Apr 30, 2021
By Brandon Davis

Planning for a Return to Work? Here’s What to Consider First.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way companies manage their physical workspaces. With social distancing measures in place, many offices have been vacant or sparsely populated for much of the past year as employees worked from home all or most of the time.

But as organizations begin planning for a return to “normal” operations, some major questions are still looming: What does the post-pandemic workplace look like? Will employees continue to work from home every day? Will they follow a hybrid schedule that involves time at home as well as time at the office?

For many workplace leaders, the answers aren’t as straightforward as you may expect.

In fact, as Forbes reports, a recent survey by furniture dealership and management company WB Wood showed that more than 60% of all executives either have no plans to change their office spaces or—perhaps more troublingly—no plans for a safe return to the office at all.

This is even more puzzling when considering that more than 70% of these leaders expect a return to the workplace before the end of 2021. The clock is ticking for decision makers to implement safe and functional office spaces, but it seems like most of them don’t know where to start.

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key issues surrounding return-to-work plans and briefly explore how digital solutions can help ease the burden for leaders and re-assure employees of the safety and practicality of the transition.

What Are the Key Challenges in Returning to Work?

Put simply, there has never been a global pandemic of this scale in our lifetimes, and it poses a completely new set of challenges for organizations and their leaders. Some of the major concerns include:

  • Employee safety (and feelings about safety): Employees expect and deserve to have a safe and accommodating workspace when they return to the office. During the past year, people have adapted to the “new normal” of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and keeping hand sanitizer at arm’s reach. Leaders need to make these accommodations easily accessible, or else employees will be hesitant to return and may feel uncomfortable when they do.
  • Facilities operations and upkeep: Since many office buildings have been vacant for months, there will be pressure on facilities teams to get things up and running again. In addition to restoring normal operations, facilities managers will also be tasked with storing and replenishing personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout their buildings. This poses a logistical challenge that will likely require new strategies and capabilities to solve.
  • Space planning and management: A return to the workplace won’t happen all at once. In fact, according to the same Forbes report referenced above, most companies will implement a phased return with limited capacity (about 10-20%) to start. In addition, social distancing will remain an important part of combatting the pandemic, which means employees will need to maintain an appropriate distance in the workplace even as these spaces approach full capacity again. Designing physical workspaces that seamlessly accommodate hybrid work schedules while allowing for social distancing will be a delicate balancing act.

3 Digital Capabilities to Address Return-to-Work Challenges

To address the issues outlined above, executives and facilities management leaders can turn to comprehensive digital solutions like Nuvolo Connected Workplace.

Here are just a few ways a connected workplace system can help:

1. Space reservations: Organizations at the forefront of the return-to-work movement are finding innovative ways to make their office environments more flexible. This often involves “hoteling” of desks or rooms—the practice of making such spaces usable by more than one employee. Employee #1 may “own” a workspace on Monday, while Employee #2 “owns” the same space on Tuesday.

It’s easy to see how this could create a logistical headache. But a cloud-based solution makes it simple. For example, the Space Reservation solution within Nuvolo Connected Workplace allows employees to select a location, book it, and check in and out—all from a single mobile interface. And since it’s part of the cloud, the reservation system updates automatically for all users in real time.

2. Interactive maps and wayfinding: Floorplan visibility will be an important part of re-designed workspaces. In other words, how will employees physically navigate the new environment?

Nuvolo Connected Workplace helps solve this problem with interactive maps and an intuitive wayfinding system. Employees can look at a floorplan and select which space they want to book, then use the wayfinding feature to guide themselves there. The maps can also be used to plot and locate PPE equipment like masks and hand sanitizer.

Plus, these features could extend beyond immediate post-pandemic times and help meet the changing needs of employees in the coming years. According to a recent Gartner report (How to Create Smart Offices Focused on Employee Experience, Well-Being and Safety), 60% of hybrid workers will prioritize a wellness-equipped smart office over a remote office by 2022.

3. Automated work orders: A comprehensive safety plan should include standardized cleaning and sanitization procedures. This will likely fall under the responsibilities of the facilities management team, which will need to know things like how and when space is being used.

That’s where Nuvolo Connected Workplace comes in. It allows for the space-related capabilities discussed above to be fully integrated with your facilities work order system, automatically generating work orders at the right times for the right spaces.

For instance, cleaning work orders can be triggered after an employee books a room and after the employee leaves the room. This automates a key safety function, simplifying the facility team’s responsibilities while delivering all employees extra peace of mind.

Simplify Your Return to Work

It’s never happened before, but it’s happening now.

While returning to the workplace after a global pandemic will take strategic planning and great care, it doesn’t have to be chaotic. With the right cloud-based digital solution in place, leaders can merge space management with facilities operations to more confidently execute a return-to-work strategy that balances employee safety with key business operations.

Learn more about Nuvolo Connected Workplace’s space planning and management, and check out the full suite of facilities maintenance capabilities.