The pandemic disrupted organizations and workforces everywhere, but with an end potentially in sight, enterprises are preparing for the gradual return of employees back to the office. Not every plan for return will look the same for every company. A recent study found that 81 percent of employers are limiting the number of onsite workers, and when workers do come back, 75 percent of employers will stagger start, stop and break times. In fact, not every employee will return to the office full-time ever again; the shift to remote work en masse caused by the pandemic was successful for many organizations, and some have announced that some of their staff can work from home permanently.
But, there are still many benefits for employers and employees alike for at least a partial return to the office (like a desire to separate our work and home lives). This transition won’t happen overnight for the workers who do return but will rather play out slowly and conservatively over the coming months, as businesses rightly understand that we are in an unprecedented situation, and employees may have concerns that must be addressed.
Of course, the number one question for everyone returning to colocated workspaces is of their health and safety. Most employers are well aware of the fundamental health lessons of the pandemic, such as the wisdom of hygienic practices like readily available sanitizer, as well as social distancing. Many businesses are physically reconfiguring their office layouts to adapt. As with any cultural change, clear and consistent communications from human resources and company leaders are needed so that these changes are well-understood.
However, office IT is often overlooked for how it can also play a critical role in helping ensure the health and safety of returning workers. Step one in allaying employee fears is by minimizing the need for contact with the numerous office devices, and this approach is called “the low-touch office.” The low-touch office has naturally become a point of emphasis for employers after the pandemic.
The utilization of cloud technology is an important driver for the low-touch office, as the cloud has imbued knowledge management processes with enhanced mobility. Workers can send and edit documents from their phones, laptops, MFPS and scanners, and elsewhere securely and frictionlessly. The success of remote working has reinforced the need for enterprise knowledge management to be flexible and collaborative, allowing workforces to “work from anywhere.” The added mobility not only enhances efficiency but just as important are the health ramifications: enabling workers to work anywhere, anytime through the cloud will help to reduce person-to-person contact.
Within the office, there are many digital tools that decrease the need for worker proximity and touch. For example, NFC-enabled printers allow employees to access these devices without ever touching the machine at all, leveraging the same technology that allows you to check out at a convenience store with a mere wave of your ID Badge like a credit card. By leveraging these low-touch technologies, companies can continue normal business functions without compromising employee safety.
On the backend, reconfiguring the office doesn’t just mean rearranging the workstations themselves but also the underlying IT equipment, which significantly dictates how and when employees congregate. Distributing office equipment for maximized employee flexibility is called “balanced deployment”. It entails the assessment of knowledge management needs and then rightsizing the distribution of devices and employees throughout a workplace for maximum effectiveness. Previously, offices often had a centralized layout with a high employee-to-device ratio (particularly for printers and scanners). But the post-pandemic office necessitates a new trend towards decentralization, reduced device contact, and fewer users per device. Balanced deployment is one of several ways employers are expected to continue emphasizing social distancing without sacrificing business performance. With a properly balanced deployment plan, businesses can increase productivity, reduce costs and help keep employees safe.
In sum, when employees who do choose to return to the office begin their transition, companies must determine what’s needed to give returning workers peace of mind. How IT can help is by implementing adaptations that put an emphasis on minimizing device contact, such as through new digital technologies and a balanced-deployment approach. The future is still uncertain, but by creating an office environment that is both safe and effective, the transition for returning employees won’t be.