As businesses like yours continue their “great return to work” and try to navigate ever-changing state and federal guidelines, the biggest ongoing question on everyone’s mind is, “how to do we get this right?” and how to safely bring human interaction back to the workplace.

Ultimately, this will require continuous improvement, incremental change, and a cycle of change management made possible by leveraging technology. More specifically, you will have to continuously reconsider your spaces, your transparency, and the way you communicate with and prioritize your people.

Here’s how to successfully navigate the “new normal” of the workplace.

Remember that the Transition to Work Is a Fluid Process

First, it’s important to understand that the transition back to work is not a linear process. You will have to maintain both agility and patience as your company will likely jump between the following stages:

1. Shelter in Place

Some people are still sheltering in place and working from home. For many employees, this will truly be the new normal, particularly as companies like Square make the decision to allow employees to work from home permanently. And this is seen as a positive for many: a recent McKinsey survey showed that, of a population of fathers working at home, 79.4% reported positive work effectiveness, with 70.5% saying they have a positive state of well-being. Conversely, of a group of employees working in non-remote positions with little workplace flexibility, 70.5% report negative work effectiveness, with 57.6% saying they’re struggling.

2. Transition

In some states, companies are beginning to transition back to the workplace based on regional, local, and federal guidelines and following the best-laid plans possible.

3. Safety in the Workplace

The ultimate goal is to have a shared sense of safety in the workplace, and that’s truly the role of leadership in ensuring that it’s a safe place to return to.

4. Continued Preparedness

The final stage is to ensure continued preparedness as you continue to work through what this and future potential events bring.

In many states, like California, businesses and their employees are moving back and forth between the “shelter in place” and “transition” phases as guidelines continue to evolve. Again, many companies expect to have some employees work exclusively from home moving forward. It may take a culture shift, but shift but remember the positives that come with this kind of change: more remote employees could spell long-term opportunities for cost savings in terms of real estate and other in-office costs.

That said, no matter your industry, you have a responsibility to ensure that, when your employees do return to the workplace, that it’s done in a safe and effective manner.

The Keys to “The Great Return” to Work”   

The overarching key to a safe and effective return to work is flexibility and remaining agile as the situation continues to develop. However, there are four areas of importance you should consider. In this blog series, we will explore each of these key areas for “the great return to work” in more detail, providing comprehensive strategies and tips that will help you increase agility, utilize technology and ultimately prepare your company for a successful return to work.

1. Creating space in your office  

First, the office must adapt through design and technology for social distancing. The goal? To de-densify the office and keep everyone safe and comfortable. This will require a reconsideration of work spaces, office hoteling, and embracing the world of virtual and hybrid interactions.

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2. Ensuring data-driven visibility  

The second key is ensuring data-driven visibility. This will require the end (at least for now) of the true open office concept and the use of data for monitoring, managing and responding to space-related concerns. This is the only way to maintain social distancing, sanitization and monitoring.

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3. Most importantly, keeping people at the forefront

This is the most important key to “the great return to work.” The positive impact of returning to the office hinges on participation from your people. You must encourage accountability, re-establish the office culture, and ensure that the people in your company feel safe and heard.

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4. Rethink your real estate

The last key is about real estate planning. The real estate landscape is projected to change with the post-coronavirus shift to a more diverse portfolio, particularly as most businesses are moving toward offering a combination of owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space and remote work. This will be important to keep in mind—and take advantage of—as you return to work.

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