COVID-19 isn’t over—hardly—but across the U.S., increasing numbers of communities are planning to or starting to relax restrictions that will enable more businesses to open and allow employees to head back to the office—many for the first time in several months.
For tech companies, that may mean big changes—again. Just as many had found their footing in a remote work world, some businesses are looking for the right balance between the pre-coronavirus days and what the workplace should look like going forward.
In a recent survey of CompTIA communities and Industry Advisory Councils members, 94% of respondents said their business will change in at least one way over the long-term, including:
- 65% will let more employees stay working remotely
- 48% plan more social/digital marketing vs. traditional marketing
- 47% see less business travel permanently
- 28% are broadening their offerings
- 27% plan to downsize physical office space
- 24% are investing more in tech training/certifications
As this all happens, there’s likely to be new safety and security protocols, mandates, and guidelines—all of which could have a big impact on how business is conducted going forward. We asked several members of CompTIA’s communities and Industry Advisory Councils that have reopened their offices or plan to do so soon for some tips on how to reopen, things they’d do differently, and what to expect going forward. Here are 10 things you should keep in mind as you head back to the office:
Keep Employee Safety Paramount
Before customer needs, before profitability, businesses should ensure that their employees can work in a safe, healthy environment, said Michael Goldstein, president of LAN Infotech, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a member of CompTIA’s Managed Services Community's executive council.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., solution provider has stocked plenty of personal protection equipment (masks, gloves, wipes), ensured that employees aren’t too close to each other, locked the main door so no visitors can enter unannounced, mandated adherence to suggested cleaning policies during the day.
“We’ve made it clear that we all need to treat everyone else like they are our parents, our families. Every little thing matters, and it makes people feel more comfortable,” Goldstein said.
Don’t Assume Anything
No one knows what to expect in an office these days because no one’s really been through a pandemic of this scale before. Employees will be uncertain, nervous, and have lots of questions. In many cases, the anxiety and stress could be detrimental to business productivity. Communicating regularly and being as transparent as possible can help minimize that stress, according to Goldstein.
“Tell people everything and remind them of everything. I went through every detail of what I do in my house, so they’ll know where I’m coming from. Remind them to keep their guard up and adhere to whatever practices are in place from local, state, federal officials,” he said. “I keep them up on all the company news. I got my PPE loan and I wanted them to know that. Some were worried about whether they would have a job. Relaying all that information helps us focus on what we need to do to be successful.”
Follow Appropriate Guidelines
Look to your local city, county, state and other government agencies for guidelines and recommendations (maybe even rules or laws) to help you establish new protocols for working in an office again. Health officials have said it’s critical to adhere to guidelines to help stem the pandemic, but following and even exceeding them can also benefit the mental health of your employees too, according to Corey Kirkendoll, president and CEO of 5K Technical Services, based in Plano, Texas, and Kirkendoll, chair of CompTIA's Managed Services Community's executive council.
5K opened its office after Memorial Day after shutting it in March and found that employees were pleased to see the company take their safety as a priority. “We take everyone’s temperature several times a day. Everybody has masks and gloves. We follow the six-foot social distancing rule. We put up plexiglass between cubicles. So far, it’s been good. Everyone’s more comfortable and it’s allowed us to be productive,” he said.
Start slowly, and Don’t Rush Back
5K’s employees initially returned only three days a week to the office, allowing them to gradually get used to working in an office environment again, a strategy that also provided the company time to fine-tune its safety measures and ensure compliance, Kirkendoll said.
“We continue to hold to social distancing. We’re only onsite with customers for emergency purposes and only if the customer is not in the office,” he said.
Returning to the office in carefully planned phases also helped 5K ensure that customer support did not falter during the transition. “We didn’t miss a beat, maybe even more productive at the end of the day. No downtime, no interruption of service, no decline in service. We’ve maintained 100% customer satisfaction throughout being remote and coming back.”
