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5 Steps for Planning a Return to the Office

There are five key steps for ensuring a safe and successful reopening: determine which employees will return to the office, select the right collaboration and productivity technology, consider how employees will access their tools and applications, ensure employee safety, and improve and secure office connectivity.

April 30, 2021 11 minute read

When organizations were forced to suddenly shift to remote work last year, many were caught unprepared and scrambled to implement ad-hoc solutions.  

There was no playbook detailing how to support employees during these uncertain times or a cheat sheet outlining must-have technology in a global pandemic. Even organizations that were already embracing work-from-anywhere strategies and technologies struggled under the scale of the change.

At WWT, we helped many organizations quickly identify their top priorities for a rapid shift to remote work  in real time as the transition to remote work was happening.  

Fast forward to today, and we’ve all learned a lot about business continuity and resilience and the importance of preparedness. 

As vaccines roll out and COVID-19 restrictions loosen, organizations are starting to evaluate when they can safely reopen offices — whether that’s in three months, six months or a year. Regardless of the timeline, the time to start planning is now. 

Many organizations have identified hybrid worka mix of remote, part-time remote and office-based employees, as a key component of their reopening plans. 

WWT created this hybrid work spectrum to help organizations visualize their balance between a remote and onsite workforce. While determining an optimal reopening plan, this ratio shapes the requirements and priorities for safety preparedness, technology acquisition and budget allocation.
WWT created this hybrid work spectrum to help organizations visualize their balance between a remote and onsite workforce. While determining an optimal reopening plan, this ratio shapes the requirements and priorities for safety preparedness, technology acquisition and budget allocation.

While this model offers greater flexibility for employees, it presents both technical and cultural challenges for IT and business leaders to overcome. Organizations must determine and implement the right technologies and tools to best support a distributed workforce while finding ways to sustain company culture and foster innovation when employees are not physically together. 

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than a third of employers are facing challenges with maintaining company culture. With the future of hybrid work on the horizon, many leaders are shifting their focus to resolving these cultural challenges to ensure long-term business success and growth. 

To ensure a successful transition, and avoid another last-minute scramble, we’ve identified five key steps when planning your reopening strategy.

WWT's five key steps for planning a return to the office.
WWT's five key steps for planning a return to the office. 

1. Determine which employees will return to the office and identify their supporting requirements  

Our Dynamic Persona Assessment merges data and institutional knowledge to build a sustainable persona framework that can be used for business and technical decision making.
Our Dynamic Persona Assessment merges data and institutional knowledge to build a sustainable persona framework that can be used for business and technical decision making.

The first step of implementing a hybrid work model is determining which employees are best suited for remote work versus office-based work. For example, individual contributors and sales-focused roles often benefit from remote work, while creative or highly collaborative roles — marketing, design, R&D, engineering — tend to perform better with in-person, ad-hoc interaction.  

WWT’s dynamic persona modeling methodology can help you determine the right structure for your workforce and company culture. Our approach brings together IT and line-of-business leaders to align end-user needs, technology requirements and business objectives. 

We utilize job descriptions, employee interviews, historical IT data and institutional knowledge to build dynamic personas, or groupings of end users that share common characteristics, services and requirements. This allows IT to provide more personalized support to employees and map specific personas to remote, semi-remote or office-based work.  

2. Select the right technology to enable hybrid-office collaboration and productivity  

Before the pandemic, many organizations allowed employees to work from home occasionally. Now, remote work will become part of the new normal. 

Employees will rotate frequently — if not daily — between the office and remote work to promote safer occupancy levels. Office-based work will become more intentional with employees coming on-site to attend meetings or accomplish a specific objective. The hybrid office will be a primary destination for team meetings, social gatherings, highly collaborative project meetings and creative brainstorming. 

To support this new office dynamic, organizations must rethink their physical spaces to accommodate more meeting rooms and huddle spaces and fewer assigned cubicles and desks. These spaces will need to be equipped with easy-to-use, touchless videoconferencing technology as nearly every meeting will include at least one remote participant. 

Organizations must also determine which spaces will require a reservation and which will be first come, first serve. Office hoteling applications and room reservation systems allow employees to easily pre-book spaces or desks so they can ensure maximum productivity on the days they are in the office.  

Watch how Appspace, the market leader in space management, reservation systems and digital signage, can enable a safe reopening.
Watch how Appspace, the market leader in space management, reservation systems and digital signage, can enable a safe reopening.

Lastly, organizations should consider implementing wayfinding technology to provide interactive maps throughout the office. Given the changes we’ve discussed so far, the hybrid office will look very different from the pre-pandemic office. Wayfinding and digital signage solutions can help employees orient themselves to the new office layout and avoid wasting time trying to find teammates and locate their next meeting.   

3. Consider how employees will access the tools and applications they need to do their jobs  

In a hybrid work model, organizations must empower their employees to be productive from any location. This means providing access to applications from anywhere, at any time, on any device. 

During the pandemic, many organizations have relied on subpar VPN connections to enable employees to work from home and maintain business continuity. Now it’s time to shift to a long-term solution. 

Leveraging a modern device management platform like VMware’s Workspace ONE or Microsoft’s Modern Workplace provides many benefits for managing a geo-diverse workforce.  

Organizations can virtualize applications and desktops to deliver high-performance user experiences without the need for full-device VPN connections. Employees can continue supporting the business from wherever they are, and with any available device.  

