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Gartner: Build a plan to bring remote workers back to the office

Gartner senior research directors Kevin Ji and John McArthur look at how enterprises can plan and strategise for the reopening of workplaces

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced global organisations to enable employees to work remotely to reduce the rate of infection. However, as infection rates begin to decline and lockdown eases, organisations must now create a plan and strategy on how the workplace will reopen.

In doing so, it is essential for organisations, together with their infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders, to develop a Covid-19 response team to safely transition remote workers back into the office.

The response team should track all data on the infection rates and trends from global health agencies such as the World Health Organization or national agencies. Countries that have begun their transition back to the workplace have followed a 14-day waiting period after data indicates they have passed the peak of new infections. During this period, leaders must effectively communicate with employees using a distribution list of all employees based in the office.

I&O leaders must also take the following steps to prepare for the office reopening:

  • Arrange workspaces to allow for social distancing.
  • Supply masks for staff to wear while in the office.
  • Set up a quarantine area, such as a conference room, on each floor of the office and display signage explaining rules for its use.
  • Provide signage reminding staff of the importance of safety measures such as body temperature monitoring, mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

It is vital to share the organisation’s plans with property management, as well as ensuring office cleaning is thorough and as frequent as possible.

Create A/B team roster

I&O leaders should create an A/B team roster to ensure that only half the staff are in the office on any given work day. This should be managed in employees’ calendars and displayed in the office, with A/B teams adhering to these rules:

  • Always follow the roster schedule, with no switching or coming in on non-rostered days – even after hours.
  • I&O leaders must strongly discourage staff from meeting associates on the other team at any time, even during personal time, as doing so undermines the purpose of separate A/B teams.
  • Host a virtual meeting to inform all staff of the guidelines, followed by a recording of the meeting.
  • Distribute a symptoms checklist and enforce employees not to attend the office if they show symptoms.
  • Assign a Covid-19 response team contact person in case of emergency.
  • Monitor updates from local officials and health organisations to confirm that the office can open as scheduled.

The day the office reopens, I&O leaders must take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of staff. They should also provide a list of practices such as office rules, conditions for resuming work and A/B team rosters at every person’s desk or on a shared drive. Organisations must provide employees with a platform to ask questions, raise concerns and stay informed about the new office protocols. This also gives I&O leaders an opportunity to gather feedback and modify policies accordingly.

Leaders should also consider the following steps:

  • Check the temperature of all employees on arrival, only allowing employees from either A/B teams into the office.
  • Reinforce social distancing guidelines with office etiquette practices, such as handshaking, being suspended.
  • Require use of face masks in the office, especially in meeting rooms and dining areas.
  • Stagger lunch breaks to avoid crowding.
  • Designate bins for the disposal of face masks.

Define response team’s responsibilities

The Covid-19 response teams are essential in keeping employees safe and informed during the changes to common workplace protocols. Leaders should provide all employees with contact details of emergency response team members. This emergency response team will be responsible for preventing and mitigating infections in the workplace.

The teams’ tasks can include:

  • Keeping staff informed about practices prescribed by public health agencies, such as not shaking hands, regularly washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and not touching your face.
  • Sharing updates of government, building management and company rules and regulations regarding Covid-19.
  • Communicating to staff what to do if they or a family member is sick, as well as symptoms that require employees to stay at home.

If an employee is identified as infected, they should immediately notify the response team contact person, also informing the employee’s emergency contact, line manager and all office staff. Employees who have been in close contact should self-quarantine in accordance with medical guidelines. Cleaning staff should be notified immediately so that affected areas can be disinfected.

Possibility of remote workers remaining remote

Based on organisations’ remote work plans, Gartner defines three categories for different types of workers. Leaders can review the job and set the priority for returning to the office using these categories:

  • Not possible: Examples include equipment and cabling installers, equipment maintenance and cleaning staff, and assembly line employees who can’t work off-site. If even a skeleton crew needs to be kept on-site, organisational responsibilities include safety measures (such as providing masks), job sharing (such as splitting shifts) and providing psychological support to reduce anxiety.
  • Possible at a cost: An example of this is training for new employees who will be performing on-site activities after training. Some teams can function remotely, but will benefit from guidance and support for managers and employees to navigate the logistical and cultural challenges.
  • Highly possible: Examples include developers, monitoring/ticketing staff and software maintenance/patching activities. Some employees, such as knowledge workers, may already work remotely at least some of the time. I&O leaders can continue to build team trust, support employees and maintain a social connection to make the situation productive.

When utilising a clear and structured plan, organisations and their I&O leaders can contribute to safer back-to-work procedures for areas under their control. By building a return-to-work plan, organisations can help to prevent and reduce infections. Also, the clearly communicated plan can help employees transition comfortably back into the workplace.

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