A Lot Has Changed, So Can You
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has shown Robert Senatore, managing member of Data2Go Wireless and a co-chair of CompTIA’s IoT Advisory Council, is that it’s OK to think differently than you did before—and that it’s OK to accept change.
“I’ll admit, I’ve always been an ‘old school’ thinker. I wanted my employees in close proximity to me and to each other. COVID-19 has taught me that doesn’t need to be the case,” Senatore said. “Management styles must change to adapt to how we’re working today. In my case, that needs to be a more scheduled and carefully thought out approach. Since time is limited, we need to be more effective and efficient with that time.”
Don’t Expect Things to Be as They Were
If COVID-19 hasn’t changed things permanently, it certainly has for a while. Businesses may need to roll with a few punches, figure out a few things along the way before a new routine can settle. One thing you shouldn’t do, according to Kirkendoll, is to plan to return to the way it was.
“I think this will change the way we interact, the way we work,” he said. “I think a lot of businesses and a lot of employees didn’t know they could work remote and be effective—but they’ve figured it out,” he said. “People can work remotely. I think that will drive a lot of change and people will be more willing to take technology and working remote more serious.”
Reevaluate the Size and Design of Your Office Space
A lot of companies will be taking a hard look at their office space needs going forward. If more employees are working remotely, can you get by with less space? And how will that space look in the future? There’s a lot more to consider now.
At Lenovo’s Raleigh, N.C., headquarters, employees have their own lockers now but the company is divesting itself of assigned offices in order to reduce space, according to Chris Link, Smart Edge account executive for Lenovo, and a member of CompTIA’s IoT Advisory Council. “It’s worked out good for the most part so far. I think that’s the way of the future for us,” Link said.
Kathleen Glass, CEO of Oinkodomeo, a San Diego-based virtual sales and marketing company, and member of CompTIA’s IoT Advisory Council, has been reading up on the concept of rentable conference rooms, increasingly available in cities where it doesn’t make sense to own or lease similar space that doesn’t get used full time “I’ve always been remote, but I think a lot more people are rethinking that structure and I think a lot of us will go down more virtual, rentable space,” she said.
Become the ‘Return to Work’ Expert for Your Customers
It may not always be possible, depending on individual environments and situations (as well as that of your customers), but if you’re able to return to your office before your customers return to theirs, you’ll have the experience to help them through the process too.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking to customers,” 5K’s Kirkendoll said. “We call each customer once or twice a week, minimum, to see how it’s going. We wanted to keep a finger on the pulse. By opening our office, we were a proving ground to ensure processes worked. It’s something for us to hang our hat on. Things we prescribe or recommend for our customers, we know they work.”
Restrict Access to Your Employees
LAN Infotech keeps its office door locked during the day. If a delivery person needs access, they need to announce themselves and someone will meet them at the door, Goldstein said. “We’re also putting no more than two people in the help desk pit and other employees are scattered around the office,” he said. “We’ll never have eight people on the help desk pit at one time again."
Goldstein and several other CompTIA members said they’re also implementing new guidelines about employees needs to visit a customer’s location. For example, maybe it has to be in off hours or when no one else is around. Meanwhile, more customer employees working remotely has created a slew of new challenges too for engineers in the field. Is it appropriate/safe to have an engineer go to a customer employee’s home? What if it’s a male engineer and a female employee?
“There’s a lot, businesswise, to discuss around that. We’ve been talking in various peer groups about how to handle those things,” Goldstein said. “Is servicing someone’s home internet covered in an MSP contract? It’s going to change the very nature of what an MSP does.”
Know that One-Size Doesn’t Fit All
After a few months of employees working remotely, many companies have noticed a common trend: some workers made the transition smoothly, but others did not. As more businesses start to reopen their offices, they may need to consider a hybrid model of being in the office and working remotely—from the entire staff down to individuals who may want to or need to split their time.
“We’ve told all our people, if you need to work remote, the option is on the table. If you want to be in the office, that’s great too. Our team rallied around being back in the office. They missed being around each other. But there are some who absolutely want that flexibility. I think you need to provide both moving forward.”
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