In March this year, enterprises mobilized their employees to work from home. Now the question for many enterprises is when they will bring their employees back into the office. Looking at major global companies, there isn’t a consistent response to the question.
An indication of the changing times was the recent announcement by German-based Siemens, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe. Siemens is now allowing their 385,000 employees, located in 20 countries, to work from their preferred location of home or office for two or three days a week. Google announced that its workforce will remain working from their homes through the summer of 2021. From the financial markets, Wall Street Journal cited that JPMorgan Chase & Co. executives are calling its trading staff back to the office in September.
While some employees feel more comfortable working at home; others are ready to go back to the office environment on a limited basis. A recent JDP 2020 Back to Work Survey said that 86% of the employees surveyed favored a staggered four-day work week to limit the number of people in the office.
Regardless of their workplace preference, employee safety and health are the number one priority. The Center for Disease Control in the US mandates “Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace.” But as the COVID-19 unpredictability continues to perplex health experts, it also creates challenges for enterprise task forces trying to find the best safe workplace model that will instill confidence in employees to return to the workplace.
Digitization is the best scenario for managing complexities. The good news is that an automated solution doesn’t mean complete transformation. By knowing your requirements, the data sources and existing technologies can be connected and automated under a centralized command center—becoming a platform for monitoring and accessing insights for your health and safety parameters. This platform can simplify the complexities of return-to-work programs, create business resiliency and enable enterprises to adapt to the dynamic conditions impacting business.
Here are scenarios that may happen, which can further increase the complexity of a return to work initiative and how these can be managed:
This is not an HR challenge; this is an organizational challenge: For return-to-work programs to be successful, enterprises need to understand the full impact of the program from across the organization including new COVID-related policies, HR comp and benefits, employee data privacy and security, government regulations and labor organizations compliance, and facility management. All these must be addressed to have comprehensive business requirements. It will also aid in identifying data sources and implementing potential solutions. Reconfiguring shift management and workstations to enable social distancing, digital attendance log, and streaming content channel for awareness are some examples.
The ability to meet changing customer expectations: Your customer’s mindset and demands have shifted, as shared in a recent McKinsey study. The way employees and customers interface has changed significantly. For examples, retail shoppers no longer want to touch products, such as makeup or food samples or try on clothes. Enterprises need to rethink customer interactions and ensure they still receive an elevated experience, while understanding the implications on the safety of their employees and how to monitor for potential risks. Simple things like tracking temperature checks of employees before entering the store can go a long way in ensuring safety.
Different parts of your business will evolve faster than others: Be prepared for the inevitability that your entire organization will not come back fully operational as one unit. An increase in employees working together in a common physical space will also up the risk of their exposure to the pandemic. For instance, many US-based meat packaging plants witnessed a spike in COVID cases post the lockdown relaxation.
Using a centralized command center to automate workspace assignments, staggered and well-planned entry, usage, and exit in common areas like elevators, rest rooms, can help enterprises. A command center-based automation can extend to cleaning protocols, with dashboards offering visibility into the status of sanitation tasks and highlight areas of risk.
Additionally, mobile apps can enable employees to easily alert their organization if they have contracted the virus, thereby allowing employers to support proactive remediation, get contact logs, and arrest the spread. The apps also logically stagger the workforce reporting to distribute the risk of mass contraction while not compromising the work to be done during the day.
Your ecosystem’s alignment with returning to the workplace: Very few companies today operate in isolation. Your efforts in establishing the well-oiled processes with your partners and supplier network could be destabilized if each of the respective employee safety policies of your ecosystem are misaligned. It is imperative for you to set up agreements with partners to ensure they follow the safety regulations such as visitor entry policies, for a start. Additionally, you will need to monitor the partners’ internal movement, ensure adequate contact tracing, and smooth exit, to name a few other steps.
Multiple locations involve geo regulations and policies: Companies operating in several geographic locations need to consider governmental policies in that particular region and how your return to work plans can be adapted. Working with a flexible centralized platform enables you to easily identify pandemic zonal hotspots, accelerate fact-based decision making, and update automated processes based on changes to local requirements.
Additionally, addressing the trust factor of your employees stems from understanding their readiness, as well as the alignment with your customers, and ecosystem. You need a way to assess how prepared your employees are to come back to the offices and facilities. All of this requires transparent communication and an automated approach to listen, collect, and monitor feedback.
Managing the variables that you can control, and those you cannot, will require more dynamic capabilities than your spreadsheets could ever provide. There are too many moving parts and too many unknowns. To minimize complexity during this unprecedented challenge, and help manage the key components of your work model—employees, workplaces, and workforce--there are many solutions.
Solutions that can provide integrated workflows for complex processes in your organization along with the right insights at the right time and at the right place can help you respond quickly to meet obligations and make your return to work imperative a successful one.
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About the author(s)
Ram has with over 25 years of experience, including general management of mid to large size organizations, corporate development, product development, business operations, and Strategy. An energetic and passionate leader, he has been helping global corporations in all aspects of corporate HR, Finance, training, talent management, recruiting, leadership, and digital workplace technology.
He serves as a personal coach to HR and business leaders across the world to help them setup and extract the best out of their corporate talent, maximizing their potential, and developing cognitive solutions to improve their ‚Äòbelongingness‚Äô to the company. His professional goal is to help make work life better: better for individuals, better for organizations, and better for communities and stakeholders.