? Crowded elevators? Do they have kids whose schools are closed until the next semester and no easy access to child care? Make sure you’re looking at the whole picture on a person by person and environmental basis. Read this article in The Wall Street Journal for their take on COVID-19 and commuting.

Contingency plan for going back to remote

COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and we do not yet have a vaccine. There is a potential for a second wave and the possibility that you’ll have to send your people back to working from home. Nobody wants this and nobody knows the chances of this happening. Hopefully our return to the office is a one-time deal but we need to be prepared in case it is not. You’ve likely built a disaster recovery plan for your business, it’s time to build a similar plan for your business directly related to COVID-19 and potential re-closure of your office. For more thoughts on preparing your business for a potential 2nd wave read this article in Construction Dive.

Tigerpaw Software is doing all we can to ensure a safe and rewarding transition for our people as they return to the office. We hope that sharing some of the research, planning and work that we’ve done, as well as the other useful links in this blog, can help you in your own transition. We’ve always said that if we start with the lens of “people first,” we’ll get it mostly right, and you will too. We wish you all the best as you, like us, navigate the new-normal. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay awesome!

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