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Over the past few years, Corporate Real Estate (CRE) and Human Resources (HR) have partnered to create a work environment that improves employee engagement and productivity. This partnership is essential to providing a meaningful workplace experience. The impact of COVID-19 highlights the importance of CRE and HR professionals not only providing an engaging work environment but also a safe and secure workplace. As these professionals plan to bring their employees back to the office, their focus will shift to:

  • Supporting employees post COVID-19
  • Supporting leaders in managing employees post COVID-19
  • Supporting a post COVID-19 workplace

Supporting Employees

COVID -19 created a major change for everyone with little time to prepare for the new normal of telecommuting, home schooling and isolation. The return to work announcement will likely create several emotions for employees. The change curve pictured describes the internal emotional journey employees may experience when dealing with the return to the office. The journey starts in the preparation phase when the return to work is announced, the limbo phase on waiting for the actual date and finally the integration phase with the actual return to the workspace.

  • Preparation Phase: When the return to work date is announced, employees may feel anticipation about returning to the office. They will be excited at first, and then may have doubts about how safe it is to be around other people.
  • Limbo Phase: As the employee waits for their specific date to return to the office, they may fall into a “valley of despair” worrying about the safety and security of the office or even their job security.​
  • Integration Phase: As employees return to the workspace, they will be watching to see how their company takes measures to protect them. Companies will have a renewed focus on caring for employees’ basic needs and providing a feeling of safety and security in the workplace. CRE and HR should work together to build a change plan focusing on the post COVID-19 workplace.

A robust change plan can reduce the time employees are in the “valley of despair” and increase the adoption rate of workplace changes. A change plan includes:

  • Communication
    • What changes should be expected in the post COVID-19 workplace?
    • Return-to-work timeline.
  • Desire to make changes
    • Consider focus groups or surveys to gather remote working lessons learned and any concerns about returning to the workplace. Share the results and provide recommendations.
    • Focus on a spirit of gratitude – choose a charity or cause for employees to give back to others who were impacted or helped during the pandemic.
  • Knowledge
    • Provide guidelines for the post COVID-19 workplace to employees in advance. Examples:
      • Stay home when sick. If employees come to work and appear sick, they may be asked to return home.
      • Wash hands and use hand-sanitizing stations.
      • Remove everything from work surface nightly, allowing cleaners to sanitize the surface.
      • Limiting employees on elevators.
      • Utilize sanitizing wipes on surfaces in common areas.
  • Reinforce and Recognize
    • Provide an avenue for employees to share their recommendations and innovative solutions to keep the workplace clean.
    • Recognize divisions and employees for their efforts to keep the office clean.

Supporting Leaders

A recent Global Workplace Analytics article stated that one of the biggest obstacles to remote work was managers’ distrust of their people to work without being in the office. They were “counting butts in seats” instead of results. COVID-19 is forcing leaders to manage their teams’ productivity remotely and deliver results. As employees return to the workplace, leaders may face a new normal: how to manage a distributed workforce. How will leaders maintain engagement, productivity and culture with their team working both in the office and at home? It is easier to manage employees either all remote or all in the office, but with a distributed workforce, leaders will require new skills:

  • Utilize information gathered from surveys and focus groups to build a plan to engage distributed teams.
  • Provide leader toolkits with job aids, tips, FAQs and group exercises on managing a distributed workforce.
  • Promote flexible work options to attract talent and retain employees.
  • Consider a cultural reset- What defines the new culture and how do you support it in the new model with a more remote and distributed workforce? Previous misconceptions about the need to be in the office to be productive and a top performer will be redefined.
  • Culture isn’t a place, it is a mindset. Below are some best practices for building a positive culture.
    • Assign senior employees as mentors to new employees.
    • Create team norms to set expectations for remote and distributed workforce.
    • Communicate clear performance measurements.
    • Build a virtual community – hold weekly meetings via virtual tools to share news and recognize accomplishment.
    • Leaders share availability for those remote as well as those in the office and check in through chat with employees to see how their day is going.

Supporting the Future Workplace

Over recent years as companies refreshed their workplaces, offices became denser with a smaller square footage per employee and workstation. Post COVID-19, employees will face new concerns working in a dense office environment. As companies wait for the economy to recover after COVID-19, how do they balance real-estate costs and provide a workplace that supports employees’ needs?

  • Reassess Workplace Strategy – A new strategy will be required to capture the human capital attraction and retention and to understand the various personas and relevant support strategies. Traditional inhibitors of remote/distributed work including lack of tools and manager support have been forced to adapt.
  • Reevaluate shared-desk protocol – Employees will come back to the workplace with newfound concerns about workplace cleanliness. Review and update policies to address the post COVID-19 environment.
  • Implement Health and Safety Tools – hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, and additional guidelines for in-house food service.
  • Enhance technology offerings and training to support increased remote working. Examples: Microsoft Teams, Productivity Tracking, additional VPN access and video conferencing.

What is certain is business as we knew it before COVID-19 will change. Successful companies can adapt quickly to the changes with CRE and HR partnering together with their executive teams to create a safe and secure environment for their employees.

For more tips and information, check out the Cushman & Wakefield COVID-19 Workplace Resources or read other COVID-19 stories from the HRMAC community on HR Leader.