No matter what gets thrown at you, you’re a reliable and effective staple of your organization. But in the face of COVID-19, knowing what to do and what’s expected of you is more difficult than ever before.
To function effectively, IT and HR leaders need to be in lock step to provide a relevant, supportive, and employee-centric response.
iOFFICE’s VP of Human Resources, Heath Neal-Glass, and VP of IT, Michelle Pellon, have dealt with these changes first-hand. In our recent webinar, Workplace Innovator podcast host Mike Petrusky asked them to weigh in on many of the important questions that workplace leaders are asking as they plan their return back into the office.
Here’s what they had to say about optimizing the return process and creating a successful transition back to the workplace.
To kick off the conversation, Mike cited a recent Gensler survey showing 70% of employees want to spend at least half of the work-week in the office. Still, over half of them cited safe distancing as a top concern. Heath and Michelle agreed that HR and IT leaders have to work together on tackling the challenge of how to reimagine the workplace for safety, well-being, and human collaboration.
“Certainly we’re going to have to rethink the layout, the floor plans, and what technology can be used to address all of these concerns.”
As Mike pointed out, “Certainly, we're going to have to rethink the layout, the floor plans, and what technology can be used to address all of these concerns.” HR and IT play a critical role by aligning on these questions, beginning with the approach to occupancy planning. Michelle and Heath started the process by asking how many people could safely come into the office. As organizations make critical plans for how to return to the office, both HR and IT teams will need metrics to help inform those decisions.
Heath discussed how these new challenges are really a matrix. First, leaders should consider if and when they’ll go back into the office.
For HR and IT, there are several key questions to ask. Can employees go back to hand off equipment or to attend a meeting that can’t be held virtually? In those cases, Michelle recommends first solving the issue of protecting anyone who will come into the office. To do this, you’ll need to know where they’ll be sitting, where they move to, and how close they are to other people.
Both Michelle and Heath agree that the most important part of a return strategy is to stay focused on employee needs. Employees want to know how many people will be in the space and how close they’ll be to others. Make sure to address cleaning with all staff beyond the personal responsibility of cleaning desks, and their mouse and keyboard. Be proactive in sharing plans for how often surfaces will be sterilized throughout the office.
According to Mike’s poll, webinar attendees are wondering how HR and IT can help employees stay productive during this time.
Heath and Michelle shared tips on how to adjust spaces to ensure physical distancing, help employees stay productive, manage outside visitors and contact tracing efforts, and communicate important information with employees.
The first priority is to ensure people have the right licensing and tools to get their jobs done, according to Michelle. Employees need everything from productivity tools to video conferencing equipment, both at home and when they transition back into the workplace. The next step is to prepare new procedures for when it's time to get back to the office. As you return, expect many new and important questions to emerge. One challenge that arose for Michelle: IT has to consider how to disinfect various pieces of IT equipment without damaging them.
“Leadership has to evolve to a different form of management.”
HR leaders are aware that the pandemic has caused some supervisors to feel uneasy. Heath shared that many have had to figure out new ways of managing productivity since they can’t stop by an employee’s desk and see what they are working on.
He stressed the importance of putting good practices in place from the very beginning to address these concerns. When companies return to their offices, the workforce will be a mix of remote and in-office employees. Now is the time to consider how leaders will handle productivity, whether that means they'll keep track of what their teams are working on throughout the week, decide if project trackers are a viable option, or if they need to implement weekly team meetings to touch base.
There’s a significant change happening in the IT space when it comes to taking ownership of safely bringing employees back into the workspace.
One example is air circulation. It’s been a big topic in the news and according to Heath, it’s something you need to be prepared for. How good is your air filtration system? If you haven’t had this question yet, you’re going to. You need to know what type of system it is, what filters are being used, whether it’s being shared between other tenants or floors, and how it is circulating.
As Michelle points out, this used to be a responsibility for the building owner, and now it’s co-managed by facility managers, HR, and IT teams.
HR is coming to IT with new standards and safety requirements that are important for building trust with employees. And IT needs to know which tools to implement to provide the data for those decisions to be made. Now more than ever, human resources and tech teams need to be able to rely on each other for support and collaboration.
Even when things go according to plan — and let’s face it, COVID-19 disrupted most plans — it’s challenging to keep everything running smoothly. The biggest issue is that what you really need to know is changing by the month, day, and hour.