Learn how Workspace ONE helped WWT's internal IT team overcome common endpoint device management challenges and simplify IT tasks.
Learn how Workspace ONE helped WWT's internal IT team overcome common endpoint device management challenges and simplify IT tasks.

These platforms also allow organizations to better manage devices, both on and off the network. If an employee works remotely for an extended period of time and never connects to the VPN, organizations can still manage and secure the device to keep it compliant.  

Finally, modern management platforms provide employees with a personalized application catalog that includes the business-critical applications they need to do their jobs. As employees rotate between the office and remote work, this allows them to seamlessly access the tools they need to be productive.   

4. Ensure employee safety 

Organizations must do their part to keep employees safe and try to prevent disease transmission. But they face many difficult questions in doing so:  

  • Will employees, visitors and customers be screened before entering the building?
  • How will social distancing be enforced?
  • How often will shared spaces be cleaned?
  • How can we leverage data and analytics to gain visibility into shared space usage and traffic?

Leveraging the right technology can make it easier to address these questions and more.  

WWT has developed and implemented several technology solutions geared toward employee safety, from physical distance monitoring to fever screenings and contactless experiences. 

Physical distance monitoring  

Reopening with CDC guidelines means properly managing occupancy levels and efficiently monitoring person-to-person contact. By leveraging computer vision technology, smart cameras and a physical distance controls application, organizations can capture entries and exits into a location. This information can be integrated with digital signage to indicate if a space is at or near its maximum occupancy.   

WWT's hBM solution offers a safer way to augment temperature screenings, especially when paired with CDC guidelines and protocols.
WWT's hBM solution offers a safer way to augment temperature screenings, especially when paired with CDC guidelines and protocols. 

Entry screening  

Using thermometers to manually check employees’ temperatures is a time-consuming process that can create bottlenecks at entry and exit points. WWT’s human-based monitoring (hBM) Temperature Detection solution combines thermal cameras, artificial intelligence and cloud-based management to detect elevated body temperatures in real time.  

Contactless experiences 

Touchless technology is key for conference rooms, visitor check-in, time clock stations and other areas where there is an increased risk of contagion. For example, voice assistants allow employees to use voice prompts to join a meeting, make a call, mute/unmute and end a meeting, minimizing contact with the tabletop touch panel. 

Organizations can also configure their existing equipment — endpoints, scheduling displays, wayfinding boards, etc. — to enable employees to use their smartphones to start a meeting or scan a QR code to receive directions to their next meeting.

IoT sensors and analytics for real-time alerts 

Before reopening, consider implementing IoT sensors to effectively monitor:  

  • Meeting room usage: This can provide insight into optimizing employee schedules to reduce office traffic on specific days.
  • Air quality and ventilation: Facilities teams can leverage this information to detect issues or concerns that may impact their ability to reduce virus transmission.
  • Cleaning frequency: Send alerts when rooms need to be cleaned or hand sanitizer stations are low. This data can be integrated with digital signage to display the time a room was last cleaned.
  • Entry and exit points: Ensure one-way foot traffic throughout the building.

Digital signage for workplace safety communication  

Employees will be hesitant to return to the office, so organizations must go above and beyond to communicate the policies and procedures in place to ensure their safety. Digital signage is a great channel for that communication.  

We’ve already discussed how digital signage can display occupancy levels, cleaning schedules and interactive maps. Organizations can also use digital signage to share social distancing reminders, updated safety procedures and available workstations.   

5. Improve and secure office connectivity  

Employees need consistent connectivity, performance and access to critical applications in the office, at home or wherever work takes them.  

Wireless connectivity within the hybrid office  

Many office wireless networks are designed primarily for coverage, guest access, and connectivity in conference rooms and common areas, but not for the capacity or density needed to support mobile and collaborative employees. 

As organizations update their offices to include more huddle spaces and shared visual spaces, their wireless networks must expand to support open floor plans and connectivity from any area within the building.  

Wireless connectivity must be available for all devices and spaces when moving to a hybrid office.

Organizations must also consider improving the performance, speed and capacity of their wireless networks to support increased wireless collaboration and traffic. Many employees will work from multiple wireless devices — laptop, tablet, mobile phone, etc. — and utilize touchless videoconferencing to meet with their remote colleagues. These devices, as well as employee safety solutions such as IoT sensors and wayfinding, will all need to connect through an organization’s wireless network. Leveraging new technology standards like Wi-Fi 6 can help organizations avoid a capacity crunch and ensure greater connectivity speed.  

Secure access wherever employees are located  

Many organizations are already leveraging SD-WAN architectures to better support geo-diverse workforces, quickly provision remote offices and temporary locations, troubleshoot remotely, and apply segmentation policies to control access permissions. However, in a hybrid work model, organizations must consider ways to provide employees with more consistent and predictable secure access from anywhere. 

Concepts like secure access service edge (SASE) and zero trust can help organizations adapt to a fluctuating network edge; apply consistent security policies, regardless of where the end user is located; and protect against threats, both inside and outside of the organization’s four walls. 

Reopen with complete confidence 

There is much to consider when transitioning to a hybrid work model and reopening offices. Organizations must identify which employees will return to the office versus remain remote; understand how employees will collaborate, connect and access the tools they need; and enhance efforts to ensure employee safety. 

At WWT, we understand each office faces its own unique set of challenges and considerations when reopening. We can help guide you through these five steps and identify the right technologies for your organization so you can improve the employee experience and ensure a safe reopening.  

Identify and prioritize tactical steps for reopening. Request briefing  
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