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The Distributed Workplace Evolution: 4 Emerging Back to Work Model

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The office you left will not be the same as the office you return to and, in some cases, you may not be returning to the office at all. With such mammoth complexities around how to keep everyone safe and curb the spread of the virus in the work environment, many organizations are weighing the risk-reward trade-offs of reopening their offices. New protocols, policies and technologies are rapidly being developed to address and adapt how the global workforce operates in the Covid era.

As the crisis stabilizes, all sectors are cautiously navigating the next phase following stay-at-home orders will look like for their organizations and employees. Plans range from beginning a employee return over next few weeks or months to delaying the return to the end of the year, or in Twitter’s case, giving employees the option of working from home…forever.

For enterprises, conceiving of a return to work is especially daunting considering the diversity in roles and geographies in which they operate. Enterprises across the globe are tackling this challenge by deploying steering committees and cross-departmental taskforces, while some are even establishing permanent departments. All are dedicated to conducting research, gathering employee input and seeking third-party guidance on how to develop, implement and monitor a return-to-the-office plan that keeps all safe, follows government guidelines, and reduces their liability.

Take inspiration from others
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Modo worked closely with many Fortune 1000 brands, including Capital One and Schneider Electric, to deliver their digital workplace experience. When the coronavirus hit, we partnered with our customers to adapt their employee app experience to deliver crisis communications and keep their now distributed workplace informed, connected and safe.

Now that the focus has shifted from remote working to considering a return to the office, enterprises are looking for ways to ensure they and their employees can do so confidently. With safety, health and the wellness of their workforce top of mind, they are seeking flexible models that enable them to adapt quickly if there should be another wave.

4 emerging return-to-work models
We have the benefit of talking with many large clients, faced with implementing a smooth transition to a hybrid distributed / onsite workforce. Following are 4 models we see emerging – as global brands begin to prepare to operate in the new normal (or, shall we say, the foreseeable future).

1. Rotating staff and staggering teams approach

Some companies are considering rotating their staff in and out of offices, prioritizing roles that need more frequent access to the physical space, such as labs or special equipment. At the same time, these companies are planning to limit the number of staff in a space to accommodate social distancing protocols. They are assigning employees to separate groups (e.g., the red, green or purple team) based on role along with other relevant criteria. Groups have designated days to come in as part of a rotation schedule.

To manage the staggering of staff, companies are providing access to schedules and sending reminders via multiple channels. Examples include a ‘time to go to work’ morning nudge from their employee apps that reminds them today is their day in the office and guides them on the steps to take.

These companies are also calling upon technology to ensure employees feel safe so they can be productive. They are helping employees prepare to return by providing them with prescriptive and location-based in-office protocols and procedures. That way, everyone knows when they are expected to return, what to expect when they return, and what they need to do to comply with the new regulations.

Some enterprises are providing in-app virtual tours to help guide employees through the physical space prior to entering the building space. Examples include how to ride the elevator and what routes to take to get to the cafeteria or to a meeting room.

Before an employee enters the office space, the mobile app can confirm it’s their day to be in the building and that they’ve confirmed they are healthy through a self-assessment. Moreover, with the presence of Bluetooth beacons and geofences, the app can immediately remind each employee of the steps they must take prior to being allowed to enter the building, or about the local rules, policies and regulations for a particular location.

2. Phased approach, gradually returning employees across locations

Other companies are considering a phased approach like Goldman Sachs, following a gradual ‘return to office’ framework. The return-to-work plan involves bringing staff back in phases, starting with a few employees (e.g., 20%), ramping up to 50%, and perhaps more over time.

In Hong Kong, about 25% of Goldman Sachs’ employees were back at work as of late April, and the bank aimed to have 35% by May 11 and 50% by May 25. Typically, these employees are identified. i.e., the employees in the 25% grouping, is the same 25% day after day, or whatever percentage is applicable.

Many companies are piloting a return of employees to the office with the phased approach in one location, or a handful of locations, and then applying the learnings to inform their broader return-to-the-office strategy. They are testing how technology and best practices can support the transition. This includes leveraging location-based tools like app notifications to check employees in and drive healthy behaviors, such as nudging employees to wash their hands as they enter a new office area and reminding team members to keep their social distance.

To support those coming back, companies are supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and making sure sanitation across physical spaces is up to the highest standards. Many are allowing employees to request masks, gloves or the cleaning of an area via their workplace app. They are also offering indoor maps that identify where employees can access PPE.

3. Voluntary, flexible approach

In a voluntary approach, the company caps the number of employees that may work in a particular location, on any given day. The employees “reserve” their spot, before leaving home, and when the limit it reached, no more in-office reservations are made available.

With shelter-in-place orders behind us, more businesses are recognizing that remote work is a viable option and some are rethinking and adopting a more permanent remote or flexible working model. Obviously this only applies to employees that do not need to be physically in the office, whether to collaborate or access special equipment. In some cases, employees might not have access to a productive working environment outside of the office, and being physically onsite is their best option.

As companies become more distributed, it’s even more important to unite both onsite and remote employees with a unified workplace experience, ensuring they are connected to up-to-date information and feel part of the company culture. Employers can engage both onsite and remote employees via a mobile app dashboard which is personalized based on their role, location, and even how they’re performing against their goals. Through quick polls, companies can gauge whether these employees are following guidelines and protocols, or to engage and educate them on wellness topics using gamified and quizzed content. Or, they can then send out push notifications to nudge and drive important behaviors like social distancing and frequent hand washing.

For those who plan or need to be onsite, employees can make an office reservation, along with a desk, directly through their workplace mobile or desktop app. With this type of tool, an employee can gain visibility into floors and seating density, while the employer controls and monitors the limited space availability.

4. Hybrid approach: Rotation in one location, staggered in another.

And Voluntary in yet another. As suggested earlier, there is a minor staggered effect in most of these models, as some designated percentage of employees are simply required to come in due to the role or required equipment. The remaining large majority of the employees will follow the approaches outlined above. However, employers are also evaluating these different models by location.

As companies determine the best fit for their organization, many are leveraging their Modo-powered employee app to gauge their employee’s readiness to return to help with their decision making process.

In a hybrid approach, a geo-fenced and location-aware multi-site mobile app, can enforce the regional requirements, whether using rotating, staggered, or voluntary return approaches, while maintaining close personalized contact with very large number of remote employees, in each case.

Embrace the best model for your business
To mitigate liability risks when bringing back employees to the workplace, companies should follow the guidance and recommendations issued by applicable government agencies and ensure they are implementing the guidelines in compliance with existing laws and regulations. At the same time, employees are looking for clearly defined in-office and work-from-home procedures and need up-to-date information relevant to their role and location.

Smart companies are recognizing the smartphone as an essential tool that serves a safety net to guide employees through their workday. Calling upon mobile apps enables companies to provide real-time notifications, drive social distancing behaviors and provide access to new office protocols, PPE and health and wellness services. In this way, they are reducing anxiety and easing employees back to the office.

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