“Job trust and transparency is where we started,” Heath told Mike, “and it’s where we finish. This comes from both directions, the employer to the employee and back.
We need to build on that trust and transparency, have thoughtful conversations, summarize what the plans are, and tie it all together. Otherwise, you’re missing an opportunity to connect and build trust with your employees.”
“Communication is key because it leads to transparency, which is key to earning trust.”
You can build that trust by consistently carrying out what you say you’re going to do. This time has been difficult, because the situation around the world has changed rapidly. Initially, many believed shutdowns would last a month; now, many leading global businesses have committed to maintaining reduced capacity in their workplaces through the remainder of the year.
Although people are understanding, you have to communicate throughout each transition, which is why Michelle says it's critical for leaders to start thinking ahead and preparing for the months to come using metrics to inform their decisions.
That works both ways, according to Heath. HR needs to ensure that employees have the tools to do their job, and that they're comfortable talking about it if they don't.
Businesses that had already adopted remote working policies and the systems to support that flexibility entered the pandemic with a significant advantage.
Even for companies that had already deployed productivity tools with the flexible workforce in mind, the challenge now is how to break down the parameters that used to be inside a physical office, especially for employees who aren’t accustomed to working remotely. Many of these technologies are going to need to merge in the new world of a mixed workforce. As organizations bring their people back to the workplace, IT will need to integrate those into the physical space.
As Heath put it, once you start to bring everyone back to the office, you have to be fully prepared.
When Michelle first deployed access control and video surveillance it was not to restrict or control the space, but to allow people to come and go with flexibility. Now, she’s repurposing that technology to prevent people from coming into the office for everyone’s safety. In that way, Michelle says IT has turned in a 180-degree direction.
What used to be very open, communal, come-and-go, has had to become more controlled. Without having trust in place, it’s hard to communicate the reason behind those changes.
Michelle and Heath shared how a remote working test prior to the pandemic helped them prepare to shift quickly to a full-time model after the pandemic shut down offices.
“Prior to when the pandemic first started, we had a two-day remote working test, company-wide. We’re on day 200-something of that test — it never ended.”
Now, several months into the experience, HR and IT know that employees are wondering when the test will end. According to Michelle, the first thing we know is the remote working test won’t end universally. Leadership must consider how to quantify the risks in multiple locations and varying circumstances. Watch what public health experts are doing and the metrics they follow, review daily case count increases, and look at trends to help inform your decision making.
Heath says that leaders need to be sensitive to the employee experience and whether they feel comfortable coming into the office. Your employees are individuals, each facing their own unique concerns, preferences, and expectations. To reach them effectively, HR and IT should be adaptable and adjustable.
Together, leadership across HR and IT will be most successful if they work together to diligently analyze data, consult peer networks, review advice from public health authorities, and adapt to situations as they change.
“We’re in this together, folks.”
As people return, it will help to have a visitor management system that coordinates access to the workplace with HR approvals.
For the sake of employees, Heath says leaders have to discuss how HR and IT will deal with wellness checks and contact tracing. Wellness checks give you a catalog of the people that are coming into the office, but there are some challenges you'll need to address.
If you're going to put a wellness check in place, make sure you consult with legal counsel, only ask appropriate questions, and protect the information you collect.
When you bring employees back into the office, make sure you've got the systems in place that help them feel safe and confident in their return. For example, the ability to book a room or space can help ensure that workspaces are adequately cleaned in between uses.
The biggest challenge isn’t necessarily these sudden changes — you’re a leader and you’re well-prepared for change. The difficulty comes when you can’t analyze the data that you need because HR and IT use different tools and the information doesn't connect.
It’s a solvable problem, though. Technology removes the tedium from time-consuming tasks by automating them. With all your critical data in a centralized system, you can actually get a holistic view of the information you need.
With Teem’s Return-To-Work Starter Kit, you’ll have the tools to maintain a safe occupancy levels, use general wellness questionnaires to keep the workplace safe, quickly access visitor logs for contact tracing, and give your employees the flexibility they need for a confident return.
When you’re ready to start planning, our software helps simplify the process. See how Teem’s Return-To-Work Starter Kit helps you bring employees back safely, sooner.