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Why Workforce Personas are Key to Reopening Offices

Who should return to the office and who should remain remote? By taking a persona-based approach, organizations can quickly determine how their workforce will be distributed and create a strategic plan for reopening.

February 1, 2021 6 minute read

It’s hard to remember what it’s like working in the office. The days of commuting, team lunches and in-person meetings are a distant memory.  

Adjusting to remote work was challenging the first few months, but many employees have finally settled into a work-from-home routine — some more comfortably than others — and are enjoying the increased flexibility and productivity gains. 

But despite the benefits of remote work, many employees are ready to return to the office. Some job roles and personality types simply crave the structure, tools and physical interaction only available in the office.

In the last year, we’ve helped many organizations navigate the various obstacles of rapidly transitioning to a work-from-home model. While few organizations have stated they will continue a work-from-home model indefinitely, most organizations are realizing that a balance of remote work and office-based work — a hybrid work model — is a better option for their employees. 

In addition to adhering to the safety guidelines related to reopening offices, organizations face several new challenges when implementing a hybrid work model. First, they must determine who will return to the office and who will stay remote — and how frequently — then understand how these changes will impact the employee experience

In this article, I’ll address these challenges and key considerations when transitioning to hybrid work. 

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Adopting a persona-based approach to reopening offices 

The forced shift to remote work revealed that some job roles are better suited for remote work than others. 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. The “water cooler” example may sound outdated, but these types of interactions foster creative thinking. 

Rather than grouping end users by departments, dynamic personas layer various characteristics and technology requirements to identify who is best suited for remote work versus office-based work and allow IT to provide more personalized support.

Conducting a dynamic persona assessment can help organizations quickly identify who is best suited for remote work versus office-based work. These assessments utilize job descriptions, employee interviews, historical IT data and institutional knowledge to create an aligned, overarching set of criteria that encompasses end-user needs, organizational objectives and technology requirements. These requirements are mapped to specific groups, and even to individual end users, to create a dynamic picture of who, what and where services need to be delivered.

After evaluating the results, this information is typically combined with facilities data, such as floor plans and building capacities, along with local health department occupancy restrictions. By integrating all this valuable data together, organizations can create a phased approach for bringing teams back into the office. 

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Accommodating new hybrid workplace behaviors

After identifying which personas will return to the office, organizations must focus on how these changes will impact the employee experience. Returning employees will likely need to modify their past routines to comply with social distancing requirements and hoteling/hot desking schedules.

In a hybrid model, some teams may choose to work remotely a couple days per week or every other week. These teams will likely schedule office-based work so most of the team is in the office together to foster creative, ad-hoc conversations. New routines and work styles will require Facilities departments to evaluate whether their current conference rooms will suffice or if additional space is required.

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.

Prior to the pandemic, organizations were already exploring more collaborative room types. The widespread adoption of agile methodologies has led to the need for spaces that can accommodate scrum and ideation activities. Obeya or Team rooms allow for more casual meeting spaces that often have movable furniture and large whiteboards or markable walls. These settings encourage idea sharing and foster creative conversations while allowing employees to focus on specific tasks.

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Leveraging technology to enable office-based employees

Technology will play an equally important role in enabling office-based employees as it does remote employees. Shared spaces, environmental factors and cleaning schedules will be areas of focus when retuning to the office.

Conference rooms 

Conference room video screens can be used to display social distancing reminders and capacity limits. 

Most employees are familiar users of video conferencing and expect the same experience when they return to the office. We’ve spoken to many analysts and organizations that predict 30 to 50 percent of employees will remain remote in some capacity. Moving forward, this means nearly every meeting — Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams — will include one or more remote participants, meaning every conference room needs to support video. 

Conference rooms will also need to adapt to social distancing requirements, which will reduce pre-pandemic room capacities by as much as two-thirds. Organizations can leverage digital signage to help employees understand and comply with these guidelines

Office monitoring technology 

Technology changes won't stay confined to conference rooms. Facilities teams will have many concerns when employees start returning to the office, including enforcing local health department regulations. Because many organizations lease their office space, they have limited options for monitoring environmental factors such as airflow, air quality and occupancy levels. IoT devices such as Bluetooth beacons, CO2 detectors, occupancy/vacancy sensors and advanced AI-enabled video endpoints provide facilities teams a deeper level of visibility into the spaces they can't fully control. 

Real-time alerts for improved cleaning

Office employees will also be concerned with the cleaning schedules of shared spaces. Digital signage, room scheduling displays, SMS and team messaging integrations can help alert employees when conference rooms have been cleaned. Organizations can also use this data to automatically schedule cleaning activities based on room usage patterns. 

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Planning your hybrid-office business strategy

Reopening and returning to the office is a marathon, not a sprint. There are many changes that must happen for offices to safely reopen. 

A crucial first step is creating dynamic personas to ensure your organization is making data-driven decisions about how your workforce will be distributed and providing the necessary support to end users during this challenging transition. These personas are key to reopening as they will influence nearly every office and technology decision moving forward as you prepare to welcome employees back.

Learn more about our approach to dynamic persona modeling. ReAd article  
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