As the COVID vaccines begin to be distributed and rolled out around the world, it is critical that we plan for an effective reopening of offices and workplaces. After many months of lockdown in various stages, your team and colleagues have no doubt become accustomed to remote work and video meetings.
But reopening is not merely a matter of unlocking the doors and inviting everyone back to their offices and desks. Many significant logistical, behavioural and cultural changes have occurred because of the rapid lockdown in many workplaces.
Below are some of the most important areas that you could consider in developing your reopening plans:
Making your workspace(s) COVID-19 safe:
Have an adequate supply of PPE: masks, disinfection kits and stations
Environment: maximising ventilation
Physical distancing – both in desks, meetings in open spaces (or outside), lunch spaces
Having safe spaces for meetings and collaborating: sometimes a combination of in-person and videoconferencing is the most practical
What signage do you have to remind staff to be COVID-safe?
Building flow: ensuring corridors, entries/exits, foyer, and lifts have floor markings and signage to help staff, clients, and suppliers navigate their way around the building.
Most people have been working remotely, and (even with video meetings) there are many challenges in bringing staff back together after months and months of separate/solo work.
Treat the first few days or weeks as an induction, because in some sense it is a new start
What activities can you undertake to reignite teamwork with your staff? Being away from the office for the better part of a year will have impacted their ability to work in a team
How will you be communicating with them? How do staff communicate with each other now that some staff are in the office and some working remotely?
Given that many meetings used to occur in small rooms, how and where will they now be run? How will you manage some staff on-site and some remote?
There can be no doubt that the pandemic affected every workplace in some way. Quite often, KPIs were rendered meaningless. Now is the time to reset them.
Look at your project, sales, and productivity goals.
Have you thought of using a zero-based approach to reassess and reset goals and targets?
How will you consider the more asynchronous steps in many processes and activities (that may have been run in parallel previously)? How will you update the goals accordingly? What about updating them incrementally as more staff are on-site?
What happens if there is another outbreak? How will you update and disseminate the revised goals and targets?
Clear, concise, consistent communications
How will you assist with managing mental health? Stress, anxiety and fear are prevalent right now. There’s no such thing as over-communicating now, so ensure the channels and mechanisms are well known, and the right people are accountable.
How will you deal with messaging now that staff are both on-site and remote?
Now that people have returned, they will have different perspectives and contexts about the current climate. Resetting expectations, both theirs and yours, will go a long way to bringing a shared understanding to your team.
Process and procedures will look very different post-COVID. As staff were remote, they needed to ensure their handoffs between individuals were well defined. The procedures that you had documented would have made the change to remote/distributed working much more straightforward. Many companies did not have well-defined or up-to-date procedures reflecting the way their teams did their work.
How did you manage Interactions with customers and with partners and suppliers in your supply chain? How well defined and used were the handover points and the corresponding deliverables?
Now that staff are coming back on-site, will they revert to their local (on-site) procedures? Or will the procedures be updated to be independent of location (in case of another outbreak and lockdown)?
Even before the pandemic, there was a move towards a working hybrid between on-site and remote work. COVID accelerated this change, and many companies were not ready, culturally or logistically.
How will you examine and update processes based on this need for a hybrid on-site/remote method of working?
Partial remote working will no doubt continue for the next two years. Based on current trends, it will continue permanently. There are some immediate challenges that need to be addressed due to the reopening of offices:
Are you conducting a staged return to the office? Who will decide on-site start dates for individuals? How will this be communicated?
How will scheduling and rosters be managed? (e.g. offset starts)
What about public transport and logistics? Will people not want to change public transport and instead drive or cycle/walk? What changes to the building are needed? Are showers currently available? Where do staff put their bicycles?
What building logistics need to change? Will the building occupancy hours vary? What other changes will this mean? Security?
Probably the most apparent change (other than people) that occurred during the pandemic was budgets. Everything from sales and margins, to expenses and outgoings, were severely impacted.
Given than COVID may continue to significantly impact economic conditions worldwide for the next few years, what adjustments have been made to your budgets?
Though many parts of the world are still in the grip of terrible COVID conditions, it is important to understand how your company has performed to date.
Though there were many negatives, what worked well with the remote working during the lockdown?
What can be learnt and re-used going forward?
It is heartening that some offices in some countries are now reopening, and vaccines are being deployed, there is always the chance of further outbreaks and lockdowns.
Ask yourself; What is your contingency plan if there is another outbreak? What are the conditions for enacting it? Or can you enact parts of it with varying degrees of outbreak/lockdown?