As businesses continue to adapt to the new normal of staff working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, some are already working throughways in which their people can safely return to the office.
Around two-thirds of working Australians – more than 10.5 million people – have been forced into an employment change because of the coronavirus, with a large proportion having been forced to work from home, according to Roy Morgan research.
As a result, many organisations have already decreed that staff shall work remotely until at least the end of the year, forcing some organisations to fast-track their digital transformation efforts, according to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella. ‘
‘We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,’’ Nadella says. ‘‘From remote teamwork and learning, to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security –we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in aworld of remote everything.’’
The challenges of returning to the workplace will include ensuring safe distancing between employees and visitors, managing the flow of people in and out of the office, and planning for the use of collaboration spaces, meeting rooms and hot-desking, according to PwC.
A return to work, perhaps relying on parallel scheduling or shift work to separate teams, will require monitoring and maintaining proper social distancing guidelines. It will also require a risk management process that factors in contact tracing, travel policy reviews and tracking of employee compliance with health regulations.
Organisations that ignore the national COVID-19 safe workplace principles and lack a robust COVID safe return-to-work plan will leave themselves open to further business disruptions, hefty fines from health and safety regulators, and potentially lawsuits from impacted employees.
These challenges don’t just affect front-line workers, they go to the very top, as the board needs confidence both that a return-to-work plan is in place and that staff are abiding by it.
Just as new technology is enabling people to stay productive while working from home, new and emerging technologies will also underpin efforts to safely bring them back into the office when the time is right, notes Ken Struthers, cofounder and chief executive of Microsoft Business Applications partner Barhead Solutions.
Workforce scheduling tools traditionally don’t drill down to the granular level of tracking desk usage, restricting the number of people in a meeting room or maintaining adequate social distancing in the office. Nor do they offer enough gradual data to support effective in-house contact tracing in the event of a staff member testing positive to COVID-19.