For a long time, a company’s workplace experience typically involved the same four departments: Facilities in charge of the physical office space, IT to handle the tech, HR to support interpersonal needs, and office management to curate the ambiance.
Oftentimes, each department has its own biases, priorities, and timelines that make it difficult to align harmoniously with one another.
For a project as complicated and new as slowly phasing people back into the office post-COVID-19, who you choose to make up your ongoing return team needs to be a thoughtful, purposeful decision. It’s essential that departments known to work in silos previously break down those walls. More often than not, there will be overlap in many of the return team responsibilities, making it clear when and where different departments and team members should work together.
Who should own the decision of when and how to bring everyone back?
The return team should act as a centralized task force for everything related to the transition back to the office. They should be empowered to make decisions quickly, and respond to rapidly changing local and federal guidelines. Up until final proposals need exec-level approval, the return team should include people capable to make and run with decisions.
Expect to involve outside teams for some parts of the planning process, especially in cases where specific skills (e.g., corporate communication, printed signage, technical integrations) exist outside the core team. At a smaller company, these responsibilities tend to fall on the office manager. But for a project this large, they’re going to need help. At a large enterprise company, the return team will likely need plenty of buy-in from the C-suite, so including them from the start is critical.
At a minimum, this team should expect to cover:
- Change management, training, and company communications
- Return schedule (e.g., Phases of transition, essential employees, tiers)
- Office cleaning and safety
- Facilities changes & navigating the office (Capacity limitations, distance planning with seating, circulation routes, in-office signage)
- How to use meeting rooms, common areas, and shared resources
- New policies: Visitors, packages, remote work, etc
- Personal protection equipment (PPE)
- Technology and equipment changes (Desk reservations, calendars, office monitors, access review, etc.)
Need a way to bring all of that together in an easily digestible employee-facing playbook? Use this return to work customizable template to get started.
We know we’re returning to a different office than we knew before COVID-19. While the role of desks, conference rooms, social spaces, and more will look different, we know the office isn't going anywhere. In fact, 70% of people want to work in-office a majority of the week, according to Gensler.
What are the responsibilities of each member of the return team?
In a recent Robin webinar poll asking attendees what their company or office target reopen date was, we found that almost half (44%) responded with “Not sure yet.” The second highest response, “August,” was at 20%. For most companies, the initial planning stage is far from over. And if we’ve learned anything about workplace experience over the last few years, it’s that one-and-done change is a rarity. Returning to the office is no different.
As office doors reopen and capacity grows over the next few months, your return team needs to stay on high alert. Each department will need to work together consistently to optimize for a safe and productive in-office experience.
Responsible for physical space, typically the keeper of the floor plan. In smaller companies, this responsibility may fall to the office manager.
The designated facilities lead tends to be the one to determine how the office is meant to be used based on utilization data. Given the circumstances, most companies lack about three months worth of space usage data making this part of the planning process trickier. Using employee feedback, national and state guidelines, and CDC and workplace resources, facilities managers can come up with initial policies on how to book and use desks, expected meeting room usage and behavior, social space and wayfinding recommendations, and more.
Using a desk management tool to map out physical distancing in the office, facilities managers can understand how to reduce capacity and slowly transition more teams in as safety protocols soften.
Responsible for the digital space, typically the keeper of the tech employees use every day.
Distance planning may require certain areas of the office remain unavailable, and conference rooms may need to be taken offline or have equipment moved to new locations to avoid conflicts. Most offices will need to revisit existing permission (e.g., “Only marketing can use this room”) in the short term to match capacity.
Based on Gensler's study on the top reasons employees want to work from the office, two of the top responses fall into the IT team's lap: scheduled meetings with colleagues (54%) and access to technology (44%). In order to support these experiences, IT teams need to audit what software will best manage them safely. Using conference room management software and digital wayfinding tools, people can confidently hold in-person meetings and use visual cues to safely navigate common areas.
People Ops (HR, Corporate Comms)
Responsible for change management for employees, making sure everyone is productive and understands the company’s process to return and navigate the office. This might include office managers in growing companies, especially with multiple locations.
Corporate comms is an ongoing responsibility and arguably, one of the most important. Consistent outreach and conversations with employees in and out of the office will determine a majority of your workplace decisions during the slow return. Employee experience surveys are one of the best methods to receive honest, organized feedback.
Change management and training -- a full return team effort
Communicating with your entire team is an ongoing, and full team responsibility that doesn’t end when doors reopen. Maintain clear and open lines of communication spearheaded by your return team and make it clear who to go to for what.
If you haven’t already communicated a plan for working remotely, do that first. It’s a meaningful update to offer something like “Regardless of the office availability, you can choose to work remotely by default until (at least) October 2020”. This is easy to extend as many local governments have already, and relieves the return team of having to provide non-answers for employees feeling “on call” and trying to decide where to quarantine.
Methods of communication from your return team:
- Slack channel for consistent company-wide announcements
- Email recaps of Slack updates on a weekly basis
- Town Hall meetings held bi-weekly
- Transition from virtual to in-person over time
- Video messages from the CEO or return team on the changing landscape of COVID-19
- Follow-up on employee surveys and remote work
Communicating with your team is just as important as hearing their feedback. Methods to receive feedback from employees:
- Option to email members of the return team directly for specific questions
- New Slack shortcut for submitting feedback
- Weekly “temperature check” surveys
- Managers to collect feedback during 1:1 meetings
- Employee experience surveys
Now knowing which people should be involved in your slow return to the office, is your team missing anyone? Bridging the communication gap and pulling in folks from several departments (Facilities, IT, People, Workplace Experience) to collaborate and share updates makes an unprecedented challenge like COVID-19 a whole lot easier.