Only about one-fourth of U.S. professionals currently work at an office, according to The New York Times. While certain organizations’ IT departments are on the list of essential workers from the CDC, “non-essential” companies are now planning their return to in-office work. However, recent Pew Research shows many workers want to stay remote, and others worry about going back to in-office settings.
To successfully bring your IT team back to your in-office ecosystem, it’s imperative to consider re-entry anxiety and offer support during this shift. Use the following strategies to assist your process.
Communicate New Policies with Transparency
As this pandemic ushers in so many changes and uncertainties, transparent communication is more crucial than ever. So when IT workers return to the office, keep them abreast of new health, safety, and logistical policies that will impact them at work.
Moreover, accurate, open, and frequent communication can help your team manage re-entry anxieties and increase their desire to return onsite by 43 percent, according to Harvard Business Review.
Here are some of the specifics you’ll want to communicate:
- Cleaning protocols: While it may seem like minutiae, employees want to know about new cleaning and sanitization practices. To set a benchmark, look to other organizations. For example, 63 percent of business leaders make sure their workspaces are cleaned several times a day in line with CDC protocols, according to a recent SERVPRO survey. Send out company-wide messaging that outlines cleaning standards, expected sanitization practices, and any other relevant info.
- Health screens: Federal law recommends that all onsite employees undergo health checks before entering the office each day. These include symptom and temperature screens, as well as COVID-19 tests (and possible quarantine) if exposed to the virus or running a fever of more than 100 degrees. Tell employees in advance what to expect from these daily health screens and how to participate.
- Distancing and other procedures: Thoroughly explain any other changes, i.e., distanced workspace layouts, mask requirements, closed common areas, minimal group meetings, etc.
While it may feel like overkill, these details are critical in reassuring your team of your diligence and safe practices.
Offer Staggered Hours to Smooth the Transition
During 2020, remote tech employees in the U.S. worked unusual hours, sometimes even putting in more hours on the weekend than Monday, according to GitHub’s annual report. This flexibility to structure their working hours based on convenience or preference also lead to productivity gains. (It’s well understood getting into “the flow state” can happen at different times).
Because many IT workers are used to these irregular hours already, it’s more efficient—not to mention healthier—to stagger their return onsite. In other words, transition your team back to the office in various shifts so you don’t have too many team members in close proximity, and there’s enough room to maintain a six-foot distance from each other.
To ensure your office doesn’t exceed the safe capacity limit, schedule employees to return on alternating days or times during the week. For instance, some team members could be onsite Monday and Wednesday, then remote on Tuesday and Thursday, while the other team members could work the reverse schedule, and Friday could be remote for everyone.
Alternatively, consider creating a digital sign-up form for team members to choose when they’d want to come into the office. Set a benchmark of how many in-office hours you’d like them to work weekly. Collaborate with team leads to establish times where overlap is needed (like for standups, important meetings, go-live sessions, etc.).
Use Artificial Intelligence (If You Don’t Already)
As touchscreen devices become obsolete in the office to contain the spread of germs, voice-operated artificial intelligence can lead to a safer, contactless work environment. Based on a report from the IT innovation firm 451 Research, AI systems will become the technology norm—not just for early adopters but for companies at large. Even before the pandemic, a Spiceworks report estimated business adoption of AI-powered technologies to triple by the end of 2021.
AI is an effective method to protect your IT team as much as possible while they transition back to the office. So before their return, consider using the below AI tech integrations. This will enable them to accomplish tasks with secure voice commands rather than put themselves at risk by touching a surface.
- Digital voice assistants: These devices automate workflow collaboration, project management, and schedule tracking. They can also sync with other cloud-based applications such as CRM platforms and analytics software, among others.
- Biometric authentication: This smart AI camera takes a thermal image scan of employees’ faces to detect their credentials, allowing access to secure company interfaces without the need to touch any screens or keyboards.
- Virtual reality meetings: This new type of technology (from software developers such as Teooh) uses AI to re-create the interactive atmosphere of an in-person meeting on a virtual platform. Using this VR tech, your team members can collaborate with others through avatars from the safe physical distance of their own computers.
Revise Employee Perks and Benefits
In this era of increased health measures and social distance parameters, many traditional employee perks are now unsafe or impractical. Rather than workplace benefits such as free catered meals, fitness memberships, team-building retreats, or common area lounges, think about what workers actually need in this current landscape.
For example, shift to more lifestyle-based perks rather than in-office amenities. Here are a few options you could put in place as your IT team comes back onsite:
- Virtual tutoring for employees with children
- Contactless food delivery or meal subscriptions
- Premium music or TV streaming memberships
- Skill development courses on e-learning websites
- Monthly subscription for at-home workout plans
- Free access to telehealth counseling sessions
- Reimbursed tuition for degree advancement, or other L&D programs
- Childcare stipends or flexible hours for parents
- Rideshare subsidies to save on commute expenses
There might be some concern or hesitation on the front end of this transition, and that’s to be expected. But when you implement these action steps, they can help alleviate the stress for a positive, successful return to the office. No matter how long your IT team spent working remotely in 2020, you can still bring them back onsite with minimal obstacles or anxieties. It just takes some transparency, strategy, and intentionality.