The fourth quarter often marks the end of the fiscal year and a time when businesses and their employees strive to meet year-end goals, finalize projects and plan for the year ahead. This year, the same is true except leaders now face the difficult task of planning through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

With 2021 right around the corner, companies are grappling with if, how and when to reopen, and how a return to the workplace can be done in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of people and spaces.

Adding the human dimension to workplace re-entry

According to Harvard Business Review, most employers have received high marks for the way they’ve responded to the pandemic so far. The key to that success? Communication. Employees who regularly receive updates from their companies are more likely to be proud to work for their companies (by 55%) and to look forward to going back to work (by 43%).

“People are missing that interaction, that human dimension and still highly valued collaboration,” explained Jane Muir-Sands, Vice President of IBM’s Global Real Estate and Operations. Mrs. Muir Sands joined others in discussing the challenges and opportunities of returning to the workplace during an IBM Work Safe, Work Smart event that brought industry leaders together, virtually, of course, to share their thoughts.

As Barbry McGann, Executive Director for Workday and another speaker at the event noted, “Despite everything that has happened and all that we’ve gone through, the employee sentiment surveys that we’re seeing, they believe that the company culture is going to be stronger. Their sense of unity, community, and solidarity is stronger than it was before.”

Because when it comes to people, safety first. Although many employees desire to return to the office, their enthusiasm hinges on the steps their employers are taking to ensure their wellbeing.

The three factors for your return to the workplace plan

There are many factors to consider when bringing employees back to work. And while businesses are exploring a variety of return-to-work models that involve some mixture of on-premises and at-home work, the success of these efforts will be greatly determined by the actions they take around three key areas:

  1. Taking care of people
  2. Putting the right processes in place to deal with changing circumstances
  3. Creating an environment that allows employees to do their best work

While addressing these won’t take all the anxiety out of returning to the workplace, knowing that the decisions and the resulting plans are based on data + technology, can help diminish the fear factor for everyone.

Let’s talk about people

Your employees are your most valuable asset and it’s critical that they know you continue to put their safety first. It’s also your opportunity to build upon the trust you have established with them during the height of Covid. Reassure employees with a data-driven approach and frequently communicate.

For example, explain when and how you’ll test to make sure no one is coming to work sick, along with how you’ll protect their privacy. Communicate when and how space is being used and by whom so that your teams know you’re following occupancy and social distancing guidelines. Give people easy-to-follow information on when to come in and where they can safely spend their time once they arrive, and let them see new cleaning protocols in action.

Do you have the right processes?

Communication is key but without the right processes in place, you may not have much to say. And you won’t know if you’ve got the right processes in place unless you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

For example, in order to highlight those new cleaning protocols mentioned above, you need an enterprise-wide system in place that enables you to define, communicate and enforce new protocols in any location. Fortunately, technology, powered by AI insights, coupled with automation and used by your teams, can help you create the right processes for almost any part of your return-to-the-workplace plans. More examples: to minimize the chance of exposure, you can implement processes that make sure PPE is available in the right locations, monitor body temperature, create capacity rules for meeting rooms to allow for social distancing, then automatically request cleaning before that room can be booked again.

Engaged people are productive people

As you prioritize people and put the right processes in place, the third area to consider is how to create the most productive space for your teams – space designed to keep them healthy and engaged. And keeping employees engaged in these distracted times is crucial. Recent Gallup research shows that productivity among highly engaged teams is 14% higher than that of teams with the lowest engagement.

To create a healthy and safe environment, start with the actual floor plan. You will need to reconfigure desks to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Technology like dynamic space planning can make the task much easier. Then consider allowing employees to reserve space in advance, and provide them with indoor mapping or a digital assistant to make that space easy to find. Depending on your location, you can also. make outdoor space the new “office” (and make it reservable, too). Or if you really want to reimagine your space, turn offices into destinations for key face-to-face meetings, important collaborations and team gathering.

Hear from leading brands

For more ideas on how you can plan for a safe re-opening, listen and discover how leading brands like Lockheed Martin, Johnson & Johnson, Workday and IBM work safer and smarter to deliver a healthy and productive environment.

Watson Works can work for you. Find out how.



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